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 15 famous blends from around the world you should know!
1. Bordeaux (Red) – The 5 major grapes in this red blend are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot, and Malbec. However, most red blends are either dominated by Cabernet (from the left Bank of the rivers) and Merlot (right bank). But ultimately, each grape brings something unique to the bull-bodied blend.
2. Bordeaux (White) – The 3 grapes in this white blend are Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, and Muscadelle. Most styles of Bordeaux Blanc are dry, and each grape contributes its own characteristics. While most blends are typically unoaked, there are some producers that prefer to add an element of oak-aging to the wine.
3. Côtes du Rhone – The 3 grapes of this Southern Rhone blend are Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre, also known by their acronym “GSM.” The blend is usually medium-bodied, fruity, and meant for immediate consumption. Cotes du Rhone Villages are a bit more structured and many have the ability to age for years in the bottle.
4. Châteauneuf-du-Pape – There are 13 grapes allowed in this blend, with the dominant varieties being Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre. Winemakers can decide which of the 13 they choose to add, but do not have to use them all (some are only Grenache.) These powerful, full-bodied blends are known for their spiciness, intensity and high alcohol levels.
5. Champagne – The 3 main grapes allowed in Champagne are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. The grapes are first fermented into a still-wine and the CO2 (a bi-product of fermentation) is released and evaporated into the air. The wine is then fermented again, but this time the CO2 is purposely trapped in the bottle to create the bubbles we see and taste. Both the bottles and corks are heavy-duty to withstand the bubbles and pressure on the inside. When the bottle is opened, some of the pressure is released which creates the loud “pop!”
6. Chianti – Sangiovese is the dominate grape variety in Chianti, Tuscany. Other grapes included in this blend can be Malvasia, Trebbiano, Canaiolo Nero and Colorino. Sometimes international varieties are added including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. “Chianti Classico” and “Chianti Classico Reserva” must adhere to longer aging laws than generic Chianti. The additional aging requirements produce some of the grape’s most structured, concentrated and famous wines.
7. Super-Tuscans – This blend is usually a combination of Sangiovese grapes with varying amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. Other regional names for this blend are “Toscana” and “Bolgheri.” Super-Tuscans are often compared to France’s famous Bordeaux blend, as it uses some of the same blending partners.
8. Valpolicella – Corvina is the main grape found in this blend. Others can include Rondinella, Corvinone, and Molinara. Wines labeled “Amarone della Valpolicella” are blends made from grapes that are dried indoors before they are fermented into wine. These are usually full-bodied wines with high alcohol and red cherry flavors.
9. Rioja (Red) – The 2 main grapes of this blend are Tempranillo and Garnacha, but can also include Graciano and Cariñena. The blends have both red and black fruit characteristics, intense flavors, and spicy notes from aging in American or French Oak. The best examples have the ability to age for many years in the bottle.
10. Priorat – The 2 grapes in this blend are Garnacha and Cariñena. These wines are usually expensive due to the hand-harvested grapes on slopes, and the high quality of wine produced. This blend is usually deep in color, high in alcohol, full-bodied and with soft tannins.
11. Cava – The 3 main grapes allowed in Cava blends are Macabeu (Viura), Xarel-Lo, Parellada. Premium wines are sometimes made with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Like Champagne, the blend is first fermented into a still wine. The wine is then fermented again, but this time the CO2 is purposely trapped in the bottle to create the bubbles we see and taste.
12. Sherry – The 3 main grapes allowed in fortified Sherry blends are Palomino, Pedro Ximenez (PX) and Muscat of Alexandria. The wine is fermented and then fortified with a neutral grape spirit, raising the alcohol to 15%-17%. Some Sherrys are aged for a long time with yeast, giving it a tangy and salty flavor. Others are aged for long periods of time with oxygen, giving it a toffee and caramel taste. Sherrys can be sweet or dry. Old Sherrys are browner in color.
13. Vinho Verde – The 3 man grapes of this blend are Alvarinho, Arinto and Loureiro. The grapes from this blend are picked when they are young and acidic. The flavors are green apple, lemon, lime, and grapefruit. The final style is dry, light-bodied, and low in alcohol. One of the most noteworthy characteristics is that many are semi-sparkling.
14. Port – The 5 major grapes of this fortified wine blend are Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Touriga Franca, Tinta Barocca, and Tinta Cao. During the fermentation process the wine is also fortified with liquor, raising the ABV to up to 22%. Some Ports are young, others are rare and can be aged for many decades.
15. Meritage – The major grapes for Meritage (pronounced like “heritage”) are the same ones used in Bordeaux: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot, and Malbec. The final blend is similar to Bordeaux, with the exception that the Californian grapes are generally a bit riper, darker, and may be aged in American oak barrels as opposed to French oak.
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