Some winemakers make their wines entirely from a single grape variety whereas others prefer to mix 2 varieties – and there are many instances of producers blending 3, 4 or even more different grapes into their wines. Why the difference and which is better?
The answer depends on who you speak to:
a Burgundian, whose whites would be made exclusively from Chardonnay and reds from Pinot Noir would say that a single variety is best; they would argue that it produces a more focussed wine and lets the quality of the grape variety used show through. They would also, no doubt, add that it had been that way for generations in Burgundy so why change?
Someone from Bordeaux or the Rhône would strongly disagree. Both regions regularly make their wines from a mix of varieties – up to 13 different ones in some Côtes du Rhône. Their view would be that blending different varieties gives a more complex wine, with the characteristics of each variety contributing to the final product.
But, there’s another reason for blending in cooler climates such as Bordeaux: as an ‘insurance policy’ in case of poor weather. There, a spring frost would damage the young shoots of the early-flowering Merlot but leave the Cabernet Sauvignon untouched. On the other hand, if there is rain at harvest time, the later-ripening Cabernet Sauvignon may be the one to suffer while the Merlot will already be picked and in the winery, starting to ferment.
That last comment also answers I question I hear quite often: when is the blending done when different varieties are used? Although there are a few examples of 2 varieties being fermented together (Syrah and Viognier in some parts of the Northern Rhône, for example), more usually, each variety is fermented separately immediately after harvesting and the blending is done at the end of the process.
So which is better – a single variety or a blend? For me, both are equally good in their own way, but, as with so much in the wine world, it’s all down to your personal taste.