If your bottle of wine is labeled Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Chardonnay you should have a pretty good idea of what you’re getting. How about if it’s labeled meritage, claret or cuvee, or simply “red wine” or better yet, a non-sequitur like Latitude or Affinity? What you have in all of these cases is a blended wine. A blended wine is simply a wine made from more than one variety of grape. Blended wines are nothing new. The French and other European wine makers have been blending wines for centuries. Blended wines are not inherently inferior to singe-variety (varietal) wines. Many of my favorite wines, and some of the most famous and most expensive wines in the world, are blended wines. I like to think of blended wines as either varietal or non-varietal. Varietal is wine-speak for a wine made from a single variety of grape. And while it seems like a contradiction in terms, some varietal wines are, in fact, blended with other varieties. For example, Cabernet Sauvignon is traditionally blended with various combinations of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot to soften it and improve its drinkability at a younger age. Varietals are blended to improve the end product without significantly changing the varietal characteristics of the wine. It is not always obvious from the label that a particular varietal wine is, in fact, a blend. As long as the wine contains 75 percent or more of the principal grape variety, the law allows it to be labeled as if it was unblended. So it is quite possible to purchase a wine labeled Cabernet Sauvignon and get a wine that is 75 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 25 percent blending varieties like Merlot, Cabernet Franc, etc. Hopefully if it is labeled Cabernet Sauvignon, it will still taste like a Cabernet Sauvignon, despite the addition of small quantities of other varieties. By contrast, non-varietal blends are made to create something altogether new. The intent is to create a wine whose character is different from any of its constituent grape varieties. For example, Francis Coppola produces a wine that is 47 percent Zinfandel, 32 percent, Cabernet Sauvignon and 21 percent Syrah. Coppola’s intent was not to create an improved Zinfandel, but to create something completely different. Drinking this blend, you get suggestions of each of the three varieties, but the wine is like none of them. So what’s in a name? Many non-varietal blended wines are labeled with one of the popular generic terms designating a blend: cuvee, claret, meritage, red wine or just table wine. Others are given proprietary brand-names like Affinity, Latitude, Trilogy or Signature. Or in the case of the Coppola wine above, Rosso Classic. These names don’t convey much information about the makeup of the wine, other than that it is a non-varietal blend. To determine what’s actually in the bottle, you have to read more of the label. While many countries do, United States law does not require producers to disclose the content of their blended wines. Even so, most producers will disclose the content of their non-varietal blended wines. Fewer, but some, will disclose the content of their varietal blends. This type of information will ordinarily appear on the back label, but occasionally it will show up on the front. So the next time you buy a bottle of wine, read both the front and back labels. Even it it’s labeled on the front as a varietal, you may be surprised what’s in there. - Cellar Notes - Here are two examples of non-varietal blended wines that you might enjoy. The Ridge Three Valleys is a unique Zinfandel dominated blend of Zinfandel, Carignane, Syrah, Petite Sirah and Grenache. The Diamond Claret is a Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. (Bordeaux wines are traditionally made from combinations of this group of grape varieties. Bordeaux-style implies that the blend contains relative percentages of these varieties similar to those used in Bordeaux wines.) Both wines will complement grilled or broiled meats, especially heavy beef, lamb and game. Diamond Claret • Niebaum Coppola • Napa Valley • Spec’s $10 - $15 Three Valleys Ridge Vineyards Sonoma County H-E-B $20 - $25 Local oenophile David Dickson has been enjoying, learning and teaching about wine for nearly 30 years. He welcomes questions, comments and suggestions for columns at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Visit his Web site at www.lifeisacabernet.net