There are almost no unblended wines on the market. Whether you are drinking a red wine, a white wine or a rosé, most are blended in one way or another.
Why do we blend wine?
There are two main reasons why wines are blended. The first is to create a wine that is consistent with the brand’s style and flavour profile, the second is to create a more complex wine.
But what does this mean?
Certain brands are known to create a wine that tastes the same in each vintage. This, however, doesn’t happen naturally or by accident. A lot of time is spent in the cellar to find the perfect balance to create these masterpieces.
Due to climatic differences, temperature fluctuations and a whole host of other environmental factors, grapes from a single vineyard block will not produce the exact same wine year-on-year. For this reason even single-varietal wines can be blended. A winemaker can choose to blend, for example, Cabernet Sauvignon made from two or more different vineyard blocks/parcels.
Some wines have a lot of distinctive flavours on the nose as well as on the palate, while others have only one or two. Take for example Sauvignon Blanc. Generally speaking, you might be able to distinguish between citrus flavours (lemon) and, maybe, stone fruit (peach), but not much else. Similarly, Cabernet Sauvignon is known for black fruit flavours and a winemaker might want to add some red fruit flavours to a wine, so they blend in some Merlot.
How do we blend wine?
The short answer? Take some wine from two or more bottles, add them together and mix well.
The long answer? It is a careful process where each component (individual wine) is meticulously analysed and complementary components are added together to create a new masterpiece.
How and when winemakers choose to blend their wines differ greatly depending on why they choose to blend their wines and what their goal with the blends are.
Wines can be blended right at the beginning of the winemaking process or after oak maturation has taken place. In some instances field blends are created where different grapes (different varieties or from different vineyards) are vinified together.
What do we blend?
Which wines are chosen for blends depends entirely on the goal of the blend. As a rule of thumb, varieties that grow in the same areas and under the same conditions can be blended together successfully — what grows together, goes together.
For example, you will see Bordeux blends which consist of any combination of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot or Malbec. You will rarely (if ever) see a blend of Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Popular blends include Bordeaux blends, Rhône blends (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvédre), Super Tuscan blends (a combination of Sangiovese along with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc) and recently Washington CMS (Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot) blends.
In South Africa we also have our very own Cape Blend which consists mainly of Pinotage in combination with other red varieties.
The art of blending different varieties into a wine that is balanced, cohesive and therefore delicious and utterly drinkable is an age-old tradition, and many well-known blends have been made for centuries in their area of origin, and are now replicated all over the world.
While modern blends are carefully considered masterpieces, the practice of planting and blending multiple varieties was born of necessity. The caprice of Mother Nature – often unpredictable even in modern times – led our wine growing ancestors to plant different varieties as a form of insurance; an early ripening variety may be successfully harvested and vinified while the later ripening grapes could be threatened by rains. Conversely, an early ripening variety could succumb to wind or frost – damaged buds and flowers resulting in a very low yield or poor quality fruit, a fate which will hopefully be escaped by the later ripening varieties in our ancestors’ vineyards!
The moment of truth in winemaking often comes when you taste your wine to see how it turned out and you wish it could be just a touch better. Maybe the wine is filled with ripe fruit flavours but is not rounded by a touch of vanilla, a hint of chocolate, or the suppleness of plum. You wonder how you could achieve those flavours but you don’t have a clue.
The answer is blending. Professional winemakers are the first to admit that few stand-alone wines have all the characteristics of a perfect finished wine. Blending lets them pick the finest characteristics of two, three or even more wines, and marry them together for that award-winning flavour profile. This is a centuries-old technique that should and can be practiced by the most novice of home winemakers.
As our pros indicate, there is no trick to the process. Instead, it’s all about running tests, comparing flavours, and finding the perfect ratio before you commit to the final blend.