The Ginger Man

Archives: April 2015

50 Shades of Grape

Posted on

Blending different grape varieties to make a better finished wine is a bedrock practice in the commercial wine world.

There are good and bad reasons to try blending, and it’s important to keep them straight. The real power of blending lies in the potential for adding complexity to the resulting wine — multiple flavors and aromas, something to stimulate every part of your mouth, a wine that has plenty of fruit at the start and something left for the finish. That’s why the winemakers in Chateauneuf-du-Pape in the southern Rhone are happy to have 13 grapes to work with, permitted by the appellation rules. Blending plays a large part in how they have made wines of great distinction for hundreds of years.

The second strength of blending is the pursuit of balance — that happy marriage of fruit, acid, tannin, alcohol, color and (sometimes) oak that makes great wines sing, and not-so-great wines seem full of wrong notes and missed opportunities. That’s the reason winemakers in Bordeaux temper the aggressive sharpness of Sauvignon Blanc with the fat, oily richness of Sémillon to produce memorable white blends.

Blending is not a way to cover up faults in wine. A good rule of thumb: If you wouldn’t want to drink it, don’t blend it.

Certainly there are grapes that stand on their own as single varietals, and there is no reason to mess with a good thing. But more often than not, the key is great fruit — the right vines, in the right climate, harvested at the perfect moment.

The possibilities for blending are endless — limited only by what grapes or wines you have. Most of the time, this means blending reds with reds and whites with whites, though even that seemingly obvious rule has its exceptions: traditional Chianti, for example, has always contained a splash of white Trebbiano. There are some classic combinations — Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot — but the fine print on labels at your local wine shop will reveal an amazing array of options.

Wine blends offer more complexity that single varietal wines. In fact, some of the world’s greatest wines are made from a blend of grapes rather than a single varietal. By blending varietals, winemakers can change a wine’s qualities.

At its most basic, vintners blend wine made from different grapes in order to add more complexity to the flavor and texture of a wine. The goal of blending wine made in different vintages is more to balance out the flavor characteristics. Both reds and whites can be made from blends of varietals. In some cases, they may even blend whites and reds together in order to create the best possible combination of aromas and flavors. An excellent example of a wine blended from red and white grapes is Côte-Rôtie in France’s Rhone region, which blends the red wine grape Syrah and the wine wine grape Viognier.

Some wine blends are made from classic recipes handed down from generation to generation. Other vintners create brand new blends in an attempt to produce a new and exciting wine that has flavor characteristics like nothing else on the market.

Wine is blended in many different ways. As previously discussed, winemakers frequently blend varietals; however, they create other blends, as well.

Kelowna Wine grapes growing in the Okanagan

Vintage Wine Blends

Vintage wine blends are different grapes grown in the same vintage, or year. This may be something as simple as a vintage Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot blend, or it may be something as complex as blending up to 13 different grapes to create a Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Non-vintage Blends

Some wines, such as Port and Champagne, among others, blend grapes grown in different vintages in order to balance flavors, tannins, and other wine characteristics. These wines are typically labeled NV or non-vintage, and there will be no year listed on the label. While this practice is most common in sparkling wines and ports, other winemakers may utilize the technique, as well.

Here are the facts you need to know:

  1. Difference between varietals and blends:A standard varietal like Malbec, Chardonnay etc., is made from the same type of grape. Sometimes winemakers will use grapes from different plots of a vineyard or different regions for a varietal, but they are all the same type of grapes. In the U.S. a varietal needs to be 75 percent of one type of grape, while in Europe it’s generally 80 percent and in Argentina it’s 85 percent. It’s possible for wineries to add other grapes to a varietal to enhance the elements and still call it a single varietal wine.

Blends are what their name suggests. They typically consist of at least 40-50 percent of one type of grape and a smaller mix of two or more other grapes.

  1. Blending makes wines more complex:Blending is used to maximize the expression of a wine. It can enhance aromas, color, texture, body and finish, making it a more well-rounded and complex wine. If a wine doesn’t have a strong scent, for example, a winemaker can add five percent of a more potent smelling grape and can experiment with different types of varietals coming from other vineyards. They could have been aged in oak barrels, fermented in various kinds of vessels or just harvested in different phases of ripeness.

In Argentina, the heart of most blends is Malbec. Merlot can be used to give the wine a better aroma and make it seem fresher or smoother. Cabernet Franc or Sauvignon are often added for structure or tannin concentration to make a more powerful wine. Creating the perfect blend also depends on the characteristics of the year and the expression of each grape. The possibility for combinations that result in a quality blend are endless.

  1. Some single varietals are made for blending:Winemakers will often make a barrel of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or other wines solely for the purpose of blending. As the grapes are being harvested, a winemaker determines what they think will be the best formula for a blend. Allotting specific barrels for blending allows them to experiment in finding the best types of mixtures. The idea is to highlight each grape’s strength and complement the other grapes being used in the blend.
  2. The timeline for mixing wines varies:Winemakers mix blends in a steel tank. Lower cost blends are rarely aged in oak and higher cost blends are generally aged in oak. Some winemakers put blended wines into an oak barrel half way through the aging process, while others put the wines together one to two weeks before bottling. Some try letting the wines ferment together from start to finish. Again, the goal is to develop the best of everything in the wines and each winery determines what approach works best for them.
  3. Some grapes aren’t used for blending:White wines tend to be pure varietals. However, there are some exceptions, particularly in certain regions in Europe where two or more white grapes are used. Pinot Noir is a type of grape that is rarely blended. That is why when you are having a Burgundy it will likely be a 100 percent Pinot Noir.
  4. Field blends happen all over the world, though they’re now rare. In the past, before folks fretted about varietals or clones, they just planted different grapes in their vineyard as an inexpensive (yet limiting) way to blend wines. All the grapes are harvested at the same time and fermented together—a true field blend doesn’t separate by varietals at harvest; the “blend” is whatever Nature gives that vintage.

Modern winemakers generally prefer to plant and pick each variety separately, knowing that they don’t always ripen evenly. Sometimes a winemaker will ferment multiple grapes together (a practice called co-fermentation), which invokes the spirit of field blends. But most winemakers blend different lots of wine together after the fermentation is finished to better control the process.

Wine Blends


A medium to full-bodied wine with notes of graphite, smoke, plum, black currant and tobacco.

  • Merlot
  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Cabernet Franc
  • Petit Verdot
  • Malbec

White Bordeaux

A zesty and lightly colored white wine with flavors of gooseberry and melon. A few examples are oak-aged and have a lightly creamy texture.

  • Sémillon
  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Muscadelle


A high acidity sparkling wine with notes of lemon, almond, honeycomb and apple.

  • Chardonnay
  • Pinot Meunier
  • Pinot Noir

Châteauneuf du Pape

A medium-bodied red wine with notes of maraschino cherry, raspberry, leather and faded rose.

  • Grenache
  • Syrah
  • Mourvèdre
  • Bourboulenc
  • Cinsault
  • Clairette Blanche
  • Counoise
  • Grenache Blanc
  • Muscardin
  • Picardan
  • Piquepoul Blanc
  • Roussanne
  • Terret Noir
  • Vaccarèse


A medium-bodied wine with notes of black cherry, leather, tomato, and vanilla

  • Sangiovese 70-100%
  • No more than 15% Cabernet Sauvignon & Cabernet Franc
  • Up to 30% of Others

Super Tuscan

A full-bodied red wine with flavors of blueberry, clove and leather

  • Merlot
  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Sangiovese
  • Syrah
  • Cabernet Franc


A medium to full-bodied red wine with bold tannins and notes of fig, dried cranberry, clove, sweet tobacco and leather

  • Corvina
  • Molinara
  • Rondinella
  • Other Indigenous Varieties


A medium-bodied white wine with notes of lemon, almond, and occasionally creaminess from oak-aging

  • Garganega — up to 70%
  • Trebbiano, Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc


A classic styled sparkling wine with notes of white peach, granite and lemon

  • Macabeu
  • Parellada
  • Xarello
  • Chardonnay


A medium to full-bodied red wine with bold tannins and flavors of black cherry, black plums, figs and leather

  • Tempranillo — up to 100%
  • Mazuelo
  • Graciano
  • Maturana Tinta


A medium to full-bodied red wine with notes of raspberry, blueberry brambles, pepper, violet and wet-granite

  • Grenache
  • Syrah
  • Carignan
  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Merlot


A full-bodied fortified wine with notes of blackberry, black currant, graphite, figs and raisins

  • Touriga Franca
  • Touriga Nacional
  • Tinta Roriz
  • Tinta Barroca
  • Tinto Cão
  • Other


A full-bodied red wine with notes of blueberry, plum, violets, pepper and vanilla.

  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Merlot
  • Petit Verdot
  • Cabernet Franc
  • Malbec
  • Carménère

GSM ‘Rhône’ Blend

A medium to full-bodied red wine with notes of raspberry, blackberry, vanilla, bacon fat and allspice

  • Grenache
  • Syrah
  • Mourvèdre
  • Others

White Rhône Blend

A full-bodied white wine with notes of cream, apple, lemon curd and parmesan cheese

  • Marsanne
  • Roussanne
  • Clairette
  • Grenache Blanc
  • Bourboulenc
  • Viognier

Provençal Rosé

A dry rosé with nuanced flavors of strawberry, melon, lavender and orange

  • Cinsault
  • Grenache
  • Syrah
  • Vermentino (a.k.a. Rolle)


 ….For more information on Wine from The Ginger Man please give us a call to book a seat at one of our wine classes in Albany, NY.