In this blog, I will contend that The Bordelaise vintners (winemakers) are right; blends are best. I’ll also enlighten you – trust me, many of the “straight Shiraz” you drink are indeed, blends!
Let’s start with a simple definition of a blended wine – blended wines are made using two or more varieties while varietal wines are made from a single grape variety. Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon and GSM are common red blends in Australia and Chardonnay Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc Semillon are common white blends in Australia. But there are many.
Blends are best. A good blend can bring out the extraordinary qualities of ordinary grape varieties. Today, winemakers build blends by layering the unique attributes of different grapes, like color from Petit Verdot, spicy aromas from Cabernet Franc, or plummy notes from Merlot. It’s what makes modern wines balanced and hard to put down. (Burgess, L 2017). For those red wine drinkers who haven’t yet had the pleasure, try any classic Australian GSM and you’ll soon be able to attest to that; and you’ll quickly realize why Australian GSM’s are one of our bestselling blends.
Amazingly, the practice of blending specific grape varieties for their flavor and aromatic qualities didn’t become popular until the 1800s, centuries after wine consumption, and even connoisseurship, became fashionable. The tradition of blending however, dates back centuries, to times when mixed vineyards served as an insurance policy against Mother Nature’s wrath, and a reliable harvest was paramount.
In the chilly, maritime climate of Bordeaux in France, where early rains can halt ripening and late springs can ruin a season at its onset, blends provided winemakers with more dependable yields, and more dependable wines. To this day, the practice continues to enable the region to yield exceptional wines in good vintages, and palatable wines in difficult years. Bordeaux is famous for its red blends.
The Bordelaise vintners weren’t the only early blenders in the wine world. Across European growing regions, planting a range of grapes was extremely popular. Chianti, the Sangiovese-based red of Tuscany in Italy, is often a blend, with up to 20 percent non-Sangiovese allowed in finished wines. (Burgess, L 2017).
As I stated earlier, the distinction between varietal and blended wines is less clear in practice – many of the “straight Shiraz” you drink are indeed, blends; and further to this, many varietal wines are made from blends of wine grown in several regions. Australia’s iconic Penfolds Grange is such an example. Each year hundreds of samples from many vineyards are tasted and evaluated before the final blend is decided upon. The result is a blend of regions, rather than varieties. The wine is mostly Shiraz, but in some years it contains some Cabernet Sauvignon. (Vino Diversity 2017).
In Australia, for a winery to label a wine as a Shiraz, it only needs to contain 85% Shiraz! The same applies for any single grape variety. Australian Shiraz often contains a small percentage of Merlot or Viognier but purely for marketing purposes – and perfectly legally – it will only state Shiraz on the label. The Merlot or Viognier is typically added for colour intensity and/or flavour.
At The Organic Wine Cellar, we sell many great red and white blends; all certified organic and many also preservative free. Our top picks are Cullen’s Mangan Merlot Malbec Petit Verdot (Cullen excel at Bordeaux-style reds), Yangarra’s McLaren Vale GSM (a classic Australian blend) and Rosnay’s Freedom Preservative Free Chardonnay Semillon.
Burgess, L 2017, ‘The Secret History of Blending Wines’ <https://vinepair.com/articles/secret-history-blending-wines/>, viewed 10 November 2017.
Vino Diversity 2017, ‘Blended wines and varietal wines’ <https://www.vinodiversity.com/blended-wines.html>, viewed 10 November 2017.