Let’s take a look at the beauty of the wine blend. The blending of varietals can add more complexity and depth to a wine and can result in some of the most sought-after wines in the world.
Wine enthusiasts may gravitate to the renowned region of Bordeaux, France, but most other regions of the world also have blends. Here in the U.S., we have been historically obsessed with single grape varietals. But as the American palate developed, so emerged a Meritage (rhymes with ‘heritage’), a take on the Bordeaux blends. Cuvée, a French term, has long been used for blends outside of Bordeaux, and also is a term commonly used in the States. ‘Field blend’ is another term, which refers to a process during which different grape varietals grown in the vineyard are vinified or fermented together (blending of wine is usually done after the wine is made).
But Bordeaux is where it all began. A charming port city in the southwest of France, Bordeaux has produced wines since the eighth century. It is one of the major wine capitals of the world, both in area and commerce, generating $20 billion per year in wine sales. It has some 287,000 acres of vineyards, 57 appellations, 10,000 wine-producing châteaux and 13,000 grape growers, yielding an annual production of approximately 960 million bottles.
Merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, malbec, petite verdot and carmenère are the grapes allowed in Bordeaux red wine. Separated by the Garonne and the Gironde rivers (called Left Bank on the west and Right Bank on the east) is the space in between the rivers called Entre-Deux-Mers. Some value-driven wines come from this area. The Left Bank, which houses most of the famous châteaux, is suited for all five varietals, but cabernet sauvignon excels here with the gravelly soil and good drainage.
The Right Bank, with much clay soil, is where merlot shines. The blend on Bordeaux wines usually changes every year, based on the quality of each varietal. Prices vary greatly in Bordeaux and this came about when Napoleon III wanted a classification system to rank the best châteaux. In 1855, he created the Five- Growth classification system, with First Growth being the best. The system was determined by which châteaux demanded the highest prices, and the classifications continue today with little change.
Blends are a way of taking the best attributes of a certain grape to marry with the best or cover the shortcomings of another. The result is a harmony of flavors. Blends take a little more effort to understand due to origin and varietal mix, but they are certainly easy to taste.
So whether it’s a Cuvée, Meritage, Bordeaux or other blend, dive further into the wine world and learn more about blends around the world. The beauty of the blend will shine through and your palate will enjoy the adventure.
TASTING TIP: In a Bordeaux, cabernet sauvignon is full-bodied and adds structure and tannins; medium-bodied merlot adds softness and fruitiness; cab franc, also medium-bodied, adds fruitiness and aromatics; petite verdot, full-bodied, adds dark color and structure; and medium-bodied malbec adds color.
WINE RECOMMENDATION: If you know you like a certain varietal such as cabernet sauvignon, try cabernet blends from different countries to see what you like. It’s great to see the same grape changing, depending on climate and soils.
Stanley Browne is a Certified Sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers, a Certified Specialist of Wine by the Society of Wine Educators, and the owner of Robust Wine Bar in Webster Groves. He is a 30-year veteran of the restaurant, hospitality and wine industry.