What grapes go into a Bordeaux blend?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

When a wine is called a “Bordeaux blend,” it refers to the varieties of the grapes in the wine, right? Is there also a percentage makeup of the grape varieties required that pertain to this label? Can a wine have the correct grapes, but the percentage of the grapes contained exclude it from being a Bordeaux blend?

—Jeffrey C., Athens, Ga.

Dear Jeffrey,

There isn’t a Bordeaux blend police force out there (thank goodness, right?), so it’s really up to each individual producer if they want to refer to a wine they made as a Bordeaux blend or not. If they do, it’s assumed that the wine is blended from two or more of the traditional Bordeaux grape varieties. For reds, these include Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec. For whites, they are probably referring to Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle.

I don’t think the way the phrase “Bordeaux blend” is typically used has much to do with percentages or with how many grapes are in the blend. The spirit of calling a wine a Bordeaux blend—in addition to invoking some amazing wines—is to indicate a preference for blending different grapes together to come up with a complex, balanced end product. But maybe that’s not the angle a vintner is taking; maybe it’s more important to them that a wine reflects a specific region, a specific grape or even a specific vineyard. Maybe they blended in grapes from other categories to come up with a more modern spin on wine.

Some producers of Bordeaux blends might use the term “Meritage” (which rhymes with “heritage,” and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise) if they belong to the Meritage Association. There isn’t a Meritage Association police force either, but there are rules. To call a wine “Meritage,” it has to be blended entirely from traditional Bordeaux varieties, with no more than 90 percent of a single grape.

—Dr. Vinny

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