This article has been extracted from Secrets of Wine by Giles Kime, former editor of Decanter Magazine, and is part of the 52 Brilliant Ideas series published by Infinite Ideas.
Making wines from just one type of grape might have made wine easier to understand, but many of the world's greatest wines are made from a blend of different grapes. It's time to decide whether you prefer your grapes straight
Most red Bordeaux is made from a blend, as are southern French reds and Champagne - not to mention a host of Spanish and Italian wines that are made from a number of different grapes.
Blending is about more than just mixing a lot of different wines together. It is a hugely complex art that involves using the different components to create just the right style. It's a skill not dissimilar to mixing paint colours to create precisely the right hue - and just as difficult.
Taste test: blended reds
Try the following line-up:
• inexpensive Australian or Chilean Cabernet + New Zealand Pinot Noir + southern French blend + red Bordeaux blend.
Before you reveal the identity of the wines see if you can tell which of them is made from just one grape and which are blended. Once you know what they are, compare the flavours and aromas of the blended and unblended wines.
Taste test: blended whites
White wines tend to be blended less frequently than reds, but there are an increasing number of delicious examples, including successful blends of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc that combine the best of each grape's qualities.
Perhaps the best-known example of a blended white is Champagne, which may include Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes. Of almost any wine, non-vintage Champagne is the ultimate example of the blender's ability. It is perhaps because the climate of the Champagne region doesn't offer the ideal environment in which to grow grapes that producers have had to be extremely resourceful in making the best of what they have - a skill that is the key to blending.
When blends are created in Champagne, wines from a variety of different vintages are painstakingly combined to make a wine that is not only attractive but also reflects the particular style of the Champagne house. When tasting a Champagne, write a list of the grapes that have been used to create it and consider how they might have contributed to the flavour of the wine. In many cases, wines that might not have been very attractive on their own have combined to create a blend in which the sum is far, far greater than its parts.
The chance to right wrongs
But blending isn't just about creating good wines; it's also about avoiding making bad ones (a curious distinction, but you get the drift). Sometimes when winemakers blend wines they are compensating for the failings of one wine with the strengths of another. Another weapon in the blender's armoury is blending not just wines made from different grapes but also wines from different regions and vintages to create a wine that is hopefully much better than the sum of its parts.
Keep an open mind
Though the modernists are naturally drawn to the simplicity of the idea of wines made from just one grape, even winemakers in the world's most progressive wine regions are discovering the joys of blending, particularly Bordeaux and Rhône style blends. The fact is that there isn't a right or a wrong approach. Some wines lend themselves to blending; others are better suited to a solo performance.
To help you understand how different flavours combine together focus on the taste of all the composite ingredients in a cocktail such as Bloody Mary (tomato juice, vodka, Worcestershire Sauce, lemon juice, pepper, salt and celery salt) to see how different flavours react with one another.
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