Recently, a friend and I were chatting about bottles of wine labeled, “Red Blend”. We Winos know these bottles are a mix of various grapes blended together. But why is it that some bottles are categorized as “blends” whereas others are not? And what exactly makes up a “red blend”?
Upon looking for a little extra Wine Know on the topic, I concluded that it is easier to explain what a red blend is by explaining what it is not. So, fellow Winos, on today’s “Did You Wine Know…?” post, in order to explain what it is not, we will begin to explore the wonderful world of wine labeling…
Labeling by the Varietal
We are all familiar with enjoying a glass (or bottle) of Cabernet Sauvignon, or Malbec, or Syrah. Most wines from around the world are labeled according to the type of grape (“varietal”) from which they are made. In order for a bottle to be labeled “Cabernet Sauvignon”, for example, the wine must be made mostly from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. And “mostly” is far more ambiguous than the rules actually state. The American Viticultural Areas (AVA) defines and establishes wine regions and labeling rules in the U.S.; it states that in order to name a wine by the grape varietal (“Malbec”), that 75% of the wine must be made from that grape. And some states have made the rules even more strict. For example, in Oregon, most wines labeled by the varietal must be made from 90% of that varietal.
There are other ways to define a bottle of wine besides the varietal. A few such options (in the U.S., anyway) include:
- Labeling by AVA Wine Region: When designating a wine from a specific AVA wine region, such as “Napa Valley”, 85% of the wine in that bottle must be made from grapes grown in that region.
- Labeling by County: Likewise, when labeling wine by a county, such as “Sonoma County Wine”, 75% of the grapes that made that wine must be from that county.
- Labeling by State: And similarly, when labeled by state, 75% of the must be made from that state.
Note that these rules are only for areas within the AVA, which includes only the U.S. The European wine laws are approached much differently (…stand by for future W2WK post!). Other wine producing areas of the world have their own regional wine laws, but have a similar approach to that of the AVA’s system.
(…Once Again…) What’s a Red Blend?
So back to the beginning… what makes up a red blend?! Well, based on the above labeling rules, a red blend is basically red wine that is made up of less than 75% of any one varietal. Most bottles of red blends list the different grapes that make up that wine, and often list the percentages of those grapes as well. For example, I recently enjoyed a bottle of Alamos Red Blend, and its label indicates that it consists of: 53% Malbec, 15% Bonarda, 14% Tempranillo, 13% Syrah, 5% Cabernet Franc.
Why do winemakers mix up so many varietals? Usually, they are doing so to find a certain texture, or flavor, or complexity in the wine. Mixing varietals allows a winemaker to balance harsh or soft flavors of different grapes to create a unique flavor.
Most European wines are a blend. There, they are not labeled according to grape varietal, but by region. So when you drink a Bordeaux, for example, you are drinking a glass of wine made from grapes in the Bordeaux region, but a mix of Bordeaux varietals.
Hopefully that clarifies a little about red blends. I’m considering this an introduction on the topic. Once I started reading about some of this, I discovered there is A LOT to understand about labeling, wine regions, and how it is approached differently around the world. In the meantime, check out this list of 10 red blends for under $10. (Oh, and although it may be tempting to make your own red blend by mixing the last drops of one bottle with another, I don’t recommend it.)
Source for this post’s Wine Know: The Wine Bible