We’ve all walked down the wine aisle, contemplating whether it’s a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Syrah kind of night. But there’s one section of the liquor store that may cause you to tilt your head – wine blends. What is a red blend wine and why do winemakers blend wines?
What’s the point of a red blend wine?
A wine blend is the combination of two or more grape varieties, blended together to achieve a complex, well balanced wine. Think about it as the sum of the parts – some wines are just better together.
For example, Cabernet Sauvignon is a bold, full-bodied wine known for its high acidity and strong tannins. Merlot is considered more middle-of-the-road, with medium acidity and medium tannins. These two grapes are often blended together to balance the intensity of Cabernet Sauvignon and soften its profile without losing its notable characteristics.
The beauty of the blending process
Keep in mind, winemakers don’t just blend grapes together willy nilly. There’s a method to the madness, and it’s actually pretty magical. Considerations for blending include most obviously the variety but also the grape’s terroir, appellation, harvest date (vintage), and any aging the wine has undergone.
Blending especially comes in handy when the winemaking season doesn’t go to plan. Selecting varieties from different vineyard sites allows the winemaker to not only work with the characteristic benefits of each site but also to help manage production during challenging vintages (rain, low crop, etc.).
It’s by no means a one-size-fits all formula. Winemakers will tinker, tinker, and tinker some more. Each iteration gets them closer to the ideal wine blend.
When does blending happen in the winemaking process?
It all depends on the wine, and the winemaker. Some winemakers blend immediately after fermentation, while others wait anywhere from six to fourteen months post fermentation. Some winemakers believe the earlier you blend the wines in the winemaking process, the more complex wine you’ll get down the road. Others would rather wait and gain a better understanding of each individual wine profile before beginning the blending process.
When the blending does begin, they’ll usually start off with a ‘base blend.’ This variety will make up about 60-65% of the final blend. Then they’ll slowly introduce percentages of another variety, balancing as they go. Winemakers tend to blend in larger percentages, but toward the end of the process, it might come down to as little as 1% or 2%.
We’re willing to acknowledge not everyone has the skills, experience, sniffer, or palate to recognize a difference in 2%… but the truth is, to an experienced nose, even a small percent can change the profile of the wine.
It’s worth noting, blends can also be achieved through co-fermentation, which can be a trickier process but helps achieve a seamless balance.
Are blends lower quality?
This is one of the biggest, most common wine myths! If hearing about the intricacies of the blending process hasn’t already convinced you that red wine blends can be just as high quality as single varietal wines, we’ll do you one better.
Some of the most renowned, respected wines in the world are blends.
Famous wine blends
One of the most famous wine blends in none other than Champagne. A blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier grapes, Champagne is a great example of blending white grapes and black grapes, oftentimes across different seasons. Champagne is the one unique situation in which France permits the blending of white and red grapes to make rosé.
We know that Champagne has a strong reputation for being consistently delicious – proof that cellarmasters use blending to create consistent, quality results time and time again.
A Bordeaux blend is made from two or more classic Bordeaux varieties – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, or Malbec.
While red Bordeaux blends are better known, there are also white Bordeaux blends made with a combination of either Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris, or Muscadelle.
Rhône or GSM blend
Rhône blends or Rhône style wines are usually made from a combination of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Carignan, Cinsault, or Counoise grapes.
Rhône valley white blends tend to be made with Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne, and Clairette.
In Northern Rhône, you might find even Syrah blended with Viognier.
Do blends have vintages?
If you don’t see a vintage on your red wine blend bottle, don’t panic. Sometimes winemakers will blend grapes from different seasons, so in that case, the blend will not have a vintage. If grapes were all harvested within the same year, you will see a vintage on the bottle. As mentioned before, Champagne is often made with grapes from different seasons so whether or not the blend has a vintage is not an indicator of wine quality.
Bright Cellars blends
If you’re looking for a Bright Cellars blend to try, we always have a handful ready and waiting. Simply email email@example.com to request a red blend like Worst Evils, Cactus Park, or Stone Lantern in your next box.
If you’re looking to try a white blend, request our Colorfast or Gladiolus white blends are great choices.
In Vino Finito
Have we changed your perception of a red blend wine? Are you more inclined to give blends a try? Let us know in the comments!