Some of the world’s greatest wines are made from more than one kind of grape
By Shelley Boettcher
A little of this, a little of that. Winemakers often make their jobs seem easy, but there’s more to making wine than simply dumping a bunch of good stuff in a barrel and stirring.
Winemaking laws, history, tradition and terroir all influence what grows where — and what wines blend well with others.
With that in mind, here’s a quick look at five of the world’s most famous blends.
Amarone — One of Italy’s best-known wines, Amarone is a big, rich, red made in Italy’s Valpolicella region from partly-dried grapes including Corvina, Rondinella, Molinara and occasionally other indigenous grapes such as Negrara and Croatina.
Bordeaux — Red wines are typically Bordeaux’s most famous and most common red wines, although the sweet white wines (blends of Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle grapes) from Sauternes get rave reviews from critics.
But back to the reds. Grapes include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Left Bank wines are mostly Merlot; Right Bank wines (Saint-Emilion and Pomerol, for instance) are mostly Cabernet Sauvignon.
Bordeaux wines can only be made in France, but the grapes behind them grow around the world. When a Bordeaux-style blend is made in North America, we call it a Meritage. California and Canada’s own Okanagan Valley have many excellent examples.
And in Italy, Super-Tuscans are a variation on the Bordeaux blend. They often contain Sangiovese (an indigenous Italian grape) as well as the noble French varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon.
Champagne — Most Champagne is made from three grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Typically a rosé, or pink Champagne, is primarily Pinot Noir. A blanc de blancs, however, is made from 100 per cent Chardonnay. And Champagne can only be made in France’s Champagne region. No one else can claim the name.
Chateauneuf du Pape — The most famous appellation in France’s Southern Rhone Valley, Chateauneuf du Pape has an ancient history, although Chateauneuf du Pape only became the official name in 1893.
Since it was made law in 1936, only 13 different grapes can be used to make red or white Chateauneuf du Pape. Those grapes including Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, Clairette, Vaccarèse, Bourboulenc, Roussanne, Counoise, Muscardin, Picpoul, Picardan and Terret Noir. I dare you to say all of those out loud really fast.
Shiraz-Viognier — Wine made from Shiraz, a red grape, and Viognier, a white grape, originated in the Northern Rhone Valley (you knew I’d bring the conversation back to France somehow.) Now, however, this blend is now commonly found in Australia, where it does extremely well. Viognier gives a pretty floral note to the Shiraz, and, some say, helps to break up the meaty, savoury notes that are common in Shiraz. Some say you’ll get notes of bacon and peaches, all in the same wine.
Finca Villacreces 2013 Pruno
(Ribera del Duero, Castilla Leon, Spain)
The Villacreces land borders Vega Sicilia, a gorgeous estate that makes some of Spain’s most expensive wines. For a fraction of Vega Sicilia prices, you can try a wine made only minutes away. This medium-full-bodied wine is mostly Tempranillo with 10 per cent of Cabernet Sauvignon in the mix. On the nose, you’ll get notes of vanilla and freshly sharpened pencils. On the palate, it’s all about fruit: dark cherries, raspberries, plums. A long and delicious finish will leave you craving more. Incidentally, Pruno is a slang term used to describe wine made illegally in prison. The legal version — this one — is about $30.
Paul Jaboulet Aine 2010 Les Cedres Chateauneuf du Pape
(Chateauneuf du Pape, Rhone Valley, France)
This family-owned winery dates back to the early 1800s, but was bought by the Frey family in 2006. Blends are what make Chateauneuf du Pape wines so special, and this silky, complex red is no exception: it’s a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and Cinsault. It has great aging potential, but it’s utterly haunting now. Give it about half an hour after opening, to taste it at its best. (Indeed, everything I’ve tried recently from Paul Jaboulet Aine has been a winner.) Pair with duck, roast chicken or lamb. About $54.
Vasse Felix 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot
(Margaret River, Western Australia, Australia)
Thomas Vasse was a sailor who disappeared during a storm off the southwest coast of Australia. Rumours abounded for years — did he die? Did he sneak away to join an aboriginal family? Or was he picked up by Americans, then thrown in jail by the English? The tales are fascinating and mysterious, just like this Meritage-style blend from Down Under. The label says it’s Cab-Merlot, but it also contains a bit of Petit Verdot and Malbec. Each grape gives different qualities; the Cab, for example, gives the mighty tannic structure, while Merlot gives this wine softness. And they all contribute dark fruit and herbal flavours — eucalyptus, cedar, spice. Pair with steak, game or lamb. About $28.
Nk’Mip 2013 Mer’r’iym
(Osoyoos, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada)
The word Mer’r’iym (pronounced mur’-eem’) means “marriage” in the indigenous language of the Osoyoos Indian Band; the word is a terrific description of this Meritage. Grapes include Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Cabernet Franc. Muscular and full-bodied, it has layers of blackcurrant, dark cherries, vanilla, chocolate, baking spices and more. Pair with prime rib or steak. About $55.
JoieFarm 2015 Rethink Pink Rose
(Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada)
A Canuck nod to France’s Loire Valley rosés, this tasty blend is made of Pinot Noir and Gamay, just like its French counterparts. Dry and refreshing, with zingy yet balanced acidity, this deep pink sipper has notes of strawberries and herbs, and is a great pairing for smoked salmon, calamari, or even a margherita pizza. From winemaker Heidi Noble, one of the gems of the Okanagan Valley. About $22.
Champagne Ruinart, Brut Rosé (non-vintage)
The oldest producer in Champagne, Ruinart has been making wine since 1729, but has only recently been rebuilding the brand’s presence in the Alberta market. These plump bottles are charming, and so is the wine inside — a delicate, dry pink fizz with aromas and flavours of strawberries, citrus and candy. A blend of mostly Pinot Noir; the rest is Chardonnay. About $85.