Many famed wine regions blend grapes for their best-known bottlings.

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red wine blend in glasses
Credit: Bryan Gardner

What do Bordeaux and Napa Valley have in common? They're both wine regions famous for their blends. Wine blends are complex, food-friendly, and more common that you may think. Even many wines labeled as a single varietal (like "Cabernet Sauvignon" or "Merlot") may have a small number of other varieties blended with them. Blending is a process where the winemakers mix different varieties of wines together to make one complete and complex final wine. During this process, winemakers look for wines with different qualities and decide what ratio of each should be used to make the best wine. This process is done all over the world and at every price point, but the most famous examples of wine blends come from Bordeaux.

The Classic Example

Bordeaux, France, is the grandfather of red wine blends. Many winemakers in Napa Valley, Tuscany, and beyond have emulated Bordeaux's method of growing a few staple grape varieties in order to blend them into a well-balanced and delicious wine. What's important to understand is that while some grape varieties play well with others and are constantly found together in blends, others do not. Much of the time, it is the Bordeaux varieties, referred to as the Nobel Grapes, that can be found in regions where wines are blended. Cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, malbec, and petit verdot are all considered Nobel Grapes of Bordeaux. Each of these grapes have different attributes that balance out the final wine.

Cabernet sauvignon is herbal and has ripe tannins that give its wines beautiful texture and structure. Merlot has more plush fruit than Cabernet sauvignon but less texture. Cabernet franc is known for its peppery, chocolate flavors and lean body. Malbec is savory and brings blue fruit characteristics to a blend. Petit verdot deepens the color of the overall wine and adds floral notes and structure. Together, these varieties are the backbone of many fantastic and famous wines.

Bordeaux has two traditional sides: the Left Bank and the Right Bank. These are geographic areas within the Bordeaux region, each with their own style. The Left Bank is known for blends dependent on Cabernet Sauvignon. Try a Left Bank Bordeaux like 2018 Chateau Peyrabon ($19.99, wine.com). This wine is made up of 49 percent cabernet sauvignon, 44 percent merlot, and seven percent petit verdot. When you're ready to try a merlot-based, Right Bank blend pick up a bottle of 2018 Chateau Mangot ($24.99, wine.com). This wine is sure to delight any lover of big red wines with its blend of 85 percent merlot, 15 percent cabernet franc, and five percent cabernet sauvignon.

Beyond Bordeaux

You'll find the same guiding blending principles are used in many other famous wine regions. California was heavily influenced by Bordeaux and the wines from Napa Valley are often blends of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and the other Nobel Grapes. Keep in mind that in Napa, if a bottle is labeled by the grape variety such as Cabernet Sauvignon, this indicates that it must 75 percent or more of the variety listed on the label. The remaining 25 percent can be made up of any other grape variety; that remainder is typically another one of the Nobel Grapes, as it would be in Bordeaux. Try the 2019 Ultraviolet Cabernet Sauvignon ($16.99, wine.com) or splurge on a half bottle of the 2018 Blackbird Vineyards Arise Napa Valley Proprietary Red ($21.99, wine.com). This proprietary blend from is made up of 37 percent cabernet sauvignon, 27 percent merlot, 26 percent cabernet franc, four percent petit verdot, and six percent syrah.

Beyond Napa, there are hundreds of other regions that grow the famous Bordeaux varieties to create regional blends of place and style. The basics of how and why Bordeaux blends its grapes can be applied across many other styles of wines including red, white, sweet, dry, sparkling, still, and fortified. No matter what types of wines are being blended, the end goal of this process is always to create a balanced and delicious wine that is greater than any one of the components could be by itself. With blending, the final blend is a reflection of a winemakers personal style and the possibilities are endless.

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