I’ve been noticing a trend in my wine choices as of late and it got me thinking as to why I’m gravitating towards this particular style of wine. It also got me thinking about perception, which I find to be an interesting and powerful thing. Sometimes we get notions in our head about a particular topic and our brains instantly want to make it law. It can be very difficult to move beyond what we believe to be true. Because I’ve done this myself (most recently with wine), I wanted to share some newly-acquired knowledge that now has me considering options I may not have been open to in the past.
I’ve discovered that I love a good blend. Red or white, it matters not. When done well, an enormous drinkability factor is achieved – it’s balanced, delicious and extremely ‘easy’. I enjoy varietals as well (wine made from a single grape variety), as I believe there’s a wine for every mood and occasion. But I no longer believe one is necessarily inferior to the other, they’re simply different. If you look at the wines you may have at home right now, it’s possible you have a blend in your collection and you don’t even know it. Take VQA wines from British Columbia, for example. In order for a winery to list a single grape variety on their labels, 85% of the wine must be comprised of that grape. So, it’s possible your ‘varietal’ could be blended with 15% of another type of grape. You may also be getting grapes from different vintages, even though only one vintage is stated on the label. In order to show a vintage on a label, winemakers must ensure that 85% of the grapes were grown during the stated vintage year, which means it’s possible 15% of the grapes were grown in a previous year. You may even have a bottle of Bordeaux in your collection, or perhaps a Châteauneuf-du-Pape. These are two highly-regarded wines from different regions of France, and both happen to be blends.
The point of all of this is to suggest that perhaps blending grapes or vintages is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, oftentimes the result is phenomenal and can allow for a vintner’s (winemaker’s) skill to really shine. The word ‘synergy’ comes to mind – ‘the creation of a whole that is greater than its parts’.
Whether it’s a varietal or a blend, the skill of the vintner is key. The choices made during every step of the winemaking process are purposeful and specific, based on the type of grape(s) and the style of wine he/she wants to produce. I’m realizing now that the choice to blend can be a conscious one, not necessarily a reactive one, as I may have believed in the past.
Scotch is another example of where I’ve held a certain perception – my thought being that perhaps single malts are superior to blended whiskies. What I found helpful was to first understand the definition of the two terms. A single malt whisky is a malt whisky made using only malted barley, it’s made in a pot still and comes from just one distillery (the word ‘single’ refers to the fact that it comes from one distillery, not from a single barrel). Blended Scotch whisky is a blend of malt and grain whisky (grain whisky is made in a column still from a combination of different grains). The truth is, most single malt whiskies are blends too, in varying degrees. They are comprised of whiskies of different ages that are blended together in specific proportions to achieve a desired end result (the age statement you see on the label of a single malt is the age of the youngest whisky in the blend). In both cases, it’s the high level of skill and care taken during distilling and blending that allows for quality and consistency to be achieved.
I realize I may be opening a can of worms with this topic, and there’s definitely more that can be said on the subject than there’s room for here (I haven’t even touched on the sentimentality of ‘terroir’!). Varietal and blended wines exist in two very separate categories, and I’ve come to appreciate each of them for what they are. In my experience, there are fantastic examples of both (the same can be said for single malt and blended whiskies). At the end of the day, we will all have a difference of opinion – that’s what makes us interesting! The important thing is to have fun exploring what’s out there and to become experts on our own likes and dislikes. Once that happens, we can move on to other interesting subjects, like corks versus screwcaps.
How’s that for a can of worms?
Photo by Wikimedia Commons