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Famous wines that nobody realizes are single varietal

There’s a commonly held belief that Americans and the “New World” focus on single-varietal wines almost exclusively while “Old World” winemakers like the French and Italian are obsessed with blending varieties.

But the truth is that some of Europe’s most famous wines are single varieties, and a shocking amount of New World wines are actually blends.

Time to expose some myths.

jesus offers wine at the last supper
illustration: waitingfortheword caption: me

Here are some famous European wines that are 100% of a single variety of grape:

  • Domaine Laroche Chablis – 100% Chardonnay, like all Chablis whites
  • Chateau Petrus – 100% Merlot, one of a handful of Pomerol estates that relies heavily on Merlot
  • Biondi Santi Brunello di Montalcino – 100% Sangiovese like all Brunello di Montalcino, to my knowledge.
  • Domaine de la Romanée Conti – 100% Pinot Noir, like all classified Burgundian reds (technically Beaujolais is kinda in Burgundy, but nobody calls that Burgundy.)
  • Château des Jacques Moulin-a-Vent – 100% Gamay like all red Beaujolais wines
  • Hugel Riesling – 100% Riesling, in Alsace, every wine that says it’s a Riesling must be 100% Riesling as opposed to the US label law where 15-25% of the wine can come from another grape or region.
  • Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blanc – 100% Chardonnay, like nearly all Blanc de Blanc Champagne (nearly! because there are 4 relatively unknown grapes that can also be used in Blanc de Blanc, but virtually nobody uses them: Pinot Gris, Blanc Vrai, Arbane and Petit Meslier)
  • Nino Franco Prosecco Superiore  – There’s something like 5 grapes that can go into Prosecco, but the vast majority are made with a grape called Glera

You get the point. These old world guys love making single varietal wines.

And it gets even funnier…

A lot of the most famous New World wines are actually blends

  • eagle screaming about being more than Cabernet
    Photo: Dr. Thomas G. Barnes, USFWS

    Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon – often a blend, varies by vintage

  • Sloan Cabernet – often a blend
  • Harlan Estate – always a blend
  • Colgin Estate Red – this wine is a blend (though they also make single varietal wines)
  • Penfolds Grange – While it relies heavily on Shiraz, it often has a touch of Cabernet in there for good measure
  • Viña Cobos’s Nico Cabernet Sauvignon- 30%+ Malbec in this Argentine $150+ bottle

A French winemaker once asked…

Early on when I moved to France to make wine, the locals couldn’t believe how different wine economics were in the US. It seemed to them like American winemakers could charge any price they wanted, and theories abounded about how “new world” marketing like putting the grape on the label allowed winemakers to sell more wine.

One French winemaker asked me, “Ryan, how can we sell our wines as well as the Americans? What do they do to get such astronomical prices?”

The answer was easy. I told him, “They pretend to be French.”

And so it’s no surprise that years later I started to realize that all those famous new world single variety wines still like to blend a bit of this and a touch of that, invoking the old world tradition of balanced blending.

And humorously, the old world is actually making a lot of really famous single variety wines and just neglecting to put it on the label.

Life is funny sometimes.

In any case, I encourage you to go enjoy some single variety wines this week. We’re launching some old world single variety producers ourselves like Benjamin Laroche, umpteenth generation Chablis winemaker – and it’s deeee-licious.

4 replies on “Famous wines that nobody realizes are single varietal”

Interesting !! Nobody ever realises either that Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé ( France ) are single varietals too.
100% Sauvignon Blanc ánd we put it on the label……. of course ( we are chauvinist ) for the SB grape originates from the Loire Valley

Ryan, I suspected we shared a rather off-beat sense of humor. I haven’t read this article, because I haven’t stopped laughing at the picture. 🙂

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