Are Bordeaux Style Blends the Future of American Wine?
Since the 1970s, the U.S. wine industry has been driven by varietal wines – those labeled by type of grape, e.g. Chardonnay or Merlot. These were the years of America’s wine renaissance, and the industry transitioned from using predominantly generic names, e.g. Chablis and Burgundy.
However, interest in blended red wines is increasing each year. California has been leading the charge, and sales in this category are up 19% versus last year. In fact, California red blends are outpacing the growth of many single red varietals, including Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot
Many of these red blends are made using the traditional Bordeaux grapes, (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot), and carry the Meritage name on their labels. This name was established by the Meritage Association “to identify hand-crafted wines blended from the traditional ‘noble’ Bordeaux varietals.”
But these are not the only red blends gaining popularity in America. The acreage of vineyards planted with Rhone varietals, (Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Cinsault, Carignane, etc.), has greatly increased in recent years throughout California. Many of these grapes are being blended rather than bottled as varietal wines.
In a way, America’s taste in wine has come full circle. In the years following Prohibition, producers were interested in riding the coattails of established European wine regions, even if their wines did not resemble the originals. But as America producers found their bearings, they began to differentiate themselves from Europe by labeling their wines by varietal (something rarely done in Europe).
This development also went hand-in-hand with the many New World innovations in technology. Rather than seeing wines as the product of a specific place, they were seen as the product of a type of grape and winemaking. This is changing, and there is currently more respect for high-quality grape growing and site selection than ever before.
As America’s wine industry matures, many premium-quality producers are no longer constrained by labeling their wines according to varietal. Until recently, most consumers were not comfortable purchasing a wine that was not labeled according to the grape it was made with.
> The Federal Government requires that varietal wines contain at least 75% of the grape it is labeled with, largely so the consumer knows what to expect.
However, this is an arbitrary number, and winemakers need more flexibility in order to make the best product possible. They are therefore turning to blends that do not carry varietal labels. Thankfully, the American consumer is increasingly aware of the benefits of blending certain complimentary grapes, and these wines are thriving in the marketplace.
1 Based on IRI InfoScan, Total US Food & Drug, Unit Sales % Change vs Year Ago, 52 weeks ending 2/25/07