Some of the most collectible wines in the world are blends. Bordeaux wines, Burgundy wines, Champagne, the Super Tuscans, Chiantis, Riojas, Ports, and a whole lot more.
Consider some of the most famous names in wine and they are sure to include blends: Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Antinori Tignanello, Louis Roederer and Penfolds anyone?
To decry blends in favour of single varietal or single vineyard wines makes no sense. Firstly, single cultivar wines are often blends of separately vinified batches from different vineyards, selected for their individually distinctive aroma, flavour and texture profiles. The same can even be said for some single vineyard wines, where perhaps intra-vineyard blocks or certain vine rows are treated differently in the cellar from others to provide an additional dimension to the final wine.
Blending can enhance character and complexity, balance and texture. It can also give a multi-faceted expression to a particular place, amplifying terroir.
There are other more pragmatic reasons for blending too, to achieve consistency from one vintage to the next. Or to make the components available go further to accommodate crop losses from climatic mishaps, like spring frosts, hail, unseasonal winds, drought, you name it.
Establishing a blend can often be a very arduous process, requiring multiple tries before settling on the final recipe.
On the other hand, field blends, where a mix of varieties are planted in one or more vineyards and then vinified together, have a long tradition. Interplanting Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc in the Bordeaux region can provide a hedge against climatic conditions than can be unfavourable for ripening. Cabernet Sauvignon battles to ripen in cooler conditions, whereas Merlot and Cabernet Franc can achieve ripeness at lower temperatures. (Climate change and warmer temperatures generally mean this is no longer the problem it once was).
Syrah can sometimes be interplanted with white grape, Viognier, to add perfume, liveliness and greater balance.
European regulations regarding blending percentages are very specific for certain styles of wine. In the New World there are fewer constraints and often winemakers will challenge convention by blending unusual combinations. Nederburg, for example was praised for bringing Nebbiolo, Sangiovese and Barbera together in the Ingenuity Italian Blend. The Ingenuity White blend, led by Sauvignon Blanc but including seven other varieties, amongst them lesser-known grapes such as Marsanne and Verdelho, was another ground breaker.
In South Africa, some red blends have become iconic, celebrated for their longevity and the enduring delight they offer. Chateau Libertas (going strong for over 90 years is an example). Others would be Nederburg Baronne, Alto Rouge and Zonnebloem Lauréat. There are also many good examples of Pinotage-based Cape blends.
South African white blends are also much in demand. Interestingly, it was Chenin Blanc that helped to bring them to international attention. Critics have been thrilled to explore local expressions of the French grape and have been just as enthusiastic about Chenin-based blends, often combined with Mediterranean varieties.
Look out for some of these wines. They’ll reward you with a bounty of aromas and flavours.