Archive for February, 2015

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Feb
15

Blended Wines; Better Than An Individual Voice In A Bottle

Recently, at a book signing about my book, “The Winemaker’s Hand” the attentive audience asked some probing queries about wine. A hand shot up and a lady seated next to her husband wanted to know if a single varietal was superior to blended wine. I answered the question with a question. Are you more stimulating alone, or do you bring more thought-provoking possibilities to the table as a twosome? I went on to explain the historic importance of adding wines of different varietals to each other. While wines crafted from one varietal can be fabulous, a mixture changes a Johnny-One-Note wine into a more complex wine. A well-blended wine is greater than the sum of its individual parts.

Few people realize how frequently wines are blended. Generally, the procedure is most notably used for red wines, although sparkling wines, including some highly respected bubblies from Champagne, are composed of three grape varietals. Sauvignon blancs enjoyed by many are often blended with Semillon.

A combination of grape varieties accentuates a wine’s virtues or adjusts its weak points. Winemakers use their artistry and technical know-how to boost flavors, aromas, and textures in wine. It’s often essential when Mother Nature hasn’t cooperated to produce premium gapes at harvest. Then the winemaker decides which wines and percentages of the juices best supplement the basic varietal. In some regions local laws determine the percentages of wines in blending.

Think blending and Bordeaux comes to mind. It is the wine region most well-known and respected for its historic use of blending. The blockbuster region has several microclimates affected by the Atlantic Ocean and the Gironde River that affect the vines and impact on flavors, aromas, and textures of wine. Each region within Bordeaux developed its own particular style of blending. Cabernet sauvignon, known as king of the red grapes, dominates wine on one side of the Gironde. Yet as a powerhouse varietal, it benefits from the addition of a trio or quartet of ancillary grapes like Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and a touch of Petit Verdot. The blend rounds out Cabernet sauvignon’s aggressive tannins, making the wine more accessible. Conversely, on the other side of the river Merlot is the dominant varietal, and the blend is changed according to the vintner’s end goal.

Italian wines, coming from a complicated mosaic of terroirs, have a long tradition of blending. Sangiovese, Tuscany’s favored grape, was mandated until the 1970’s to blend with … hold onto your hats… white wine . Some of it was sold in raffia-covered bottles called fiascos. The undistinguished wines had a reputation as inexpensive pizza wine. Italian winemakers who wanted to compete in the global market with higher quality wines went head to head with local hide-bound authorities. In some places, they successfully overturned a confusing, loose system of appellations and quality control procedures by planting Cabernet sauvignon and Merlot. A mélange of new wines called Super Tuscans added to old varietals were finally accepted by local wine administrators, thus achieving recognition as quality wines fit to compete with the world’s best.

It’s hard to think of a region in the world, including Napa Valley, that hasn’t had a heritage of blending, or one where winemakers haven’t adopted innovative planting of currently popular grapes to add to local varietals. Winemakers are challenged to try new combinations of local grapes blended with grapes that are currently popular. The technique allows vintners to expand their palette of colors, aromas, and textures. Combined with new technologies, new blends are raising the general quality of wine world-wide, creating more exciting possibilities for wine lovers.

Next time you reach for a bottle fo wine, check the back label for a list of varietal ingredients. The front label may declare one specific grape, but be assured that in many cases it doesn’t sing a solo part.

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