Media Conversations

Red and White Grape Wine Blends are More Common Than You Think

Different grapes that are used in blends.

Animation by Eric DeFreitas

Making wine by blending white and red grapes is not as rare as you might think. Several of the world’s most esteemed wines have been made this way for centuries. And some daring modern winemakers produce unusual, color-blended wines with vivid results.

Among the most common traditional color blends is Champagne, which generally combines Chardonnay, a white grape, with red Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier.

“Red and white components are needed to build Champagne because one grape will dominate the other for a few years, and then it will step back into a supporting role to enhance the other grapes,” says Alice Paillard, whose family owns Champagne Bruno Paillard.

Eileen Crane, CEO and winemaker at Domaine Carneros in Napa, says that many sparkling wines feature red and white grapes.

“Chardonnay adds structure and great ageability,” she says. “Pinot Noir, on the other hand, adds roundness, softness and earlier drinkability. Of course, both grapes add a complex of fruitiness.”

Even white sparkling wines like blancs de noirs use red grapes, but winemakers quickly take the juice off the skins after they’re crushed so it doesn’t absorb red pigment. And some sparkling rosés get their color when winemakers add a small amount of red wine to the cuvée after fermentation.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape, another famously color-blended wine, features both red and white blends from multiple varieties.

“You can use the white grapes in the red Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine, or you can make directly a white Châteauneuf-du-Pape,” says Véronique Maret of Domaine de la Charbonnière. “This decision depends on different factors,” and can theoretically wait until harvest.

One reason that Châteauneuf-du-Pape winemakers might do so is global warming.

“Climate change has led more Châteauneuf-du-Pape producers to consider adding white grapes in limited quantity to their red blends to improve the balance between acidity and alcohol,” says Marie Clémentine Savey of the AOC Châteauneuf winegrowers’ association.

“Those warmer conditions from May to September mean higher alcohol levels that could threaten freshness in the glass,” she says. “It is better to macerate and ferment both grapes together because it will make the blends cohesive—stable chemical links between fragrances and for complexity—and stop color from being adversely affected.”

Other traditional wines permitted to use color combinations include Chianti (but no longer Chianti Classico), Syrahs from HermitageCrozes-Hermitage and Côte Rôtie, and many types of rosés.

“We can use both red and white grapes to produce rosé, which is fantastic to master a light color, and, from an aromatic point of view, this is the fireworks of combinations,” says Château Gassier winemaker Guillaume Cordonis.

There are different methods and reasons to blend red and white grapes. Winemakers might blend or coferment white grapes with reds to add flavors or aroma, or to increase acidity to bolster ageability. White grapes can even help red grapes maintain a more stable hue.

Several old-vine Zinfandels and Petite Sirahs in California were planted as field blends, including a small component of white grapes to add aroma and taste complexity.

“One of our Petite Sirahs comes from a vineyard that has three white grapes: 3% Moscato and 1% each Gewürztraminer and Burger,” says Christophe Paubert, winemaker at Stags’ Leap Winery. “Aromatically, the whites bring something to the party.”

Additionally, Syrah producers in the Rhône ValleyAustralia and California will often add a small amount of Viognier and coferment the grapes.

“We found the addition of white grapes helps to soften varieties like Syrah, which might be prone to harsher tannins, especially in their youth, as well as finessing aromatic complexity, especially for varieties high in terpenes, like Viognier,” says Nicole Rolet of Chêne Bleu in Southern France.

“As with any blend, this also has the advantage of giving us more options to be able to rise to the challenges of a particular year,” she says. “For instance, in cooler years, early-ripening Viognier can help to add alcohol and body to a leaner and more severe Syrah.”

Other winemakers don’t need a reason to blend red and white grapes. They simply want to experiment and innovate.

Comet, an experimental line from Clemens Lageder, of Alois Lageder winery in Alto Adige, uses red and white grapes from a vineyard with more than 200 varieties. One bottling, called ZIE-XVIII, is a field blend of 60% white grapes and 40% red.

“Last year, we fermented everything together and made a white wine, not an orange wine, by using minimal skin time,” says Lageder. “It has less body than a red, with great complexity and beautiful acidity. This year, we may make it into a red wine.”

In California, Scott Sampler’s Central Coast Group Project features a wine called Blood Orange. It’s comprised of 75% Viognier and 25% leftover juice from Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre pressings.

“Right now, I’m bottling a new line of wines dedicated to great thirst called Scotty-Boy!,” says Sampler. “One of them is a ‘blush’ cuvée of skin-fermented and barrel-fermented Chardonnay, with a dash of Mourvèdre for a little color, texture and extra flavor.”

Farther north at Sonoma Mountain Winery, Dan Marioni makes a blend of 70% Merlot and 30% Chardonnay. “It gives the wine softer characteristics and can be bottled a bit sooner,” he says.

Meanwhile, at his namesake winery in Australia, Sam Vinciullo makes a wine that’s 55% Shiraz and 45% Sauvignon Blanc. It’s appropriately named Red/White.

While these bottlings may be unusual, they seem to have found their audience. At press time, both Vinciullo’s Red/White and Sampler’s Blood Orange were sold out.

9/1/20
logo
Red and White Grape Wine Blends are More Common Than You Think