The name game

Steve Delaney
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

Labelling single varietal wines with the name of the grape variety is a relatively recent development which has helped make wines more accessible to a wide circle of new drinkers.

This approach can be extended to include blends in which the major varieties are named.

Wines used to be known by the name of the producer, or the place of origin. Often there was little information about the grapes used in the wine — if that was interesting to you, you just had to know.

If there is a divide between Old and New World wines, it would be that more New World wines are single varietals, or simple blends like Chardonnay/Semillion. While some important Old World wines are single varietals, such as Burgundy and Barolo, many others are blends of several grapes: Bordeaux, Chianti, Rioja and Chateauneuf-de-Pape.

The main purpose of blending is to lay down an optimum taste profile. Cabernet Sauvignon adds strong tannins and black currant fruit to Bordeaux. The grape has been described as missing a middle palate — the taste presence between the initial sip and the swallow and “finish” — when on its own in a wine. Merlot adds that middle palate, and some plummy fullness as well. Cabernet Franc increases the complexity and elegance of the nose. Malbec and Petit Verdot can also make a contribution in producing some of the world’s best wines.

In the northern Rhone, a little Viognier is added to the weighty Syrah to boost the aromatic qualities. Up to 13 varieties are allowed in the southern Rhone’s Chateauneuf-de-Pape “soup.” Chianti is based on Sangiovese, but makes use of other reds. At one time some white Trebbiano was required in Chianti to either take the edge off harsh tannins, or use up the white harvest, depending on your point of view.

Blending can be helpful when the vagaries of harvest affect the volume, ripeness and qualities of the grapes. Even in so-called single varietals there can be a little of this and a little of that to tweak the results. Most wine laws permit up to 15 per cent or 25 per cent of a named wine to be blends of other varietals.

I’m sure that some blends are merely a convenience to use up quantities of juice. This can occur when new vineyards are being brought into production, or when harvests are down for some reason. Whether by accident or design, the result can be a quite interesting wine — Caymus Conundrum (a California white blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat Canelli, Viognier and Semillon) would be a prime example.

Full Circle Red Blend, California (NLC $18.21) is a blend of Merlot, Zinfandel, Carignan, Petit Sirah and Syrah. Most of these bring a plush fruit presence to their wines, and this one is no exception. The aroma presents an initial jammy impression of ripe soft fruits followed up with some vanilla notes. This follows through in the taste, but good acidity and some tannins keep this wine interesting. My impression is this would go well with anything cooked with a typical barbecue sauce. Score 14.5/Good.

Steve Delaney is a member of the Opimian Society.

Email him at

Twitter: @delaneystephen

Organizations: Opimian Society

Geographic location: California, Northern Rhone, Southern Rhone

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page