Wine made with a single grape variety is known as varietal wine. Wines made with multiple grape varieties are known as blends.
Some of the greatest wines in the world fall into the blended wine category, such as Bordeaux which is typically a blend using two or more of the five noble red grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot. The grapes are all harvested and vinified separately.
The food friendly reds from the Southern Rhone Valley—which are primarily made with Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre, often called GSMs in the New World—are another example. In the Chateuneuf du Pape sub region of the Rhone Valley, winemakers are authorized to use up to 13 different grapes in the famed region’s red blends.
In addition to these classic Bordeaux-style blends and Rhone Valley-style blends, there are a plethora of other red mixes produced throughout the world. California is well-known for its Zinfandel commonly combined with Petite Sirah but also with Cabernet, Merlot, and Syrah. In southern Italy, where the Zinfandel grape is known as Primitivo, it is commonly blended with Negroamaro.
In Tuscany, Sangiovese is king, but some innovative producers in the ’70s balked at some of the regulations that they found limiting and created a new category of red blends which became known as Super Tuscans.
The original idea was to be able to blend more international grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with Sangiovese and to also be able to bottle Bordeaux style blends within designated historic regions like Chianti.
The pioneer wines of this movement were Tenuta San Guido’s Sassicaia and Antinori’s Tignanello. Now, these types of blends are produced throughout the western Tuscan region of Maremma at more affordable prices.
In Portugal, historically, grape growers intermingled a variety of grapevines in their vineyards knowing some would bring more fruit, some acidity, and some a deeper color. White and red grapes grow together before being harvested and fermented into a satisfying union expressive of the terroir.
These field blends are still being used to make both dry red and white wines and are also typical for sweet wines like Port.
The joining of different varieties together can give winemakers the opportunity to fuse wines into a blend with more balance, harmony, and additional complexity than any single component might have had if it had been vinified and bottled alone. A blended wine’s color and flavor profile will vary based on the grapes that were used and the style of wine made.
RECOMMENDED RED BLENDS
Gaia Organic Red Blend from Mendoza combines Malbec, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon into a juicy and spicy dark fruited blend that works with red meat and red sauced pasta. Available at Spec’s for under $18.
Ricasoli Chianti is a crowd pleasing robust red blend made of 85 percent Sangiovese and 15 percent other authorized grapes from the Chianti region in Tuscany. This wine is on the shelves at Spec’s for under $16. Perfect for pizza night at home.
Château La Nerthe Les Cassagnes Côtes du Rhône Villages is a classic blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre from a 40-year-old vineyard that delivers a polished yet approachable fruit driven wine that works with an array of dishes from grilled vegetables to slow cooked pork. Available at Economy Liquor on 23rd Street for approximately $25.
Ridge Three Valleys Zinfandel is a blend primarily of Zinfandel with Petite Sirah, Carignane, and Alicante Bouschet. Soft, fresh and elegant, this medium bodied wine shines with spicy, red fruit flavor. Available at Spec’s for about $28.
Acorn Hill Alegria Vineyards is a blend of field blends from a vineyard originally planted in 1890. This small production wine combines a Syrah and Viognier blend with a Sangiovese, Mammolo, and Canaiolo Tuscan-style blend coalescing into a bright and sophisticated wine. The wine is available for $48 on the winery website.
Alexander Valley Vineyards Cyrus is a classic Bordeaux blend from Sonoma’s Alexander Valley. Composed of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbac, and Petit Verdot, it is a persistent wine loaded with a rich black cherry and dark chocolate character. Find multiple vintages for under $60 at Spec’s.
Graham’s Six Grapes Reserve Port is a ruby style fortified field blend of Portuguese grapes Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Amerela, Tinta Cao and Tinta Roriz from two to three years of harvest. This gem is ideal with both dessert and cheese to end a meal. Available for around $28 at Economy Liquor on 23rd Street.