‘Why making a wine – there is already too much wine in the world?’ This question is often asked to me after people heard about me producing a wine. This is why:
Wine in most cases is a blend of several grapes. Also many great names and there is a reason for it. Bordeaux for example: producers in Médoc or Graves decided to blend their Cabernet Sauvignon with some Merlot to smooth the often too harsh and sometimes (esp in the past) unripe tannins of Cabernet and added some Petit Verdot (often not more than 4%) for the colour and some Cabernet Franc for more complexity. Other blended wines are: Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Douro, Port, Chianti, most red wines from Languedoc and Rhone and also many Champagnes (though not all). All are great names and these blending traditions are ages old because producers wanted to be sure that the wine is always ok.
Another argument for blending in the past was that sometimes one grape has matured well, and another one not completely with some unripe tannins as a result: the blended wine became more smooth and easy drinkable. In Austria for example the famous ‘gemischter Satz‘ is an example of such old tradition which is still surviving: all different grapes of the vineyard – often more than ten – are harvested and fermented alltogether. In the past this was common practice in probably most vineyards in Europe because the grapes were harvested together and the fact that some grapes might be unripe was taken for granted.
If wines are blended with care they can become an excellent matrimony of taste: some of the best wines on the planet are blends which are produced with great care and have been studied well: one grape can provide structure, tannins, density of flavours (for ex.Cabernet Sauvignon), another grape can provide acidity, nice colour and some refined aromas (like Barbera) and if the different characters are complementary than the wine can become a fantastic, complex of taste, flavours and unique expressions.
Often such blended wines need a longer maturation period and that may be the reason that in some wine countries blended wines are rare, like in Italy or in Germany. Probably because local markets are used to drink wine in a younger stage and a single-varietal is often more rapidly ready for drinking and also shows easily the character of that grape. To me this is ok but the potential of blending wines should not become forgotten.
Another aspect of the story is that some wines in fact are blends, but not indicated as such: this is a great part of all wines with a single-variety on the label: often they are allowed by law to contain up to 15% of other grapes (like Barbera d’Asti DOCG). Another example: Cabernet wines from Chili, California, South-Africa etc contains a percentage of Merlot or other grapes, it even can go up to 30% and this is accepted by law. And viceversa Merlot often contains a bit of Cabernet. I do not agree with this practice because I consider that giving the right information to consumers is of the highest importance. Why should consumers be mislead with the idea that they like a wine which in fact is a blend thinking it is a mono-varietal wine? Consumers should be treated correctly and there should be no shame of putting the 15, 20 or 30 percent of some grape on the label. If we take into account all mono-varietal wines, which in fact are blends, most wines on this planet are blends and only a tiny percentage are not blends. (The fact that in some cases wines have been enriched with other grapes, not allowed by law, is yet another matter..)
In countries like Italy (or Germany) a blended wine can be a great wine if studied well: in Piemonte some of the greatest wines are blends (some wines from Gaja are blends) but the attention is still going to the greatest wine of all: Barolo. Barolo (together with Barbaresco) to me is the greatest wine of the planet, a rare combination of a great grape, Nebbiolo, and a habitat which offers such special conditions: Barolo’s vineyards.
But in Italy most producers traditionally opt for single-varietal wines – since replanting the vineyards after Phylloxera (before that there was much ‘gemischter Satz’, also in Piemonte). And in Piemonte there is such great potential for making blends: Piemonte offers a wide range of indigenous grapes of high potential and blending can create great wines, also in less known wine regions. Piemonte is one of the most intreaging wine territories with a climate moderated by the Alps, light sea influence and medium-strong winters. This, in combination with often calcareous soils with some clay-sandy topsoil creates the condition for fine wines with such refined flavours. That is the statement I want to make: I want to show that Piemonte can be one of the most interesting wine territories worldwide for blended wines from its own indigenous grapes.
That is why I have created this wine: a blend of 70% Barbera, 26% Nebbiolo (from Barbaresco vineyards) and 4% Merlot: produced by Az.Agr. Bera in Neviglie (I am not the producer, I am the creator of the concept). I am very grateful to Valter Bera and his family to have produced this wine: officially it is their wine and registered as such – the wine carries my name because the concept is mine. Bera is a very traditional Piemontese winemaking family, they work their vineyards with great care and have great winemaking skills which is why I am sure that this project is in good hands.
Photo: Valter Bera and sons

The wine is quite intense but maintains its freshness due to Barbera’s acidity. The base wine Nebbiolo is already a great wine ( I tasted it and was enthusiast!) and offers fine structure, body, elegant fruit and refined flavours to the wine. The 4% Merlot offers some smoothness and especially in the first years dominates the aroma a bit. The wine is ready for drinking now, but will improve with maturing some years and will become more intense, complex with still good freshness but intense fruit and long aftertaste, a great wine: that has been my intention from the beginning.
Vintage 2015 will be different because I want to introduce Freisa in the blend, very probably it will be a blend of 50% Barbera, 30% Nebbiolo and 20% Freisa. Freisa is a undervalued grape in Piemonte but can give great potential to a blend: it is my objective to show this. First tastings of samples showed a lot of potential of this new wine!

Another wine, a white from another wine region is in preparation now: follow me!

Paul Balke

Photo: vineyards in the Langhe