Over the centuries, winemakers have discovered and refined their notion of which grapes work best alone, or in a blend. Blending is the process by which the vintner or bottler combines different varietal (single-grape) wines into a new, more complex wine that is, hopefully, better than its parts.
This has not always been a popular thing to do because, particularly in Europe, wine makers do not want, or cannot afford to move or mix grapes across national borders. Plus, with a rich and extensive history of fine products, some remain committed to maintaining the purity of their French/Spanish/Italian etc. heritage labels.
Here in the New World, the blended category is common, especially for reds and California wines. The goal of many vintners is to create bottles that can stand with classic European wines like Bordeaux.
Still, “good” wine is always on the palate of the drinker, so blending has its fans and critics.
Varietal wines may use grapes from different parts of a vineyard, or even different regions, but they must be the same species. In America, the grape variety listed on the label must constitute at least 75 percent of the bottle, leaving 25 percent for other grapes that will enhance the flavor and aroma. For example, Cabernet Sauvignon usually has Merlot added to soften strong tannins.
Since wine lovers enjoy complexity, most grapes lack the balance to create great wines by themselves. When blended, they create a symbiotic relationship is created that improves color and ripeness. Blends can be between grape types, by vintage, and even between reds and whites. Some take that seriously; the berry and herb-flavored Châteauneuf-du-Pape red is a combination of 13 black, yellow, and pink grapes.
Some winemakers make wines specifically for blending, like Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. As the grapes are harvested, the winemaker decides on the best formula for a blend, and pulls out specific barrels for experimenting. Some mix right away to allow the grapes to ferment together, but they can also wait and start with the aging process or even mix them later with another harvest. The perfect result will highlight each grape’s strength and complement the other grapes being used in the blend.
New World winemakers are known for more creative blends, by combining grapes that are not typically mixed. For special tastings in 2022, VinePair.com recommends Chimney Rock Winery’s Elevage Red Blend 2019. “The standout wine from this year’s tasting, this velvety Napa Valley bottling delivers a seamless combination of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Malbec. Despite spending 18 months in 100 percent new French oak, fruit character still shines throughout. Subtle notes of vanilla and cinnamon linger beneath the surface, bringing nuance and intrigue to each supple sip.”