Why Blend?

‘E’Wine of the Week

By Bruce Cochran

Hello Everyone,

We’re back on schedule this week with a look at wines made from a single grape variety compared with wines made from different types of grapes blended together. Sometimes the label doesn’t exactly tell you everything that’s inside.

Try a new wine this week!


Trevisani “Bali”

When you’re shopping for wines, you may notice how many labels bear the name of the grape variety — cabernet, chardonnay, merlot, etc. Wines made from a single grape far outnumber those made from different varieties blended together.

Why do wineries focus on a single variety? Well, the first reason is because they tend to sell faster. Most shoppers know what they like, and that’s what they look for first. Merlot tends to be softer, cabernet fuller, syrah heartier, so whether you’re buying your favorite type, or looking for something to pair with dinner, it’s simpler to go for a wine made from only one type of grape.

Then why would a winery want to blend wines together? In many cases (excuse the pun), it’s done to add complexity to the wine, much like adding herbs to the stew pot. Different flavors can complement each other. And there’s a long history of this. Where cabernet sauvignon and merlot came from originally, around the seaport city of Bordeaux in southwestern France, merlot has long been used to soften the more tannic cabernet on what they call the Left Bank, while cabernet is routinely used to give Right Bank merlot more flavor and structure.

In this country, wines labeled with the old generic names like Burgundy and Chablis were always blends. In France, where those are names of real places — places famous for some of the world’s finest and most expensive pinot noir and chardonnay. The French have long wished that we wouldn’t use some of their best names for some of our least wines.

Blending is done more than labels tell us. It’s very common to see the aforementioned “Bordeaux blends” in California wines labeled for either cab or merlot. But, in much of the country, if the wine contains 75 percent of whatever grape is on the label, the other 25 percent can be something else, whether it’s to improve the wine or simply to stretch it.

If you think about it, most blends are red. There is a white Bordeaux blend, usually sauvignon blanc and Semillon, maybe a little muscadelle. Many of these particular blends, whether red or white, are called Meritage.

But, most white wines are either unblended, or maybe stretched with something cheaper in lower price categories. Pinot grigio is mostly pinot grigio, chardonnay is mostly chardonnay and sauvignon blanc is mostly just sauvignon blanc.

I did find an unusual blend that I like a lot, on a recent trip to northern Italy. On the western shore of Lake Garda, the largest of Italy’s row Alpine-hugging lakes, is a winery named Trevisani. On a map, look near the ancient town of Salo, Mussolini’s final stronghold. Trevisani “Bali” ($15-$20) is a blend of chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, dry but with lots of fruit, crisp and just a touch of oak. “Bali” is the name of one of a famous wind that occasionally whips down from the Alpine peaks.

Categories: Legacy Archive