Al Gore tells wine industry to act on ‘global emergency’ of climate change

Al Gore, wine climate change conference
Al Gore speaking at the summit.

The conference, held from 5-7 March 2019, was organised with the Fladgate Partnership, owner of Taylor’s and Croft Port houses, to discuss solutions to the challenges posed by climate change.

In the closing speech of the conference, former US Vice President and Nobel Laureate Al Gore highlighted the ‘global emergency’ posed by climate change to the planet’s resources – from water, topsoil and forests to biodiversity and the integrity of our oceans.

The energy trapped in the atmosphere by man-made global warming, he said, was equivalent to exploding 500,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs per day, 365 days a year. Mankind was treating the planet’s atmosphere like an ‘open sewer’, he added.

Recalling extreme weather events around the world in recent years, including wildfires in Portugal and California, Gore compared watching the news in the early 21st century to ‘something out of the Book of Revelation’.

He called on wine industry leaders to show the new generation of consumers that they were committed to change by signing up to the Protocol.

‘We have a moral responsibility to act,’ says Adrian Bridge, CEO of the Fladgate Partnership. ‘We have no time to waste.’

Bridge conceived of the conference as a way to galvanise wine producers into collaborating and sharing information. While acknowledging a growing trend towards more sustainable practices, he believes that the wine industry as a whole has not yet woken up to this issue. ‘We know what the problem is and we need to find solutions.’

The conference brought together producers such as Miguel Torres of Bodegas Torres, Margareth Henriquez of Krug, Katie Jackson of Jackson Family Wines, Cristina Mariani-May of Banfi Wines and Gilles Descôtes of Bollinger, along with leading wine climatologist Greg Jones and other researchers, scientists and communicators.

‘I’m convinced that the wine sector can be a leader in responding to climate change’, says Jones.

Torres and Jackson Family Wines recently announced a new working group of wineries aimed at reducing carbon emissions in the industry. 

A number of wine sector initiatives were showcased at the conference, including California’s first ‘Self Sustainable Winery’ at UC Davis, advances in water-saving technology from around the world, research programmes to protect biodiversity in wine regions and investments in renewable energy.

‘No one is going to buy one more bottle of wine because of the changes that you make’, said Torres. ‘You’re doing this for the future’.

Read Rupert Joy’s feature on wine and the environment in the April 2019 issue of Decanter, on sale now. 

Anson: How Al Gore convinced Miguel Torres to fight climate change in wine


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Viña Pomal: Cutting-edge winemaking true to its heritage

Deeply rooted in Rioja’s Haro, Bodegas Bilbaínas strives for a harmonic blend of tradition and originality

Bodegas Bilbainas vina pomal

When it comes to Rioja, Bodegas Bilbaínas – founded in 1901 and registered as the longest serving bottling company of La Rioja – has been a consistent presence from the get-go.

Since its genesis it has adhered to the French châteaux concept, meaning that of its 250ha of Rioja Alta vineyards in the Haro commune (making it the largest holder of land under vine in the area) 130ha encircle the winery.

With its Atlantic influence, the land can be relatively cool here and combined with the limestone soil underfoot means that the Tempranillo grapes ripen sedately, resulting in wines with silky, elegant tannins and extraordinary ageing potential.

Its Viña Pomal project has been around almost as long as Bilbaínas itself, with 1904 marking the debut vintage, and Pomal is a perfect encapsulation of how Bilbaínas manages to both celebrate its heritage while keeping a finger very much on the contemporary pulse.

Navigating Pomal’s path is Bilbaínas’ much-lauded Chief winemaker Diego Pinilla who has headed up the Codorníu Raventós group since 2016 and been technical manager of Bodegas Bilbaínas since 2007. Under his management Viña Pomal, Viña Zaco and La Vicalanda became frontline brands in the market.

Bodegas Bilbainas winery

Bodegas Bilbaínas winery

Pinilla’s remit and boundaries when it comes to his daily job are relatively loose, therefore affording him opportunities to bring life back to long-forgotten plots of land and similarly disregarded indigenous varietals though new launches such as the Vinos Singulares line.

‘This is a range of wines that represent our experimentation and commitment to high-end wines,’ says Pinilla. ‘They are micro-vinifications of unique plots and micro-zones which are decided on after trying different varieties on different soils and using varying ageing methods, with grapes including Graciano, Garnacha, Tempranillo Blanco and Maturna Blanca.’

Then there are its Alto de la Caseta and Gran Reserva cuvées, which go just as far in reflecting Bilbaínas’ impeccable credentials and deep heritage.

‘It is the best version of Tempranillo we have been able to make and expresses a single vineyard concept,’ reveals Pinilla. ‘While the Gran Reserva is our flagship wine and represents the entire philosophy of our winery, it is only produced in outstanding years in a limited number of bottles.’

It is this placement of Rioja tradition at its core yet supplementing it with forward thinking winemaking which has delivered such a solid present-day base for Bilbainas, while at the same time promising.

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Why is Wine So Expensive?

If you’ve ever found yourself standing in the wine aisle gawking at the prices, you may have also found yourself wondering,

“Is there really a difference between cheap and expensive wine?”


“Is more expensive wine better?”

To figure this out, let’s take a look at what it costs to make a bottle of wine.

The actual cost of the grapes in a single bottle of wine - Infographic  by Wine Folly
How much the grapes cost in a bottle of wine in California.

The Cost of Wine Grapes

Grapes are one of several costs that go into producing a bottle of wine. So, to put real numbers behind this cost, I crunched some data from the 2017 California Grape Crush Report.

Here’s what I learned:

  1. $5 (for the actual wine part) affords one pretty decent quality juice.
  2. There is a substantial price variance between different grape varieties. (Merlot offers superb value!)
  3. Napa Valley is, by far, the most expensive place to buy wine grapes. Napa Cabernet Sauvignon costs $12.34 / bottle (weighted average).
  4. Some California producers spend as little as 49 cents a bottle for grapes from the Inland Valleys.

Of course, grapes aren’t the only costly thing that goes into making wine.

Cost of oak barrels per bottle of wine - Wine Folly 2019
American oak barrels cost about $600, whereas European oak typically starts at $1,200 per barrel.

The Cost of Oak

Oak barrels range in price from about $600–$2400 a barrel, depending on the type of oak and quality level.

That means you can expect at least a $2 bump in cost per bottle if the wine uses oak. (BTW, it’s possible to do it cheaper using oak chips).

In case you didn’t already know, oak is most commonly used for red wines, although you’ll find oak ageing used for a few bold white wines too (like Chardonnay, White Rioja, etc).

While oak barrels are used over and over again, the strongest oak flavor compounds of vanilla, clove, and baking spice come from new barrels.

The cost of wine packaging and how it affects the price of a bottle of wine - 2019 Wine Folly infographic

The Cost of Packaging

Presentation is everything!

Next up comes the packaging. Any pragmatist realizes that packaging isn’t important as long as it works. It’s what’s inside the bottle that matters, right?!? Still, it doesn’t stop us from being influenced by the way wine bottles look.

Here are some things you should know about packaging:

  1. The Punt: You know, that thumb-sized divot in the bottom of a wine bottle? It doesn’t really matter. If you find a bottle with a deep punt, it just means the bottle was more expensive.
  2. Screwcaps: We’ve been testing cork alternatives since the 1960s. What we’ve learned is that they work, and in many cases, are more consistent than natural corks.
  3. Low Shoulder vs High Shoulder: Low shoulder bottles (e.g. “Burgundy Bottles”) are the “it” bottle these days but don’t fit in most wine racks or stack on top of each other. To a collector, they’re a bit of a pain in the ass.
  4. Heavy Bottles: Some bottles are so heavy that they make up 60% of the weight of the unit. The weight isn’t bad until you realize it costs extra fuel to transport heavy bottles. That being said, they do feel impressive…
  5. Glass Color: Clear glass doesn’t protect wine from light strike, and green glass doesn’t do that much better. Surprisingly, brown glass is an effective UV protector, but hasn’t quite caught on yet. Brown glass is affordable.

In researching packaging costs, I learned that increased spending on bottles might be better treated like a built-in marketing cost.

It turns out, little things like grape prices, choice of oak, and packaging costs really add up.

Adding It Up

As an experiment, I took the average prices for wine grapes from the higher quality growing zones of California and created two examples. Of course, this experiment doesn’t include the cost of winery labor, facilities expenses, and what not, but I still found it illuminating.

Merlot vs. Cabernet Franc

Using Merlot grapes with American oak and value packaging ended up costing around $5 a bottle.

The increased prices for Cabernet Franc grapes, fancy French oak barrels, and prestige packaging bumps the cost up by three times, making it around $16 a bottle.

So, is cheap wine better than expensive wine?

Apparently, it really depends on your desire to drink outside the box.

But wait… there’s more!

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Read more

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Jefford – Grés de Montpellier: Stones by the Sea

Grés de Montpellier
Vineyards at Clos de l’Amandaie

What’s in an accent? Quite a lot, as I discovered to my shame recently. The chance came to look closely at the wines of my local wine appellation, Grés de Montpellier.

Fans of French vineyard geology (and there are plenty of us) are very familiar with the term grès: it means ‘sandstone’. Or at least it does when its ‘e’ is marked with a grave accent, as I had assumed was the case with this appellation name. That’s how I had written it in The New France.

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10 top South African wines worth seeking out

Top South African wines

Our top South African wine picks showcase both the versatility of South Africa’s terroir – with wines from Stellenbosch, Franschhoek, Swartland, Elgin and the Tulbagh Valley – as well as the skill of the country’s winemakers who are producing stunning blends but also seriously high-quality single-varietal wines, and not just from Chenin Blanc.

First-class Syrahs, Cabernet Sauvignons, Cabernet Francs, Cinsaults and Chardonnays are making their names on the international stage and rightly so.

A question pondered during the trip to the Cape, where all these wines were tasted – most in-situ on the estates, was where else in the world can you find the diversity and quality of grape varieties and wine styles in one region, all within a few hours’ drive of each other and all at still quite accessible prices? It’s hard to think of anywhere else.

Long gone are the rubbery or over-ripe reds coming out of South Africa and instead elegant, fruit forward, balanced and well-integrated wines are shining through. The quality of the whites remains consistently high with a range of oaked and un-oaked styles delivering freshness and complexity.

All 10 wines below are drinking well now but will also benefit from ageing, including the Chenin Blancs. Ken Forrester’s Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc from 2007 was still going strong, not bad for under $20 / £15!

10 top South African wines worth seeking out


Looking for more South African wines to try? You may also like:

Top South African red wines to try

Top South African white wines to try

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Grocery Store Wine Showdown (Cabernet Under $20)

Wine Somm, Madeline Puckette, analyzes grocery store Cabernet under $20. The question is, are these wines actually good, or should we be afraid?

Is There Such Thing as Good Cabernet Under $20?

It’s the ultimate question.

It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, everyone wants great wine at a great price. So, I put the grocery store selection to the test and picked out three Cabernet Sauvignon wines and analyzed them. Here’s what I learned:

Madeline waves around bottles of Cabernet from the grocery store.

The Wines:

  1. Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County (2015). This wine retails for anywhere from $15–$19. Definitely a decent find if you can find it for $15. It was my favorite of the bunch, but it also gave me red flush (more on that below).
  2. J. Lohr “Seven Oaks Estates” Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles (2016). This wine retails for anywhere from $11–$17. Not hate-able, especially if you can find it for $10, but the yeast program was so prevalent in the aromas it made me think I was drinking blackberry yogurt.
  3. Smith & Hook Cabernet Sauvignon Central Coast (2016). This wine retails for anywhere from $17–$21. Smith & Hook was like a weaker shadow of the Louis M. Martini. Plus, it was more expensive! For the price, I’d rather drink the Gallo brand wine (i.e. the Louis M. Martini.)

A Critique on Grocery Store Cabernet Under $20:

Illustration of a woman looking into a glass of wine created by Madeline Puckette at Wine Folly

They Looked Amazing.

One thing we sommeliers always look at is the color of wine. Color tells you a lot about a wine. It helps one determine the grape varieties used, the vintage, the region where it was grown, and even how the wine was made.

That is, if the color is honest.

When looking at these wines, I was surprised at the level of color extraction. It’s rare to see this level of intensity in value wines. So, it got me wondering. Why are they soooo dark?

Well, one rumor that floats around the industry is the use of grape-based color concentrates like “Mega Purple” and “Ultra Red.”

That being said, I can’t even figure out where to buy these additives online. Is Mega Purple a myth? I did find a few used in the home brew market (see sources). It lead me to believe that there are color additives out there, they’re just hard to find.

What About Color Additives?

No one has ever admitted to using wine grape color concentrates, so I was unable to make a conclusion in this video.

If you’re curious, the irreverent W. Blake Gray has tasted straight grape color concentrate and he said “it is almost flavorless,” but smelled like a “gymnasium floor.”

Illustration of a woman smelling a glass of wine created by Madeline Puckette of Wine Folly

They Smelled Pretty Good.

The next thing we Somms do to assess wine is to smell it.

Louis M. Martini – This one actually smelled like Cabernet Sauvignon. It had all the right markers in the right places, even if they were a little overripe. There was baked black currant, green peppercorn, black cherry, vanilla cake, and even some herbal notes of mint. Not bad for a 15-dollar Cabernet.

J. Lohr – This one was a bit strange. It smelled more like the winery’s yeast program than a single-varietal wine. It smelled sour and milky, like blackberry yoghurt, with some subtle whiffs of fresh thyme and vanilla. That said, I can see why some wine drinkers might love these aromas – they’re fruity and creamy.

Smith & Hook – This was the only Cabernet leaning more towards the red-fruit spectrum (e.g. less ripe and more balanced). It had aromas of baked raspberry and dried raspberry bramble, along with a healthy wallop of creamy yeast. Still, the aromas were hard to distinguish and the wine was not particularly aromatic.

Illustration of a hammer flying towards a bunch of wine grapes created by Madeline Puckette of Wine Folly

They Tasted Crafted.

All three wines had an explosive zing of sweet-sour acidity that tasted like Sweetarts (the candy). As a trained taster, I associate this flavor with acidification.

Let’s be fair: adding acids to wine isn’t a bad thing. In fact, one of the common acids added to wine – tartaric acid – is derived from grapes. You’d be surprised how many wineries acidify. The problem with acidification is when it’s easily identifiable in the taste. It suggests that the flavor isn’t really a realistic reflection of what wine grapes can do naturally.

Another thing I noticed about these wines was the tannin – or lack thereof. Cabernet Sauvignon is a high tannin grape variety, but these wines seemed to drop the tannin out in the mid-palate. Where’d the tannin go?!

There are a lot of wine consumers out there who don’t like high tannin wines. And, it’s understandable because tannin tastes bitter and astringent. Still, it’s a crucial component that makes wines age-worthy (and is the only thing in wine that’s good for you).

The first wine I tasted gave me red flush within a minute or so of tasting it.

They Gave Me Red Flush.

As soon as I took a sip of the first wine in the tasting my face started to swell and turn red. (You can actually see it in the video, even with the color correction!)

The truth is, even though I taste wine frequently, I’m pretty sensitive to red wines and flush often. (Or, at least I used to.) Here’s what I’ve learned about myself:

Obviously, these observations are not made in a controlled, scientific environment, so they’re rife with inaccuracy. Still, the flushing thing is a real problem and it happens to a lot of people (especially to those folks of Asian descent.)

Conclusion Time

After tasting these wines, I brought them home to my husband. He proceeded to drink the Louis M. Martini without a quibble.

The next night he drank the Smith & Hook but griped a bit about how I ought to buy better wine. (After all, I am a sommelier – for shame!)

He poured the J. Lohr down the drain.

So, there’s your answer.

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What Type of Wine Drinker Are You?

Let’s forget appellations, residual sugar levels, and the Prädikat system for a minute and talk about something super important: you. Who are you?

What kind of wine drinker are you?

For comparison’s sake (and for a laugh), we’ve simmered down the essential traits of some popular fictional wine drinkers.

Which one of these characters most fits the bill for you?

Tyrion Lannister of Game of Thrones - Dwarf Prince - Illustration by Wine Folly

Do you drink? Do you know things?

Tyrion Lannister – Game of Thrones (The Rogue)

The whole thing is a game anyways… isn’t it? Meet your match: The Imp – the Lannister’s brilliant but debauched intellectual schemer.

You’re the sort of person who always has a plan, a sharp comeback, and several bottles of the good stuff. Your smarts (and your attitude) have gotten you into trouble, but you always start with the best intentions. It’s true, you have a soft spot for the little guy… and, frankly, the opposite sex.

What’s in your glass?

A wine that matches your pizazz and contrarian nature is most likely a blend of three famous grapes: Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre. The “GSM” or Rhône Blend (named after a Southern French wine region) is equal parts fruity and earthy, with the right amount of funk.

Miles Raymond of Sideways - Illustration by Wine Folly

You’re passionate and knowledgeable (and had a little too much to drink).

Miles Raymond – Sideways (The Highbrow)

From the New World to the Old, when it comes to knowing wine, it’s hard to stump you. You love this beverage because it reflects the ethereal nature of life. Of course, very few others share your level of understanding and conversations can be a bit –shall we say– tiresome?

Once you get on a rant, it’s hard to stop you. After all, you can only hold out so long before speaking your mind. You carry yourself with as much dignity as possible, even though there are occasional rumors that you’ve been seen drinking from the spit bucket…

What’s in your glass?

Pinot Noir: The only grape just as finicky as you are but fantastic-when-done-right is Pinot Noir. This grape grows nearly everywhere, but you can name the best spots for it (in the world) on your fingers.

Lucille Bluth of Arrested Development Quote- Illustration by Wine Folly

Your family may be dysfunctional, but you’re still Queen Bee.

Lucille Bluth – Arrested Development (The Matriarch)

You won’t be argued with, and you can’t be reasoned with. Your plebs – I mean “people”– simply don’t have the capacity to perform at your level.

If a few friends or family members get thrown in jail or lose a hand in the process (as was the case with Lucille Bluth), well, they probably weren’t listening to you, now were they? People might see you as stuck up and overbearing, but you can’t help it if you know what’s right.

What’s in your glass?

Dry Riesling: If there is ever a wine that cuts through the monotony of life (and sometimes the gnawing voices around you) it’s Riesling. Preferably dry and definitely from Germany or Austria. This wine has nerves, baby.

Absolutely Fabulous AbFab - Eddy and Patsy - Illustration by Wine Folly

Youth is wasted on the young. Thankfully, there are pills for that.

Eddy & Patsy – Absolutely Fabulous (The Perpetual Dandy)

So what if they say your best years are behind you? You aim to live, and to live fabulously.

You don’t care what other people say: you’ve still got it. And you won’t hear anything to the contrary. For better or for worse.

What’s in your glass?

Prosecco: Technically you would have bought Champagne, but you blew your salary on a new age rejuvenation treatment. Fortunately, there is some fantastic Valdobbiadene Superiore that will do quite nicely.

Hannibal Lecter Illustration by Wine Folly

Your tastes are strange… Oh, so strange.

Hannibal Lecter – Silence of the Lambs (The Outsider)

You accept nothing but the best. Other people just don’t understand your obsession with certain things. They can be charming right up ‘til they’re not. And yes, it has gotten you into some trouble in the past.

Still, as long as you follow a moral code, you’ll be okay. Right?

What’s in your glass?

Natural Wine: If there is one movement that tickles your taste for the strange it’s natural wine. Natural wine is the only wine that embellishes and honors the strange, rotten-but-not, fermentation aromas derived from wild yeasts. If natural wine is the oyster of the wine world, then you are hunting for pearls.

Jay Gatsby - Drink Champagne - Illustration by Wine Folly

Jay Gatsby – Great Gatsby (The Socialite)

You weren’t born into the wine life: you adopted it with gusto. And while your reasons for getting into it are purely social, no one can deny that you’re the life of the party.

As far as you’re concerned, as long as there’s wine to be had and music to be played, your parties can go as long as they need to. Just try to avoid obsessing over other people’s wives, would you?

What’s in your glass?

Champagne, Barolo, and Sherry: Why would you ever relegate yourself to one wine? Champagne gets the party started, Barolo gets the mental juices flowing, and Sherry for when things get serious. After all, a socialite is prepared for any outcome (as long as it involves people!)

Are we missing a character we all deserve to know? Add yours in the comments below!

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Champagne vs. Cava (How To Save Money & Drink Better)

Taste the difference between Champagne and Cava (and other high quality sparkling wines).
You can use these clues to find great quality sparkling wines made from around the world (and for better prices than those exclusively from Champagne!)

For those who love sparkling wines, you’re not going to want to miss this.

In this tasting, I pop a bottle of Champagne and compare it to a Spanish Cava and an Oregon sparkling wine.

In this tasting, Madeline Puckette pops a bottle of Champagne and compares it to Spanish Cava and an Oregon sparkling wine.

Not All Sparkling Wines Are Made Equally

Surprise! Surprise!

The major difference that separates quality in sparkling wines (beyond grapes) is the production method.

For top-tier sparkling wines like Champagne, the secondary fermentation (the part that makes the bubbles) happens inside the bottle. By doing this, sparkling wines are able to age on the lees, under pressure for extended periods of time.

Did You Know? Bottle-fermented sparkling wines have about five atmospheres of pressure (~75 psi) inside a bottle?

Aging “en tirage” (as it’s called) is how you can get all those toasty, brioche flavors in sparkling wine. It is a result of autolysis.

Of course, if you’ve ever bought Champagne then you know how expensive it is! Fortunately, other wines use the same method.


Tips on What To Look For

Here are four big clues on what to look for on the label (or the winery site) for good sparkling wines:

  1. Wines are often labeled “Traditional Method,” “Metodo Classico,” or “Espumoso” to indicate wine is made using the bottle-fermented method.
  2. Wines should be aged in the bottle “en tirage” for at least 15 months to begin to achieve that toasty, autolytic character found in non-vintage Champagne.
  3. Many of these bubbly wines are barrel-fermented and undergo malolactic fermentation to achieve more creaminess.
  4. In Cava, look for “Reserva” and “Gran Reserva,” as indicated by official circular stickers on the label.
We tasted sparkling wines from Champagne Gaston Chiquet, Alta Alella, and Argyle.


Gaston Chiquet “Tradition Premier Cru” Brut NV

Really classic Champagne; “parmesan cheesy” aromas of fromage lead into toasted almond, baked apple, and citrus zest. On the palate, this wine is very explosive with acidity, leading into baked apple and almond notes. The finish sweetens up with white cherry notes and a long tingling acidic finish.

Reserva Cava

Alta Alella “Mirgin” Reserva Cava 2015

Aromas and flavors of lemon zest, lemon meringue, ginger, lemongrass, and Sichuan peppercorn with a slight beeswax note on the end invite us in. On the palate, very polarizing flavors of lime peel and lime juice that are counteracted with baked apple with a waxy, yellow apple note on the finish.

(Happy to note that this wine is made with organic grapes!)

  • Price: $22
  • Blend: 40% Xarel-lo, 30% Macabeu, 30% Parellada
  • Region:Alella, Spain (very close to Barcelona)
  • Alcohol: 12%
  • Dosage (Sweetness): 0 g/L RS (“Brut Nature” status!)
  • Tirage (Aging): 15 months

Oregon Sparkling

Argyle “Vintage” Brut 2015

Aromas and flavors of peaches, rose pastille candy, white cherry, and mint. On the palate, exploding bubbles lead into a rich red-fruity body on the mid palate and end on a minty, crunchy, bitter note.

  • Price: $28
  • Blend: 70% Pinot Noir, 20% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Meunier
  • Region: Willamette Valley AVA (vineyards specifically in Dundee Hills AVA and Eola-Amity Hills AVA)
  • Alcohol: 12.5% ABV
  • Dosage (Sweetness): 6 g/L RS (puts it at “Extra Brut” status)
  • Tirage (Aging): at least 36 months

Who Won?

After finishing this tasting and shutting down the camera for the night, we drank these wines in this order:

  1. Champagne
  2. Cava
  3. Oregon bubbly

It was hard not to deny the delicous-ness of the marzipan notes and tingly acidity in the Champagne. It was a well-crafted wine that hit the mark in so many ways.

That said, for bone-dry bubbly lovers, the Cava came in at a close second. For the price, it really knocked our socks off.

We were really hoping to love the crap out of the Oregon bubbly. Its aromatic profile was definitely on point. Ultimately however, its shorter and flatter finish made it not as fun to drink.

Wine Folly Magnum Edition front cover angle on white background

Get The Book!

Want to improve your knowledge and confidence with wine? Wine Folly’s latest book is your guide to wine, whether you’re just getting started or working in the trade. Take a look inside!

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Wine Blending – Why Certain Grapes Are Blended

A winemaker has the opportunity to create an amazing flavor profile by blending wines from different barrels, vineyard plots, or grape varieties. We can learn more about modern blends by looking at several classic regions that specialize in wine blending.

Wine Blending - Wine Folly Illustration

How Are Wine Blends Created?

Over the past few centuries we’ve learned that different grape varieties are usually best vinified (i.e. made into wine) separately and then blended later. In ancient times, wine grapes were picked and vinified together – we call this a “field blend.” (In fact, Port is one of the few wines that you can still find made this way!)

After the wine is safely stowed away in barrels (or tanks), then it’s time to create the blend. At this point, it’s hard to use your sense of smell because of the intense yeast aromas. Winemakers tend to rely on taste and texture to create a wine blend.

Science + Art = Wine - Illustration Concept by Wine Folly

The Art of Wine Blending

It takes several years (if not a lifetime) to master the art of blending. Great winemakers often use a combination of technical analysis and tasting. Some blends go through an iterative process of 50 or more tries until the perfect “recipe” is created.

Of course, blend recipes can only be used once. Each year the weather creates a new set of conditions that changes the way grapes ripen and make wine.

Famous Wine Blends - Poster Print - Infographic by Wine Folly
18×24 poster available in our store

Famous Wine Blends & Why They Work

When you look at wine blends in the market today, do you notice the common themes? Cabernet is commonly blended with Merlot. If Syrah is blended, it’s with Grenache and Mourvèdre.

What’s interesting, is you rarely, if ever, find Cabernet with Pinot Noir. Why is this?

  • Tradition: Historic wine producing regions developed wine blends over a long period of time. Classic French blends are today’s benchmarks.
  • Climate: What grows together, goes together. Grape varieties that adapt to the same climate generally make good blending partners. (And this is probably why Cabernet and Pinot make awkward bedfellows).


Bordeaux Blend

“Bordeaux Blends” reference the red blends from Bordeaux, France. (After all, 95% of the grapes planted in the Bordeaux region are red). The top five varieties are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot.

  • Cabernet Sauvignon

    Cabernet Sauvignon adds body, an herbal character, and great mid-palate texture (tannin) that finishes on an oaky-note. Overall, the taste profile is big and long.

  • Merlot

    Merlot at its best is very similar to Cabernet Sauvignon. Still, Merlot’s slightly more cherry fruit flavors and more refined, pin-cushion tannins offset the herbal nature of the Cabernet varieties. (BTW, Libournais, or “right bank” Bordeaux, wines feature a prevalence of Merlot and Cabernet Franc).

  • Cabernet Franc

    Cabernet Franc offers leaner and slightly more savory and red fruit flavors. Still, the taste goes on just as long as Cabernet Sauvignon. Cabernet Franc is often blended alongside Merlot to add complex peppery flavors and a more dynamic finish.

  • Malbec

    Malbec is all about up-front richness and black fruit flavors. The finish is not as long as Merlot or Cabernet, but it’s just as smooth and lush. This is a great variety to seek out if you love blends with a lot of creamy, plummy, fruit flavors.

  • Petit Verdot

    When you see Petit Verdot in blends, expect it to add more floral notes and tannin, as well as gobs of opaque color. Most regions use Petit Verdot sparingly (except for places with hot climates like Spain, Argentina, Washington State, and Australia).


Rhône / GSM Blend

The Southern Rhône of France inspired what most areas call the “GSM” or Grenache-Syrah-Mourvèdre blend. In the Rhône, up to 19 grapes (including white grapes) make this red wine. Still, Grenache is the most important, followed by Syrah and Mourvèdre.

  • Grenache

    For what Grenache lacks in color it makes up for in fruit, alcohol, and finish. Grenache typically offers startling red berry flavors and a juicy mid-palate that ends on a tingly, sometimes herbal-citrus finish.

  • Syrah

    Syrah comes into this blend right up front with bold, black fruit and meaty black pepper flavors, as well as deep color. The softer finish in Syrah helps smooth out some of the tingle in Grenache.

  • Mourvèdre (aka Monastrell)

    The most savory of the bunch with rich, black fruit flavors, game, black pepper, and sometimes tar that builds layers into its longer, thick finish, Mourvèdre adds body.


France isn’t the only place that has created unique and interesting blends. Any place with diverse vine varieties and a unique climate has the opportunity to develop a regional blend. Here are a few we’ve observed:

  • Italy’s Super Tuscan Blend: This blend has many variants, but most feature a combination of Sangiovese, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and/or Cabernet Franc. Sangiovese adds boisterous red fruit and brilliant acidity to this blend, as well as the ability to age gracefully.
  • Washington’s CMS Blend: The blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah (three of Washington’s most important reds) produces a wine with lush fruit flavors and a smooth finish.
  • Greece’s Rapsani Blend: Rare grapes growing on the high elevation slopes below Mount Olympus include Xinomavro, Krasoto, and Stravroto. Xinomavro offers raspberry and sun-dried tomato flavors with high tannin and acidity. Krasoto brings rounder, softer, plummy fruit and a smooth finish. Stravroto is thought to add color.
  • Portugal’s Douro Tinto Blend: A red blend that typically features Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, and Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo). Wines are black, floral and chocolatey from Touriga Nacional, and gain acidity and complex savory notes with the addition of Tinta Roriz.

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