You’ve probably heard the term “blend” when people talk about a particular wine, but what exactly are they really referring to? It’s simply a combination of two or more varietals, with a varietal being the equivalent of a purebred grape. Think of crossing a labrador (varietal) with a poodle (varietal) to come up with a labradoodle (blend) and you’ve got the picture.
It’s interesting to note that in the Pacific Northwest, blends were almost non-existent fifteen to twenty years ago. I recall Hedges Cellars producing a semillon/chardonnay in the late 1980’s that raised more than a few eyebrows. How could they possibly imagine commingling the flavors of these two varietals that were perfectly fine on their own?
Well, by doing so they got the nice herbaceousness characteristics of a semillon to complement the fruity, toasty qualities of a chardonnay. In short, they ended up with a more complex wine that gave consumers the best of both varietals, which I think is one of the best features that blends have to offer.
So how do you know if you’re buying a blend? In Washington, any wine label that refers to the name of only one grape must be at least 75 percent of that grape. In other words, winemakers can blend in up to 25 percent of other varietals before they cross the regulatory threshold, meaning you’re probably drinking more blends than you might have expected.
Fortunately, some wineries now list the percentages of grapes they use on the back label, which can take some of the guesswork out of determining what’s inside the bottle. In addition, many wineries now have web sites that include winemaker notes that discuss details such as a wine’s acidity level, residual sugar content and varietal composition, providing consumers with even more useful information.