Wines That Are Blends
Blends are trendy then they aren’t and then they come back into liking. This happens with all kinds of things in life, like the length of skirts. If we look at blending through the eyes and thinking of a wine maker it isn’t about trends, blending has a meaningful purpose and is ever present in the process.
First, what is it that they blend? Everyone assumes that we are talking about blending different varieties of grapes, but it is much more complicated than that and sometimes much more subtle. Without a doubt many times the blend is of different varieties, the famous Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot blends from California, Spain and Bordeaux and the GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre) blends of the Rhone are just a couple that are famous. But look more closely and even within these blends there are blends. Is all the Cabernet Sauvignon the same clone? From the same vineyard? From the same region even? Perhaps. But is it all from the same barrel? Most likely not. Just being a different clone or from a different vineyard constitutes a blend, the same if more than one barrel was mixed. To further slice the juice, when pressing if the free run juice is fermented separately from the other juice, even if it is all the same grapes of the same clone and vineyard, then mixed this too is a blend.
Winemakers blend for several reasons all depending on the style and price of the wine they are making. In some cases, the law requires that a wine be a blend of two or more different varieties.
Consistency of style, this is for the large brands where the customer expects the wine to taste the same every vintage. We often lose sight of how difficult it is to make a product of nature taste the same year after year. Careful blending of many batches across the board makes this happen. In Cognac and whiskey we also see this art. These master blenders are revered for this talent and measured palates.
Volume demands, batches of various quality may have to be mixed just to reach the amount of wine needed. The grapes for these wines can come from many different vineyards. Some of the best champagnes are made this way as well as inexpensive bottles of still wine. Champagnes are the king of blends! They blend different grapes, different vineyards, and different vintages.
Color, the color of wine can be changed by blending. Champagne is one of the few regions a white and red wine can be blended to make a rose. But more commonly a red is made deeper by the addition of a wine made with deeply pigmented grapes.
Mask a flaw, if a batch of wine has a small flaw in its flavor this can be diluted to the point it isn’t evident anymore simply by mixing it with a lot of other wine. This works only if whatever the flaw is won’t duplicate itself in the new batch of wine. (Sneaky maybe, but you’ll never know, and it won’t hurt you)
Balance of texture and flavor, this brings us back to the Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot blend. Cabernet Sauvignon has high acid and tannins with big rich fruit. Merlot on the other hand has softer lower levels of acid and tannins and a mid-mouth fruitiness. The Merlot makes the Cabernet Sauvignon ready to drink sooner than if it were bottled alone and the Merlot is given a lift and additional structure with the blend.
The more I study the more I realize how many decisions winemakers must make. It seems endless as the wine making process goes on. As you are sipping, think about all the choices a winemaker made just to get that liquid in the bottle.