Getting to Know Red and White Wine Blends

Words: Karen Glanfield


Whilst locally most wine drinkers prefer a single varietal wine, there is definitely reason to get excited about blends and investigate these further. Since winemaking is an art in itself, the act of blending is what allows the winemaker to express his or her talent and signature. Creating the blend might just be the most creative part of being a winemaker. It’s the moment where they get a chance to exercise their skills at flavour balancing.

Heavy wines can be softened by blending with a more elegant variety; while delicate, or even boring wines, can be given strength and body through the addition of a more substantial variety. Indeed, blends are some of the most complex and interesting wines to be enjoyed.

History plays a leading role in determining the world’s best wine blends. Traditionally, when different grape varieties grew side-by-side in the vineyard, winemakers would pick them at the same time, and pool them together for fermentation. However, over time, winemakers began to realise that fermenting varieties separately made for a more consistent recipe. Therefore, they began fermenting each grape variety in separate barrels and combined the different wines together afterwards in a vat called a ‘cuvée’. These cuvées were then sold and labelled from the regions where the grapes were grown. This is why, in old winemaking countries, such as Italy and France, you’ll see wines named after a town.

Today, red and white wine blends can be found in all the wine regions of the world. A good starting point, however, is to look at the iconic French blends that have influenced local blending styles.

Bordeaux Blends

The famous red blends from Bordeaux always contain a combination of the following: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Petite Verdot and Cabernet Franc.
Winemakers generally choose two to three different grapes from the approved Bordeaux list but rarely use all five grapes.
The white blend from this area made of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon is also making big strides locally

Rhône Blends

France’s Rhône region blends up to 15 different grapes to make sublime red and white wines. These blends have taken off in USA and Australia as well. Primary grapes include Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Cinsault on the red side, and Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne and Grenache Blanc for whites.

Cape Blends

What defines a red blend as a Cape blend? Between 30% and 70% Pinotage has to be blended with other varieties. As Pinotage is unique to South Africa, this is what makes a local red blend a Cape blend.
As discussed in our previous feature on Chenin Blanc, this grape is increasing in recognition and popularity in South Africa, and thus white blends made with Chenin Blanc as a component are commonly referred to as a white Cape Blend as well. Though nothing has been legislated in this regard as yet.

3 Facts You Should Know About Blends

Blends often offer more complexity in terms of flavour and texture than single varietal wines.

The goal of blending wine made from different varieties is to balance out the flavour characteristics.

Both reds and whites can be made from blends of varietals. In some cases, they may even blend whites and reds together in order to create the best possible combination of aromas and flavours.

A Selection of Great South African Blends

Boschendal Nicolas Red

The 2016 vintage was a very dry and challenging vintage, but Nicolas is proof that through adversity comes greatness. It is a wine with an excellent concentration of fruit, with prominent mulberry and plum flavours, as well as black forest cake notes of cherry, cream and mocha. The tannins are really well integrated and fine, and the palate is smooth with a very enticing spicy finish.

 CELLAR MASTER Jacques Viljoen
 WO Stellenbosch/Swartland
TASTING NOTES Prominent mulberry and plum flavours, as well as black forest cake notes of cherry, cream and mocha.
WE LOVE IT WITH  Try this recipe for  Roast Lamb Shoulder
RSP  R210 

Glenelly Estate Reserve 2012

Glenelly Estate Reserve is the signature red blend of the estate hermitagé, going back to the old claret styles when Sarah was added to the traditional Bourdeaux varieties. Grapes were hand sorted and lightly crushed into steel fermentation tanks. after natural fermentation, the wine was placed in French oak barrels to undergo malolactic fermentation maturing for 18 months in French oak and racked on average every four months.

 WINEMAKER  Luke O’Cuinneangain
 WO  Stellenbosch
 TASTING NOTES  Rich powerful aromatics of red fruits, plum and blackberries initially present themselves, followed hints of savoury, spicy Syrah with touches of cedar and floral tones. The palate entry has good richness of ripe fresh fruit and pepper-spice supported by a firm, balanced tannins. Very good oak integration with a fresh long finish.
 WE LOVE IT WITH  Try this recipe for Picanha Steak on Toasted Ciabatta with Mustard Cream
 PRICE  R 230

Lourensford Limited Release Shiraz Mourvedre Viognier 2015

The Estate experienced a fairly cool but very dry summer with moderate temperatures and cool nights that resulted in much faster ripening and the earliest recorded harvest dates in history on the estate. With good company management and perfect ripening conditions grapes where harvested at the desired time. This resulted in refined wines with elegance, good natural acidity and structure. The Shiraz and Mourvedre were handpicked from separate single vineyards, the cultivars were vinified separately and blended before bottling.

 WINEMAKER  Timothy Witbooi
 WO  Somerset West
 TASTING NOTES The nose shows flavours of red currants with plums and white pepper. The flavours of the nose follows through to the palate with hints of nutmeg and cinnamon spice.
 WE LOVE IT WITH  Try this recipe for Creamy Mushrooms on Toast
 PRICE  R 205

Alto Rouge 2015

Alto has been creating its handcrafted, bold red wines since 1922, but the heart of the legend goes beyond the exquisite blend of Shiraz, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Alto Rouge is the sum of its history and a sublime terroir; of passion and meticulous craft.

 WINEMAKER Bertho van der Westhuizen
 WO  Paarl
TASTING NOTES Elegant red fruit flavours on the palete, backed-up by soft elegant tannins.
 WE LOVE IT WITH  Try this recipe for Rare Roast Beef with  Red Wine and Cranberry Sauce
 PRICE  R115

Cavalli 2015 Cremello

Cremello by Cavalli forms part of the premium range of three Cavalli wines recently awarded 91/100 points by Tim Atkin ; the 2016 Vendetta, 2015 Cremello and the 2015 Colt.wines. Barrel fermented for 12 months in French oak, Cremello is a blend of Chenin blanc, Chardonnay, Verdelho.

The Cremello wine embodies Cavalli’s Wine & Vineyard philosophy – to produce world class wines with a very local character and a strong identity so to be clearly recognized as from the Helderberg region, while endeavouring to be the benchmark with regards to terroir and quality for the Helderberg in the years to come.

 WINEMAKER  Craig Barnard
 WO  Helderberg
 TASTING NOTES This fine wine appears light vibrant straw gold in the glass, with aromas of passion fruit and vanilla pods supported by delicate floral notes with a hint of orange blossom. Vibrant and fresh with hints of lime and marmalade, rounded off by citrus and stone fruits.
 WE LOVE IT WITH  Try  this recipe for Layered Tropicana Vanilla Cake With Passionfruit Curd & Coconut 
 PRICE  R135

Constantia Uitsig Natura Vista 2015

Naura Vista, meaning ‘Nature’s View’ is the new name of Constantia Uitsig’s renowned Constantia White Blend. It’s a subtle nod to the farm’s natural beauty and its historic name (which was ‘Constantia View’ from 1885 until 1941).

 WINEMAKER  Jacques du Plessis
 WO  Constantia
 TASTING NOTES  A beautifully balanced blend, with grass and green limes on the nose giving way to a lean, fresh and elegant palate. An earthy minerality and hint of firm white peaches gives way to an incredibly long finish.
 WE LOVE IT WITH  Try this Clemengold Crème Brûlée dish.
 PRICE  R155

La Motte Millenium

This South African interpretation of the famous Bordeaux-style red blend is excellent at countering fat – creamy, buttery or otherwise fat-laden dishes such as duck liver are excellent partners. Its accommodating structure allows for mild curries such as the traditional Cape bobotie and it is a stalwart with creamy sauces and mushrooms. Also responds very well to red meats, game, roasts and noble, matured cheese.

 WINEMAKER Edmund Terblanche
 WO  Franschhoek
 TASTING NOTES A dusty, earthy nose with raspberry and mulberry fruit, cinnamon spice and a hint of mint, promising a complex wine. The first touch on the palate is velvety and juicy. The mid-palate is firm, but medium-bodied and the finish mineral-dry and lingering.
 WE LOVE IT WITH  Try this recipe for Smoked Beef Short Ribs with Black Garlic Emulsion

Kloovenburg Eight Feet White Blend

All grapes are handpicked during the early morning hours and then cooled overnight in a temperature – controlled room. All the components were picked at different ripeness levels to ensure a balanced final blend, with good fruit purity, freshness, complexity and length. All the components were pressed separate and as whole clusters. The wine spends a total of 11 months in the barrel before it is blended and bottled.

 WINEMAKER  Jolandie Fouche
 WO  Riebeeck Kasteel
 TASTING NOTES  Aromas of white flowers, citrus and spice. The palate is rich, textured with a balanced acidity.
 WE LOVE IT WITH   Try this Roasted Pork Loin Chops Almond Crumble, Citrus Glaze & Crackling
 PRICE   R165

Want to learn about other wine varietals? Why not increase your wine knowledge and get to know Chardonnay | Chenin BlancShiraz | Cabernet Sauvignon | Merlot Pinotage | Rosé | Unusual Wine Varietals

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