All in the Mix



I think a few myths need to be exploded here so we can all move on

First of all, to have a single grape variety on the label within the EU it only has to contain 85% of that one variety (another thing we’ll have to argue over soon!). So your favourite Chardonnay might actually have 15% of another grape variety, heaven forfend. The winery could choose to mention the extra, especially if it has marketing potential. For example, we have a 95% Garganega, 5% Pinot Grigio called GPG. Guess which grape has top billing on the label? Yep, you guessed it.. the public won’t even clock the word Gargenega as they don’t know it. (The wine’s great by the way).

Even if it is 100% something, it’s likely to be made up of a few different parcels of grapes from across the region, often vinified separately, then blended together to form a balanced wine. I’ve done this with a winemaker from the Languedoc. She brought 7 separate Syrah parcels she used to make her flagship wine and we as a group had to try to recreate it. It was an eye-opening experience; one parcel was gamey and full, one peppery and light, one plush and fruity, one tooth-squeekingly tannic and astringent, etc. Remember, these are all Languedoc Syrah from her own vineyards but all very different in flavour, weight, acidity, aromatics, etc.You choose the style that most appeals to you and use the elements you have at your disposal to get there. Of course, everyone doing the exercise came up with a wildly different end result.It’s funny to think of it as a bit like a chef trying to make a stew with just an onion! They’re not likely to make a great one…..although caramelized onions certainly have their appeal….

Then we can turn our attention to all those fine wines that you may or may not be aware are almost always blends……

Champagne: most are a mix of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier in varying proportions (note 2 are red grapes!). There’s an argument that the region pioneered blending across a myriad of vineyard sites, grape varieties and even vintages (most Champagnes are non-vintage, i.e. sourced from more than one year’s harvest).

“Glass of cool, crisp Champers?” “No thanks, I don’t do blends” I hear almost no-one saying.
Bordeaux reds: A region that defines the art of blending. The reds lean on Cabernet Sauvignon (blackcurrant, tannin, structure) & Merlot (fleshy, soft) with Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot & Malbec as supporting struts. The “First Growths” ie the finest wines in France are all blends. French winemakers would traditionally state that terroir, the semi-mystical combination of soil, climate, aspect of slope, light, attitude of winemaker, etc, is more important than grape variety, and they may well be right. It could also help explain why the wines are largely named geographically rather than by grape.

“Glass of £500 posh red?” “No thanks, it’s a blend” I hear even fewer people say.
Then there’s Port (a bewildering mix of local varieties, Sauternes (Sauvignon & Semillon), Chianti (Sangiovese and others), Rioja (Tempranillo, Garnacha, Graciano), Cotes Du Rhone (Grenache & Syrah), Amarone & Valpolicella (Corvina, Rondinella, Molinara), I could go on. Looking at those names, it’s obvious that the wines have a brand identity that transcends the raw materials. The New World doesn’t have that same geographic tradition so lead with grape instead.
Perhaps having too many grapes mentioned merely confuses the punter!
Anyway, I hope I’ve convinced the waiverers not to worry about the blend and trust the palates of those experienced, passionate men & women swirling & spitting on their behalf.

Now to address the ABC (anything but Chardonnay) crowd…..ok, maybe next time.

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