What's in a blend? The world’s most famous grape marriages

Spier winemaker

Grape variety infographic

Single-varietal wines are popular with consumers. Faced with a brimming supermarket shelf or busy wine list, it can be easier to pick out a grape name you know, than to try and decipher a regional label.


France can often be off putting in this respect, with blends from Rhone, Bordeaux or South of France rarely, if ever, listing which grapes have been included. So it’s down to your own experience of these regions to tell you what it might taste like.

But sometimes simplicity of choice can be at the expense of an interesting glass of wine. A single variety might not always be enough on its own to produce a well-balanced, complex wine, leaving you with something one-dimensional and, well, sometimes a bit boring. It might be beautifully aromatic, but lack acidity; or have plenty of plush fruit but not enough tannin to stand up to food. So this is where the blending comes in – combining two or more grapes to create something even greater.

Let’s explore some of the world’s most famous wine blends to find out which role each grape plays in adding muscle, texture, lift or spice to the finished wine.


See below to find out more about Red Bordeaux, White Bordeaux, Red Rioja, Champagne and Red Cotes du Rhone.

Red Bordeaux

This classic blend of predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot can now be found all over the world. Sometimes native varieties are also added, for example Pinotage in South Africa to make ‘Cape Blends’, or Sangiovese in some ‘Super Tuscans’.

The blend:

  • Cabernet Sauvignon contributes a core of rich, blackcurrant flavours. The grape is highly tannic, which gives the wine a solid ‘structure’ and enables it to age for many years in oak barrels.
  • Merlot adds softness, richness and body to the Cabernet Sauvignon, which can otherwise come across as austere, especially in youth.
  • Cabernet Franc adds perfume and herbaceous notes.
  • Petit Verdot adds additional tannin, colour and exotic spice.

Try: Chateau La Lagune Haut Medoc from Bordeaux or Spier Creative Block 5 from South Africa.

White Bordeaux

This refreshing white wine is a blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc, which is great as an invigorating aperitif or with a range of sea foods. Like its red counterpart, Bordeaux-style white blends are now found all over the world, for example in cool-climate Australia.

The blend:

  • Semillon gives wines a golden colour, plenty of body and a waxy texture. It adds weight to lighter-bodied Sauvignon Blanc.
  • Sauvignon Blanc adds intense fruit flavours and vibrant acidity to the Semillon, which can otherwise appear ‘flabby’.

Try: Chateau St Genes Bordeaux Blanc from Bordeaux or Steenberg Magna Carta from South Africa.

Red Rioja

Probably Spain’s most famous wine, Rioja is well known for its inviting aromas of rich red and black fruit, usually with a hearty dose of new oak. ‘Joven’, or young, styles display fresh, primary fruit characteristics, while older ‘Reservas’ or ‘Gran Reservas’ develop flavours of tobacco, cedar and spice as they age.

The blend:

Tempranillo usually makes up the bulk of red Rioja and also contributes the majority of flavour, including bright red fruit and leather. It also adds structure and ageing potential to the wine, although its delicate skins mean that, on its own, it gives relatively pale wines.

  • Garnacha adds body and alcohol.
  • Mazuelo adds colour intensity along with acid and tannin.
  • Graciano adds aromatic complexity.
Try: Bhilar Plots Rioja Alavesa Tinto orDinastia Vivanco Rioja Crianza.



One of the world’s most famous blended wines, Champagne can contain Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, and often all three. While Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier are black grapes, Champagne is usually white (unless it’s rosé). This is achieved by letting the grape juice have very little contact with the skins during fermentation, to avoid colour transfer.

The blend:

  • Chardonnay contributes high acidity along with floral and citrus fruit characteristics.
  • Pinot Noir adds body and structural backbone, as well as red fruit characteristics. Champagnes with a higher Pinot Noir content tend to go well with food.
  • Pinot Meunier adds fruity flavours and is particularly important in wines that are made to be enjoyed young.

Try: Palmer & Co. Brut Reserve from Champagne or Graham Beck Brut NV from Robertson in South Africa.


Red Cotes du Rhone

There are 19 different grape varieties that can be used in Cotes du Rhone, but three dominate to give the region’s wine its signature flavour. They are known collectively as ‘GSM’, which stands for Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. ‘GSMs’ can now be found all over the world including Australia and California.

The blend:

  • Grenache is the lightest of the three grapes and adds bright fruit flavours including raspberry.
  • Syrah adds darker fruit flavours including blueberry, cherry and plum. It’s also known for adding a savoury element sometimes likened to bacon fat, or even Frazzles!
  • Mourvedre is a very rich, dark wine, which is used sparingly to boost tannin structure and add floral notes.

Try: Chateau St Cosme 'Les Deux Albions' from the Rhone or Chateau Tanunda Newcastle from Australia’s Barossa Valley.

To learn more about different grape varieties and how they are made into wine all over the world, take a look at our upcoming training courses.

28th March 2017

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