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EACH WINE IN A BLEND BRINGS ITS OWN SPECIAL CHARACTERISTIC

Experts say there are 10,000 varieties of grapes in the world. So it seems like a waste to many winemakers to use only one type at a time in their wines. Besides, it must be fun to sit around during the winter lull and dream up new grape blends for the next year's wines - a little syrah for body, some pinot noir for lightness and so on.

And that's the idea. The strengths of one grape make up for the weaknesses of another.

So this is the story of red wine blends - mixtures of two, three, a dozen red grapes in a single wine. Even a couple of white grapes sometimes can pump up the fruitiness.

Here are some popular red grapes and what they add to blended wines:

- Cabernet sauvignon: structure, acids and tannins.

- Merlot: softness and blueberry-scented fruit.

- Malbec: dark color and lush black cherry flavors.

- Petite sirah: muscular acids and tannins.

- Ruby cabernet: dark color and black cherry flavors.

- Tannat, a sturdy red grape from Uruguay: firm tannins.

- Grenache: lush blueberry fruit.

- Viognier, a white grape: lush fruitiness.

Probably the most famous red blend is in France's fabled Bordeaux wines, which must contain two or more of the following: cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, malbec and petit verdot.

These days, wines from many countries contain most of the Bordeaux varietals but replace some.

Still other winemakers come up with their own red blends entirely, using several grape varieties, straying even further from the Bordeaux blend.

To see how far this can go, Scheid Family Wines in Monterey, Calif. has created GIFFT Estate Grown Red Blend for TV star Kathie Lee Gifford with a full dozen grapes - it's 42 percent merlot, 25 percent petite sirah, 12 percent syrah, 10 percent petit verdot, 4 percent other reds, including tempranillo, touriga nacional, tinto cao, tannat, plus two white grapes, muscat canelli and riesling.

In Italy's Tuscany region, to be a Chianti Classico, a wine must have at least 80 percent sangiovese grapes; the other 20 percent can include native red grapes such as canaiolo and colorino, as well as international grapes such as cabernet sauvignon.

Since the 1970s, Tuscany also makes powerful, expensive reds called "Super Tuscans" that sometimes skip sangiovese altogether and use merlot, cabernet sauvignon, syrah, petit verdot and other red grapes.

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