The single life of wine
Single-vineyard wines are increasingly numerous today, but are they any better than blended wines?
You might assume so, when so many wines have the words Single Vineyard or Individual Vineyard on their labels. Marketers are putting those words on the bottle because they perceive there is a marketing advantage to be gained. And you’d be right to think this trend has taken flight. Even some quite cheap wines now make this claim, which is surprising if you assume that the cheaper the wine, the less the buyer is interested in such minutiae.There is no reason to assume a wine sourced from a single discrete plot of vines is superior to a wine blended from several vineyards.
There are also more single-vineyard wines being made, which itself is a reflection of their perceived cachet. Instead of throwing all of their grapes into the same vat, winemakers are now more inspired to keep interesting batches separate.
But there is no reason to assume a wine sourced from a single discrete plot of vines is superior to a wine blended from several vineyards. They simply represent two different approaches.
First, blends. There can be several reasons for blending. One is a desire to even out vintage and vineyard style variations and quality fluctuations, so the customer knows what they’re getting, year after year. Another is that the winemaker wants to produce a larger volume of wine than is possible from one vineyard. Look no further than Penfolds, whose time-honoured bin-numbered reds are testament to the quality achievable by blending.
And single-vineyard wines? These are more vulnerable to the vagaries of weather. Probably, most wines began as single-vineyard wines, especially boutique wines. Aficionados believe the fascination of vintage variation is more important than the possible disadvantage of seasonal fluctuations of style and quality.
These days, as a professional taster, I’m regularly confronted by not just one shiraz from each Barossa producer, but five or six. They might be individual vineyard wines or single subregion wines. Drinkers are increasingly informed about such matters as regions and subregions, and they’re interested to taste the differences between the same grape grown in Eden Valley, Marananga, Ebenezer and Lyndoch, for example. It is the variety that makes wine so fascinating, and the idea that each discrete plot of vines has the potential to taste different, as a result of subtle differences in soil and meso-climate. These can be discernible even between places that aren’t far apart. It’s part of what makes wine compelling.
*First published in Fairfax Good Weekend magazine on June 16, 2018