Blend or varietal wine?
When choosing a wine, do you pay attention to whether it is a blend or a varietal wine? As you can imagine, each of them has its own style, production method, and characteristics. In this article, we will explore the difference between the two, while a future article will describe specific examples of both types in detail.
In general terms, a blend, also known as a mixed wine, assemblage or coupage is made from a combination of two or more grape varieties, while a varietal wine is made primarily from a single grape variety. However, as we will see, this distinction is not as straightforward as it seems and has various nuances and curiosities.
The idea behind a blend is to create a wine with a balanced flavor, aroma, and texture that is difficult to achieve with a single grape variety. This complex task for the winemaker involves a careful selection of grape varieties that, when combined in different proportions, will result in a wine with the desired characteristics. It could be said that it is a designed wine, a result of the winemaker’s creativity and knowledge.
Blends can also be an effective way to compensate for the weaknesses of a specific grape variety. For example, if a variety lacks body, a winemaker can blend it with another variety that has a fuller body to create a more balanced wine.
There is no limit to the number of grape varieties that can be used in a blend. Most wines from major European wine regions are the result of blending different grape varieties.
For example, in France, Bordeaux wines often contain Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot grapes, while Châteauneuf-du-Pape from the Rhône Valley can include no less than thirteen varieties, including Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre. The expensive Super Tuscan wines from Italy incorporate international varieties with the native Sangiovese grape. The same applies to Spanish Priorat wines, which blend Garnacha tinta and Cariñena with varieties from other origins. In turn, Portuguese red Port wine is made from a coupage of Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca, Touriga, and Tinta Cão.
A varietal wine is a wine that, in theory, is made primarily from a single grape variety, which defines the wine’s organoleptic characteristics. The winemaker carefully selects the grapes to create a wine that showcases the unique characteristics of that variety and its terroir. Varietal wines allow wine drinkers to explore the distinct qualities of a specific grape variety and learn to distinguish them.
In general, in the New World, wines are known for their varietals, while traditional European wines are primarily known by their region (such as Chianti, Rioja, or Burgundy).
However, in Europe, there are notable varietal wines as well. These include Pinot Noir from the Burgundy region, Barolo wine from Piedmont made with Nebbiolo grapes, Tempranillo wine from La Rioja or Ribera del Duero in Spain, and Touriga Nacional red wine from Portugal.
The New World also offers very notable varietal wines, such as Malbec in Argentina, Zinfandel in California, Shiraz in Australia, and South Africa, among many others.
Difference between Varietal and Monovarietal
What is the difference between a varietal and a monovarietal? According to the regulations of the European Union, a varietal wine must be made with at least 85% of grapes from the specified variety. In other parts of the world, the proportion may vary.
The application of this European regulation implies that when we buy a varietal wine whose label indicates that it is made from a specific grape, such as Syrah, at least 85% of the content comes from Syrah grapes. It could also be made with 100% Syrah grapes (in that case, it would become a monovarietal), but if the producer chooses to, they could include up to 15% of other grape varieties in the wine and still legally sell it as a Syrah varietal.
Monovarietal wine, then, is a specific form of varietal wine made 100% from a single grape variety, without blending with any other.
Blend of Monovarietal?
Although it may seem contradictory, it is possible to create blends or mixed wines using a single grape variety in order to achieve greater balance and complexity in the wine. For example, by blending grapes of the same variety from different soils, altitudes and climates, the resulting wine can benefit from the contribution of different flavor and aroma notes that harmonize better when combined. This blend is known as a terroir blend.
Another possible combination is using grapes of a single variety but from different vintages, each contributing its own characteristics to the final result. Different fermentations of the same variety can also be blended to achieve a specific flavor profile.
So, when we see the curious inscription “Malbec Malbec” on a label, for example, we will know that the wine is a blend of Malbec grapes from two different regions or vintages.
Variety and Quality
Finally, keep in mind that the quality of the wine does not depend on the number of grape varieties used in its production. During the tours of the different wine regions offered by Viavinum, our wine tourism agency, you will be able to enjoy excellent wines, both blends and varietals, discover their differences, and find your favorites.