What You Need To Know About Field Blend Wine
The large majority of blended wines today are made from grapes grown in variety-specific vineyards, with the grapes harvested and fermented separately, and only later blended together to the taste and style of the winemaker. However, this hasn’t always been the case. Many of the early pioneers of viticulture – the humble farmers, studious monks, retired soldiers who people wine’s history – planted their fields with what was at hand, often haphazardly, and heedless of variety. Come harvest, the mixed fields were picked, and the many different varieties would have been co-fermented.
When considering that today most blended wines are made from separate finished wines of individual varieties, it might seem appropriate to dismiss field blends as outdated, inferior tech. However, the field blend lives on in wine regions across the globe, if you know where to look, and many of the wines are brilliant.
The Best Places To Find Field Blend Wine
Jean-Michel Deiss, the current winemaker at Domain Marcel Deiss, one of Alsace’s top domains, was converted to a field blend wine believer when he inherited the famous Schoenenbourg vineyard. He explored the plot and realized it was still planted as a field blend. The resulting wine, he found, expressed terroir in a way that varietal wines – which according to Deiss emphasize fruit over terroir – cannot.
To Deiss’ way of thinking, in a field blend, no single varietal dominates the wine, while each variety contributes a different expression of the terroir, allowing the terroir to be the wine’s central focus. All of Marcel Deiss’ Grand Cru and self-appointed Premier Cru wines are now planted as field blends.
In 2013, within the Austrian capital of Vienna, they established the Wiener Gemischter Satz DAC, a demarcation reserved for white field blend wines planted to at least three varieties each making up no more than 50%, and no less than 10%, of the finished wine. These wines are doubly unusual for their location (Vienna is the only major metropolis with a thriving wine region within its borders) as well as viticulture.
Look for Wieninger Wiener Gemischter Satz to experience one of the wines that helped to establish the region. They say it’s ‘all of Vienna in one wine’.
While the Douro is commonly associated with Port wine, this famous Portuguese wine regions makes just as much dry table wine as fortified sweet wines, and the dry wines are increasingly spectacular – if you like brawny, deep wines with a snap of red fruit freshness. Because Portugal remained relatively isolated, both geographically and politically, until the nation’s entrance into the EU in 1986, the country boasts a large host of native grape varieties and traditional winemaking practices.
Try Wine & Soul’s Pinta Character, a field blend of over 30 native Portuguese varietals, foot trodden in traditional granite lagares. A husband-and-wife team – consisting of two of Portugal’s most famous winemakers – is behind the label, and their earth-laden wines are widely celebrated.
Even in the relatively young vineyards of California, field blends have a storied tradition. Many old Zinfandel vineyards are cross-planted with mixed varieties, and those that survive today are making fantastic, complex wines in Napa, Sonoma, and Anderson Valley.
For an entry into the style, look for Ridge Vineyards Geyserville bottling, made from vineyards that date back 130 years. For a more indulgent wine, get your hands on winemaker Sean Thackrey’s ‘California Native Red’ Orion. Eleven different varieties compose this wine made from vines growing in a 111-year-old vineyard. It’s a world-class wine that is an absolute thrill to experience.
About The Author -
Ryan Kraemer is a Los Angeles-based certified sommelier working a 71 Above, Chef Vartan Abgaryan's downtown seasonal fine-dining restaurant. When he's not at work, or studying wine, he enjoys cooking, travel, and strolls around Echo Park Lake with his girlfriend and their pup. He's never been able to answer the question, 'So what's your favorite wine?' because it feels too much like picking a favorite child.