How transparent should wine blends be?
What do today’s wines have in common — and not only in common with one another, but with many other wines? The answer is they might or might not combine one or more grape variety.
We know that some blends, like the ubiquitous cabernet-merlots, and others like semillon-sauvignon and syrah-viognier, are usually clearly signalled on the label. But what’s in the chianti classico and Goats do Roam? And those two chardonnays: are they 100-per-cent chardonnay?
In some cases the producers help you out with back-label information, but not here. Goats do Roam states the wine is “blended from juicy, full-flavoured varietals” (they mean ‘varieties’), but to find out which you need to visit the website. There you’ll find that the 2010 (the 2011 isn’t shown) is made of 72-per-cent syrah, with small contributions of cinsaut, mourvèdre, carignan and grenache.
The Gabbiano website is also helpful, telling us that the chianti classico is 90-per-cent sangiovese and 10-per-cent “other red berry vines.” Since 2006, those have included canaiolo, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah. As for the chardonnays, there’s no suggestion anywhere that they contain anything but chardonnay.
Does any of this matter? It does in the sense that in much of the new world we organize wine — in our heads, and in the way we buy it and drink it — by colour and grape variety. It was one of the big surprises to many European winery marketing departments, about 10 years ago, that it might be a good idea to let their North American customers know what was in the wine and not simply where it came from; most French and many Italian and Spanish wines were labelled by appellation, the region where the grapes grew, not by variety.
That was fine as long as you knew what was in wines from appellations like Chianti, Burgundy, Sancerre, Pomerol, Rioja and Vouvray. But many people didn’t and don’t, and many seem to have more confidence in variety than appellation. So you now see a lot more wines showing variety as well as appellation — but don’t hold your breath waiting for a nice bottle labelled “merlot” from a small Pomerol producer called Château Pétrus!
Of course, it couldn’t be as simple as showing the variety because wine laws around the world generally allow producers to blend in up to 15-per-cent (sometimes 25-per-cent) of a different variety without showing it on the label. So your chardonnay could have, say, 10-per-cent of another variety, and your bottle of cabernet might have 15-per-cent of merlot and not be labelled ‘cabernet-merlot.’
On a daily basis, it’s probably not all that important. But some countries are considering making it a requirement to state precise blends on all bottles of wine. What do you think?
Email Rod Phillips at firstname.lastname@example.org. Join him online Thursdays at 2pm at ottawacitizen.com/winechat, and follow him on Twitter.
Tic Tok Chardonnay 2009
This is just a beautiful Australian chardonnay. The flavours are plush and full, yet bright and structured, and the juicy acidity plays harmoniously. The texture is just lovely – fresh, clean and solid – and it’s a great choice for poultry and pork. 12.8-per-cent alcohol; $14.95
Gabbiano Chianti Classico 2009
This stylish chianti delivers great fruit that’s solid right through the palate and showing a lot of layered complexity, all paired with fresh acidity and framed by ripe, supple tannins. Ideal with rich pasta, red meats and poultry. 13.5-per-cent alcohol; $16.95, but $14.95 to June 24 (219808)
Goats do Roam Red 2011
A dry red from Western Cape, South Africa, this delivers value, vintage after vintage. Look for concentrated fruit that’s consistent from start to finish, good fruit-acid balance, and easy-going tannins. Drink it with grilled red meats and burgers. 14-per-cent alcohol; $13 (718940)