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There are many different types of red blends. The red blend isn’t a type of wine, but rather a designation we use to label wines that are made from more than one variety of grape. There are more red blends than we could possibly name in one article, so we’ll discuss the characteristics, how it’s made, and several different varieties.
It’s up to you, armed with your new knowledge, to select the red blends that you like best by doing research, looking at labels, and tasting them yourself. From Bordeaux and Chianti to lesser-known names like Priorat and Rioja, there’s plenty to choose from.
History of the Red Blend Wine
Winemakers have been experimenting with blends for centuries. There are some well-known traditional blends like Bordeaux, but there are also newer combinations developed in the last few decades. The success of popular blends propel the practice forward and winemakers continue to experiment with blending wines today.
Contrary to popular belief, blending wines didn’t start as a fad or a way to improve wine’s flavor, although it does do that, and it’s a big reason why blends are so popular today. Blending wines goes back centuries, to a time when Mother Nature was unpredictable and the weather could just as easily wipe out your harvest as it could cause it to proliferate beyond your expectations.
Tending to a mixed vineyard gave winemakers a better chance of their crop surviving, giving them a more reliable result. The successful growth of their grapes mattered more than the flavour of the wine.
Not only did blending grapes increase reliability, but it also ensured wine in every season. Different grapes grow in different climates, so planting grapes early ensured they were safe from weather and pests, and also gave winemakers a year-round harvest.
Of course, this practice gave us some of the blends we love most today. These mixed vineyards produced super grapes that resulted in hardy crops, exceptional attributes, and unique tastes. What these winemakers did to preserve their livelihood, modern winemakers have perfected.
Blending wine for flavour began in the 1800s, well after wine consumption became popular. Winemakers today create blends by carefully selecting the dominant attributes of different grape varieties. Cabernet Franc has spicy aromas, Petit Verdot has a deep colour, and Merlot has a rich plum flavour. These qualities help balance out red blends and make them more fantastic together than they often are alone.
Red Blend Characteristics
Red blends can vary drastically in aroma, color, structure, flavor, and ageability. Cool climates produce red blends that are bright and light while warm climates give us bold, dark red blends. Plenty of things factor into taste such as growing region, season, and decisions the vintner makes regarding when to harvest, how long to age, and when to blend.
The point of blending wines is to complement and enhance a grape’s characteristics. Combining a Cabernet Sauvignon with a Merlot gives the wine tannins that can influence the structure of the wine and increase its ageability.
Because there are so many combinations of red blends on the market, the only character that we can say is present in all of them is the reason they were blended in the first place – to make them better together than they are apart.
Making Red Blends
Red blends come from crushing and fermenting each variety of grape individually. After extracting the juice, winemakers create the blend by conducting blending trials in which they taste each trial blend to identify their unique characteristics.
Sometimes white wine varieties are added for balance, like in the Rhone blend where Viognier grapes are added to Syrah wines for levity. The vineyard’s location influences red blends just as much as decisions that the winemaker makes. The region can impact flavour and the same grape grown in two different regions will have very distinct tastes.
Sometimes these differences are subtle and other times they’re over, but they always cause for a deeper investigation into the overwhelmingly broad red blend category of wines.
It’s important that winemakers take the time to explore the wide selection of red blends to study region-specific and uncommon varieties. This promotes the continual improvement of the red blend collection of wines.
Red Blend Varieties
With so many red blend varieties, and new ones being explored all the time, we can’t list them all. Not only are there dozens of different blends, but the two wines that comprise a particular blend are mixed in different proportions depending on the winery making it. This results in hundreds of different blends producing unique flavors that appeal to many different tastes. Here, we’ll talk about some of the most popular blends and what makes them great.
This red wine blend comes from the Bordeaux region of France, where it’s chilly most of the time. It often rains early in the season, causing late ripening. Before winemakers had the ability to control their harvest, the late spring ruined the grapes, so combining grape varieties helped prevent this.
While unpredictable weather patterns make it hard for red grapes to ripen as they should, blending these varieties produced dependable wines. Bordeaux blends allow for five different types of grapes with similar nutrients to thrive in this type of environment.
Bordeaux wine is made by combining Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot in different proportions. While it doesn’t have to contain all of these varieties, it is allowed to contain as many of the five as the vintner chooses to use.
Even today, these practices allow this particular region to produce superior wines of good vintages. Even difficult years see flourishing grapes that create palatable wines. For instance, while Cabernet Sauvignon has trouble ripening when the weather is particularly cold, Merlot and Cabernet Franc thrive with less sun exposure.
When blended, these three varieties can produce a great Bordeaux wine so nothing goes to waste. Vintners can still use the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes even though they are underripe, tannic, and extremely acidic.
The Gironde flows through the Bordeaux region, and Bordeaux wines from the left bank are more acidic and have more tannins. They age well and have powerful flavours. Right bank Bordeaux is made from heavier concentrations of Merlot, creating a softer, fruitier taste that doesn’t need to age for as long.
As you can see already, the Bordeaux blend contains countless blending options from up to five different grape varieties to create the perfect balance of flavour, aroma, and texture. Even wines within this one variety are different among regions and winemakers.
Believe it or not, Champagne is a blend. Vintners use Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier, and Pinot Noir to create this traditional French wine. The Pinot Noir adds a powerful fruity aroma and establishes structure and the Pinot Meunier gives the wine an intense bouquet of flavour.
Chardonnay grapes are the pinnacle of great Champagne. However, because of the varying soil composition and climates in the Champagne region, these grapes can produce a very diverse spectrum of Chardonnay. The resulting Champagne can be very sweet or very dry.
In such a volatile and unpredictable climate, blending Chardonnay became critical to the grapes’ survival before the development of irrigation systems and other tools used to control growth. Even today, it can be difficult to predict the result of Chardonnay in this region.
Chianti comes from the Chianti region of Tuscany, Italy. It contains between 80% and 90% Sangiovese and combined with other local varieties of red or white grapes like Trebbiano or Canaiolo Nero. While Tuscany has seven zones, the Chianti Rufini and the Chianti Classico regions are known to produce the best grapes.
Chianti has bold flavors that can include plum and cherry notes or dark almond and coffee flavors. It is always a majority Sangiovese and requires at least 80%, if not 90%. However, the remaining 10-20% varies and influences flavor drastically.
Spain has been cultivating the Tempranillo grape in the Rioja region for more than 2,000 years. This grape is the primary component in Rioja red blends. Other grapes like Garnacha, Graciano, and Mazuelo are added to finish it off.
Rioja wines have fruity flavors and floral notes, are very strong, and age well. Rioja is similar to Bordeaux but much more affordable. It’s classified based on the grapes used and how long it was aged.
Also from Spain, the Priorat red blend is made from Garnacha grapes, mixed with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah. The Priorat hills have very rocky soil that departs an intense flavor into the grapes with a mineral zest.
This harsh environment reduces the number of cultivated vines, so all flavors are much more concentrated and fresh. This wine pairs well with hearty or spicy foods and is great for those people whose palate requires deeper flavor that resonates for a long time after taking a sip.
Ports are classic dessert wines blended fortified with spirits. It originates in Portugal, which is where the name comes from. It’s made of several indigenous grape varieties including Tinta Barroca and Touriga Franca.
Each variety imparts its own unique tones and the result is a blend that is rich, warm, and fruity. Flavors in Ports typically include strawberry, raspberry, cinnamon, caramel, chocolate, and clove. Some Ports taste wonderful without much aging while others are aged for up to 60 years.
A Meritage blend is in the Bordeaux style but created in the United States. Compared to other red blends that have been around for centuries, this one is relatively new. These red blends are made from French grape varieties typically grown in the state of California.
It’s usually made from a combination of Bordeaux grapes but can also include Carmenere, St. Macaire, or Gros Verdot. Meritage blends can be drunk young but also age well. They have a powerful and complex flavor like the Bordeaux but are smooth and harmonious.
Côtes du Rhône
This red blend is a combination of the French grapes Syrah, Mourvedre, and Grenache. It can vary in flavor depending on the region. Northern region Côtes du Rhône is dry and structured while flavors from the south are brighter and fruitier. It may include spice, plum, and chocolate. It is robust but not overpowering.
The Best Red Blends
Believe it or not, many of the wines you drink may be blends and you don’t know it. An affordable Pinot Noir is likely mixed with something else to make it cheaper. That certainly doesn’t make it bad, and if you enjoy the flavor, then, by all means, drink it.
Here are some of the red blends we enjoy the most, and despite what’s on the label, they are in fact red blends.
2013 Sonoma Collection District 3 Red Blend
The vineyard managers at Sonoma collaborated to create this medium-bodied red blend with toasty aromas by using regional connections to source their grapes. While their grapes are mostly Merlot, there are a few other varieties they hand-selected to create their desired taste.
NV Marietta Old Vine Red Lot
When the mood strikes, vintner Jake Bilbro releases the nonvintage Zinfandel that he creates from old-vine vineyards in Northern California. This red blend is only bottled when the time is right, but it’s rich in berry flavors and affordable.
2014 Joel Gott Columbia Valley Red
Think of a cherry pie fresh out of the oven and the flavor that comes to mind won’t be far off from this mostly Merlot red blend. The American oak native to the state of Washington gives it a warm spiced note.
2013 Purple Heart Red
The great thing about this red blend made with a peppery Syrah is that part of the proceeds go to the Purple Heart Foundation. The winemakers are Vietnam veteran Ray Coursen and Iraq veteran David Grega.
2013 Bogle The Phantom
This unique red blend has an intense licorice flavor and is mixed with primarily Petite Sirah and Zinfandel. The big spiced candy flavor and spooky name make it the perfect addition to a Halloween party.
2013 Buty Winery Beast Wildebeest
This red blend comes from the Walla Walla winery in Washington, owned by vintner Nina Buty. She is known for making quality Rhône-style and Cabernet blends. Beast label wines are similar in quality but cost much less. The Wildebeest is plush and rich Syrah-Cabernet blend.
Drinking Red Blends
Winemakers can design their own wines by blending grapes in many different ways. While this wasn’t the original intent, it has become a popular practice among modern vineyards. Vintage wineries still dedicate their resources to producing classic red blends, too.
Red blends come in a variety of tastes, aromas, structures, and more depending on too many factors to count. Climate, region, and grape variety influence taste, but a vintner’s choice impact it just as much. Choosing when to harvest, when to blend, and in what proportions can drastically change the taste of a red blend.
Most of the popular wines we celebrate and enjoy today are made from blending several different grape varieties. While they can’t control the weather, vintners and winemakers can use blending to control and enhance their wine’s flavour.
While blending wines requires knowledge and skill, it doesn’t take an expert to find the taste you like best. A successfully blended red wine will have balanced flavours that complement one another and feel harmonious on your palate. Now come the fun. Try them all for yourself and find your favourite.