Unpolished Grape 101: What Does a “Blend” Mean?

If you drink wine, you’ve probably already noticed that some are labeled as “varietals,” and others as “blends.” What’s the difference?

Generally speaking, a varietal is a wine made by a single grape. A blend is a cross between two or more grapes, vintages, and/or sourcing areas. Here are several examples of a blend:

  1. A red blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot
  2. A Champagne blend of 2017, 2018, and 2019 vintages
  3. A blend of white grapes from Eastern and Western Australia

There are several reasons why a wine-maker may choose to blend their wine. Let’s explore!

For Style & Taste

Grapes are often blended to achieve a certain style of wine. For example, a “Bordeaux” is a blend of several grapes- each contributing something unique to the final wine. Cabernet Sauvignon adds its bold fruit and tannin, Merlot provides roundness and finesse, Cabernet Franc gives its floral notes, and lastly, Petite Verdot and Malbec donate their spicy flavors. Other famous blends include Rioja, Super Tuscans, and Port.

A wine-maker may also blend red wines from different oak barrels to diversify tastes. Or blend different white wines that have undergone various processes in the winery.

For Consistency

Consistency is important for a brand. If a consumer drinks a bottle of wine from Brown Estate in Napa, they will expect their wines to always taste the same every time they purchase it. If every bottle tasted different, consumers would lose confidence and not know what they are getting. In addition, annual weather changes could effect how grapes taste from year to year. Blending wine from different vintages gives a wine-maker more control over consistency so that they produce a similar same taste, no matter the year.

For Balance

Sometimes wines taste unbalanced for different reasons. Perhaps, one vat of a Cabernet Sauvignon tastes too astringent and needs to be softened a by a small percentage of Merlot. Or maybe a Syrah vat has a good flavor, but needs a little Mourvédre added for body. Wines could also be blended with grapes that have higher acidity and alcohol, making them more suitable for long-term aging. Blending grapes also give wine-makers a chance to correct faults or other factors that could lead to an unbalanced wine.


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