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Just as a great chef might use combinations of flavors to create a unique dish, many winemakers these days are using a blend of grape varietals to make expressive wines.
The next time you go to your favorite wine shop, pay special attention to the wines stacked in cases at the front of the store. You will see an assortment of wines, mostly reds, made with a blend of grape varietals ranging from Zinfandel to Merlot to Charbono to Petite Sirah. Why all the excitement? When made well and without overt residual sugar, these blends offer a lot of complexity, flavor and uniqueness.
Every grape varietal has its own aromatic and flavor component. Some are fruit forward and juicy like Zinfandel and Petite Sirah, some have a bit of spice on the finish like Syrah, and some offer deep color like Petit Verdot. Winemakers who possess blending talents are using these characteristics to make new and different wines.
Blending is nothing new to the wine world. Many of the wines that you have enjoyed for years are blends. Perhaps the best known is Bordeaux from France. Both the white and red wines from this revered region are blends, with the reds consisting of Cabernet Sauvignon (left bank) and Merlot (right bank) as the base and then blended with Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. Also in France, wines from the Southern Rhone, most notably Cotes du Rhone and Chateauneuf du Pape, are Grenache-based wines blended with Syrah, Mourvedre and Cinsault.
California is the leader in blending among New World wine regions. Priced under $25, the California blends lean to a juicier, fruitier, spicier and often slightly sweet style, as compared to the drier, dried fruity, slightly earthier expression in France and Italy. Their lower price point is achieved by using fruit (mostly Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Sangiovese, Cabernet and Merlot) from wine-growing regions that do not command top dollar for their grapes, such as Lake County, Amador County and Lodi. There also are red blends from Napa Valley that represent the luxury price point (over $100); these typically are reserved for wine cellars or wine lists at top restaurants.
South America is also active in the red blend category. In Argentina, the signature Malbec grape serves as the base varietal and is blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and sometimes Syrah. In Chile, replace Malbec with their signature Carmenere and you get wines with an earthier, more dried cherry taste versus the blacker, more concentrated fruit of Argentina. Like most of the California blends, South American blends are available under $20.
I urge you to explore some of these red blends from around the world and find the style that best suits your palate.
On the Vine is written by George Staikos, noted educator and founder of The Educated Grape, a company dedicated to interactive wine classes, tastings and special events.
A 25-year veteran of the wine and hospitality industry, George Staikos is known for his role as an educator, sharing his passion for wine appreciation. He is the founder and president of the Educated Grape, a company specializing in interactive education programs and in-home wine entertaining for wine enthusiasts and companies. He is a professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University’s International School of Hospitality Management, where he teaches “Introduction to the Study of Wine.” He is also Vice Echanson or regional wine director for the mid-Atlantic region for the Chaine des Rotisseurs, a worldwide food-and-wine organization.
Staikos is a graduate of Florida International University in Miami with a Bachelor’s degree in Hospitality Management. He is married with three children and lives in Flemington.
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