Experts say there are 10,000 varieties of grapes in the world.
So it seems like a waste to many winemakers to use only one type at a time in their wines. Besides, it must be fun to sit around during the winter lull and dream up new grape blends for next year’s wines — a little syrah for body, some pinot noir for lightness and so on.
And that’s the idea. The strengths of one grape make up for the weaknesses of another.
So this is the story of red wine blends: mixtures of two, three, a dozen red grapes in a single wine. Even a couple of white grapes sometimes to pump up the fruitiness.
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Here are some popular red grapes and what they add to blended wines:
▪ Cabernet sauvignon: structure, acids and tannins.
▪ Merlot: softness and blueberry-scented fruit.
▪ Malbec: dark color and lush black cherry flavors.
▪ Petite syrah: muscular acids and tannins.
▪ Ruby cabernet: dark color and black cherry flavors.
▪ Tannat: a sturdy red grape from Uruguay with firm tannins.
▪ Grenache: lush blueberry fruit.
▪ Viognier: a white grape that adds lush fruitiness.
Probably the most famous red blend is in France’s fabled Bordeaux wines, which must contain two or more of the following: cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, malbec and petit verdot.
Look for: 2011 Chevalier de Saint-Andre, Bordeaux, France (merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc): dark red hue, hint of smoky oak, flavors of blackberries, espresso and minerals, medium body; $11.
These days, wines from many countries contain most of the Bordeaux varietals, but subtract some grapes and add others.
Look for: 2011 Hoopla Winery “The Mutt” Red Blend, Napa, California (cabernet sauvignon, merlot, petite syrah): dark color, hint of oak, aromas and flavors of black cherries and black coffee, soft, ripe tannins; $18
Still other winemakers come up with their own red blends entirely, using several grape varieties, straying even further from the Bordeaux blend.
Look for: 2012 “The Seducer” Red Rendezvous Blend, by TGIC Importers, California (zinfandel, syrah, merlot, ruby cab, tannat): big and soft, with red raspberry flavors, spice and mellow acids and tannins; $15.
To see how far this can go, Scheid Family Wines in Monterey, California, has created a red blend for TV star Kathie Lee Gifford with a full dozen grapes, including a couple of white ones for that extra fruit.
Look for: 2011 GIFFT Estate Grown Red Blend (merlot, petite syrah, syrah, petit verdot and 4 percent other reds including tempranillo, touriga nacional, tinto cão, tannat as well as white grapes muscat canelli and riesling): soft and smooth, with aromas and flavors of black raspberries and vanilla; $20.
In Italy’s Tuscany region, to be a Chianti Classico a wine must have at least 80 percent sangiovese grapes; the other 20 percent can include native red grapes such as canaiolo and colorino as well as international grapes such as cabernet sauvignon. Since the 1970s, Tuscany also makes powerful, expensive reds called “Super Tuscans” that sometimes skip sangiovese and use merlot, cabernet sauvignon, syrah, petit verdot and other red grapes.
Look for: 2010 Terra di Monteverro, Maremma, Tuscany IGT (cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, petit verdot): powerful aromas and flavors of black cherries, black plums and bittersweet chocolate; $120.
In France, winemaker Michel Chapoutier, of Rhône wine fame, has purchased 190 acres of vines in Roussillon, near the Spanish border, to create a unique blend of syrah, grenache and carignan.
Look for: 2012 “Les Vignes de Bila-Haut,” by Michel Chapoutier, Côtes du Roussillon Villages (syrah, grenache, carignan): deep red hue, aromas and flavors of black cherries and spice; $13.
It all supports my philosophy that the greatest joy of wine is finding a new one you’ve never tried before.