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Two Women on Wone: Wine blends -- a tapestry of flavors

Deciding what varietals go together is a true art

Posted: January 21, 2011 6:00 a.m.
Updated: January 21, 2011 6:00 a.m.
Lil Lepore and Shari Frazier Lil Lepore and Shari Frazier
Lil Lepore and Shari Frazier

One of the most exciting aspects of wine is the world of blends. As much as we enjoy a big, bold Cabernet Sauvignon, a silky, velvety Pinot Noir, or a lush Zinfandel, we are always intrigued by blends. We love the nuances and layers of flavors in these wonderful wines. Each sip of a blend brings a different experience to the palate; it's like having a tapestry of flavors in your mouth.

By definition, wine blending is "simply combining different types of grapes, vineyards, vintages or appellations to create a wine."

But there is nothing simple about it. Blending is a very important process in making great wines and involves experience, talent and instinct on the part of the winemaker.

Just as an artist expresses his or her vision on a canvas, a musician creates a musical score or a chef creates a wonderful, savory dish, so too does the winemaker. His or her canvas, music sheet or recipe is the vine. When blending, the winemaker takes into account each grape's terroir, flavor, body, acidity, finish, color or aging potential when deciding on what varietals work well together.

The ultimate goal is to produce a blend of wine that is greater than the sum of its parts. Each varietal brings something to the blending party: Cabernet Sauvignon with its tannins and structure; Merlot with its softness; Petite Sirah with its deep color; Cabernet Franc with its aromatics; Syrah with its spices. The winemaker is the conductor of an orchestra of different grapes creating a wine with a crescendo of flavors.

Some of the most expensive wines in the world are blends: Chateau Latour (Bordeaux), Dom Perignon (Champagne), Opus One (Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc/Merlot), and Screaming Eagle (Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Cabernet Franc). One of the oldest classic blends is Bordeaux, which showcases the noble grapes of the Bordeaux region of France - namely Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, and Petit Verdot.

Some common blends are: Bordeaux blend; Rhone blend (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre); Meritage (rhymes with heritage, a blend of two or more of the Bordeaux varietals); field blend (making wine from different grapes within a single vineyard); Champagne blends (typically a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier); and Chateauneuf-du-Pape (a blend of up to 13 permitted varietals).

Although the most popular blends are red wines, white varietals are also blended. Such examples would be Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon blend, or a white Rhone blend (Marsanne, Roussanne, Viognier).

Most, if not all, U.S. wines are blends. In the United States, 75 percent of a specific varietal is all that is needed to be able to label that wine as such. Even wines made of 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, for instance, may still be a blend of different vineyards or appellations of Cabernet. Silver Oak 2006 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is an example of a wine blended from different vineyards.

Although the label may indicate a specific varietal, it doesn't mean 100 percent of that grape is in the bottle. The wine may have small percentages of other varietals or, as with the 2006 Silver Oak, is blended from various vineyards. On all wines that are blends, the first varietal listed on the label is typically the dominant grape in the wine.

Examples of other popular blends are Grenache/Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot and Syrah/Merlot. On a personal note, we love searching out the unusual blends, such as Syrah/Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay/Sauvignon Blanc, Carmenere/Syrah, and Sangiovese/Syrah/Cabernet Sauvignon. It's exciting to find these wonderful wines and we have yet to be disappointed.
Customers often ask what wine they should bring as a gift or to a party. If they don't know the type of wine the recipient prefers, we always recommend a blend. It makes the perfect wine gift since blends always have something for everyone in one bottle.

The next time you're shopping for wine, here are some different blends we suggest:
- Heavyweight Red (Lodi) Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah/Zinfandel
- Falerina (Chile) Carmenere/Syrah
- Harmonious (Paso Robles) Syrah/Cabernet Franc
- Clos de los Siete (Argentina) Malbec/Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Syrah
- Justin Isoceles Meritage (Paso Robles) Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc/Merlot
- Ritratti (Italy) Chardonnay/Pinot Grigio
- Hearthstone Pearl (Paso Robles) Roussanne/Viognier

By now you can tell we love blends with the nuances and surprises they have to offer. We appreciate the talent of each of these winemakers to blend varietals that all come together to create wonderful wines. Our hope is that you explore and enjoy them as much as we do. Cheers!


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