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Blended vs Non-Blended Wines

by Staff Writer - K. Ash | May 09, 2012

The enjoyment of wine is a common activity observed in societies throughout the world. As with any activity, individuals present different backgrounds when approaching the enjoyment of wine. Some individuals may present an encyclopedic knowledge of wine and viticulture where other individuals may only have recently begun their journey with the enjoyment of wine. Regardless of the background, the maximum enjoyment of wine depends on the consumer's understanding of wine.

As wine consumption should be an enjoyable event, a good understanding of wine will allow a consumer to select the wine that they most enjoy. The easiest way for a consumer to make a selection is to observe wine classifications. One of the most basic wine classifications and a good starting point for any individual includes the terms of non-blended and blended wines. The terms non-blended and blended are another way of describing varietal wine labeling and regional labeling systems. Varietal labeled wines are typically labeled with the grape variety used in the making of the wine. Regionally labeled wines are usually labeled to reflect their region of origin and are typically used in locales where blending techniques are used extensively. It is important to remember that different countries utilize different labeling systems and that depending on the country and system, different quality levels can be found within the various combinations.

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For individuals just beginning their journey with the discovery of wines, the concepts of varietal labeling and regional labeling may seem complicated. The good news is that wines utilizing varietal labeling or regional labeling are easy to tell apart. Chances are that you have already seen both varietal and regional labeled wines. For example, wine labels that read Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Pinot Grigio are all varietal wines. The before mentioned names are all specific grape names and are only included on a wine label when the particular wine is composed of the stated grape variety. Wines utilizing regional labeling systems are presented differently. As extensive blending may occur within these systems, grape varieties are notably absent from the wine label. For example, wine labels that read Chateau Mouton Rothschild, Chateau Cap de Faugeres Cotes de Castillon, Chateau Bernadotte Haut-Medoc and Guigal Cotes du Rhone are all regionally labeled and blended wines. The before mentioned wines include an estate or location reference of some type, and therefore can be considered regionally labeled wines.

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The practice of labeling and classifying wines by variety is a recent invention popularized by the winemakers of the United States. Originally United States winemaking focused on using regional naming standards that sounded similar to European locales. After the repeal of Prohibition and the reconstruction of the United States wine industry, identifying quality in United States wines became a significant problem. This was mainly due to the fact that a certification system such as France’s Appellation d’origine controlee did not exist. Due to this fact and due to an abundance of sub-par grapes, cheap low-quality wines flooded the market. The adoption of a federally controlled labeling system that stipulated the specific variety (grape name) used in winemaking was the answer. It therefore comes as no surprise that quality wines produced in the United States are generally thought to be varietal in nature. Conversely, extensively blended regionally named wines produced in the United States are thought to be of lower quality.

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Wines produced in other areas of the world utilize different systems for labeling. In France, wines are labeled based on region and not variety (grape name). The use of regions for labeling has been developed through the course of winemaking history. Interestingly enough, the French encountered the same quality problems that presented themselves to the United States wine industry. Rather than develop a different labeling system, the French developed a certification system known as the Appellation d’origine controlee. The Appellation d’origine controlee system specifies procedures and parameters that must be followed for each stage of the winemaking process. French wineries that properly follow these procedures can then have their wines certified by the Appellation d’origine controlee system. The end result is that quality is increased and the use of traditional regional based labeling is preserved. It therefore comes as no surprise that most of France’s highest quality wines are extensively blended in their nature.

Regardless of the use of a varietal or regional classification system, an important concept that is shared between varietal and regional systems is blending. Blending is an important process and is required for almost varietal and regional wines. For example, in the United States federal definitions exist concerning labeling and wine concentration. For a United States wine to carry a varietal name on the label, the resulting wine must be composed of at least 75% of the reported variety. The regulations are different for France. In France, the Appellation d’origine controlee system is responsible for determining how wines are blended and what procedures must be used.

In reviewing varietal and regional labeling systems in the previous paragraphs, it is easy to observe that the perceived quality of the wine depends upon the system that is used as well as the country of origin. For example, cheap regionally labeled United States wines should not cast doubt over the quality of fine French regionally labeled wines.

Depending on your exposure to wine, you may find yourself embarking on a new and exciting journey or furthering your appreciation for the wines of the world. Regardless of the starting point, a fundamental understanding of basic wine terminology and concepts will provide you with increased satisfaction when discussing wine with friends as well as selecting wine for purchase. Understanding the differences with wine classification and blending is an excellent starting point.

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