Why Winemakers Blend

One of the special places on Earth for growing Cabernet Sauvignon grapes is the Rutherford sub-appellation of the Napa Valley.

For one member of the Vinesse tasting panel, the Rutherford-designated Cab from Pine Ridge Winery—a wine originally known as “Rutherford Cuvee”—has been his benchmark Cabernet for nearly 20 years.

The 2008 vintage is about as close as one can get to a 100% varietal wine. There’s just 1% Merlot in the blend; the rest is Cabernet Sauvignon.

Another panel member loves a wine called “Rutherford” from Frog’s Leap Winery, where a very different approach to winemaking is embraced. The “Rutherford” was introduced in 1996, and while the 2007 vintage is 93 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, there have been years when the Cab portion was as low as 60 percent.

With the “Rutherford,” it’s all about producing a wine that smells and tastes like its place of origin—and that means tweaking the blend from vintage to vintage.

French vintners have taken this approach for generations. In the Bordeaux region, for instance, it’s rare to encounter a 100-percent varietal wine, whether it’s entirely Cabernet Sauvignon or entirely Merlot. Most vintners utilize both varieties in their cuvees, and many include smaller portions of Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot.

They blend—just as John Williams does at Frog’s Leap—to evoke a sense of place.

There are other reasons for blending as well.

In the cases of both artisanal and mass-produced wines, a vintner may blend to develop and then perpetuate a “house style.” Among the larger producers, Kendall-Jackson has built a reputation for making Chardonnay that is dependably fruitful, with an engaging vanilla note and just a hint of sweetness. Because it’s so similar from vintage to vintage, it has become a mainstay on countless restaurant wine lists.

Blending also can help “save” a vintage in which a particular grape variety falls short in quality or quantity. There are some years when a vintner can’t make a world-class varietal Cabernet Sauvignon, but can craft a really tasty blend.

When the ultimate goal is simply to produce an outstanding bottle of wine, rare is the vintner who does not embrace blending.

Do you have a favorite multi-variety wine? Why is it your favorite? Share your thoughts (and the name of the wine) in the comment box below.

Posted in In the Cellar
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