Why blend Syrah and Viognier?

What’s the story behind blending a white and a red? Why is it done in varying degrees or at all? Where did it start?

Historically probably thousand years ago but current day, the Northern Rhone. Many in the North believe to varying degrees that white in the wine adds color, texture and weight.

Some white varieties are also blended into southern rhone wines as well. As to why, Jason hits on most of them but I’ll also add that it can open a wine up aromatically. I would also guess that in some years where cooler weather prevailed later in the season that white varieties could add some roundness and ripeness back into the wine. In warmer years, it may have added acidity and freshness back into the wine as well.

our 2010 Rhone Blend has about 3% Marsanne/Roussanne/Grenache Blanc…it definitely adds a floral component and another layer of complexity.

I think the typical answer is that it adds a floral element to the nose. And it is a long tradition in the Northern Rhone. But I’m not qualified to say what effect it actually does have – winemakers on here could answer that, if they’ve tested their wines with and without.

The only other red wine that traditionally had white grapes mixed in was Chianti, as far as I know, but I don’t think anyone does that anymore.

They do it in AU as well. Clonakilla, Yalumba, and probably others too.

You can almost imagine it… Drinking the Syrah and thinking this tastes great but I wish it had a better nose. Drinking the Viognier and thinking this smells great, but I wish it tasted better… Almost like a Resee’s peanut butter cup commercial…


something in the white grapes pulls more color out of the red grapes.

Are they always co-fermented? I know it’s the case at least sometimes. So it’s a special kind of “blending.”

But not in cornas. And different whites depending on the northern Rhone region.

What Mel said. It has nothing to do with aromatics. Some white wines have non-pigmented phenolics and those bond to some of the anthocyanins in the red grapes. It kind of stabilizes the color and supposedly helps with color extraction as well. Doesn’t happen with all white grapes, so you can’t just put any old white and red together, but in some cases it helps and over the years people figured it out. It was done in Spain, France, Italy, and I would suppose many other winemaking countries in Europe. Not in every region though.

There are some studies that claim it really doesn’t do anything.

In addition, something I’ve never read, but I’ve suspected, is that grapes were traditionally picked as soon as feasible, since nobody wanted to take chances with the weather or pests. So most reds everywhere in the world weren’t the dark color they are today. We know that much.

In such a case however, the white grapes would have been a little riper than the reds, assuming co-harvesting and co-fermentation, so rather than adding acidity, which would pretty much be unnecessary with something like N. Rhone Syrah or Tuscan Sangiovese, the whites may have actually added a little bit of a riper quality. But that’s just speculation.

I think Greg has hit on something here> In such a case however, the white grapes would have been a little riper than the reds, assuming co-harvesting and co-fermentation, so rather than adding acidity, which would pretty much be unnecessary with something like N. Rhone Syrah or Tuscan Sangiovese, the whites may have actually added a little bit of a riper quality. But that’s just speculation.

I have always suspected that but I have limited experience I guess. I do not have all the expertise that many here show.

Thanks greg! I was just sort of repeating what I’ve read here or elsewhere about the co-ferment IIRC Carole Meredith explained the process with lots of word like phenolics and anthocyanins…

I’m not so sure that I believe that Viognier was added for pigmentation, I don’t have any particular facts to substantiate that, but it seems more like a happy accident. Certainly the tradition begun a some point in history, and part of me is skeptical that at that time they were thinking about anthocyanins. Even further, it seems quite counter intuitive to believe that adding a white grape to a red grape at fermentation would deepen color (even though it does) so it seems rational that the practice was for some other reason.

My assumption was that the reason for adding Viognier was likely to add sweetness and roundness (and in some cases, freshness) to the wines. Syrah can be taut and nervy at times, especially in colder climates. Unlike other regions that have multiple red varieties with different ripening cycles, northern Rhone has a limited arsenal. It seems intuitive to believe that adding Viognier was related to creating more balanced wines.

But again, I may be full of it. It just seems like the explanation of color pigmentation feels so…superficial in the ultimate scheme of things. Especially given the percentages, up to 20%, which would have an undeniable impact on the wine far more than just the color.

Also, we should keep in mind that Syrah is blended with Marsanne and Roussanne as well in Northern Rhone.

Great subject and question, and then a great response by GregT in kind.

I haven’t tasted as much as I should, but when I have, I haven’t loved the effect of Viognier. I’d like to try some red burgundy with a little bit of chardonnay in it, but not sure anyone dares produce it these days:

Came across this, which seems to challenge the idea that Viognier enhances pigmentation. Would be interested in hearing from those who have a background in wine chemistry. Interesting to note too that the Viognier in this case had higher brix, but lower pH than the Syrah. Both presumably harvested around a similar date (although not necessarily identical). Of course, this study covers one region in one vintage.


Well, they don’t have to have thought of it in chemical terms. They might simply have observed the effect on the color.

I just checked and couldn’t find a reference quickly, but I believe I’ve read that it does help fix the color. Besides, Greg says it does.

It doesn’t seem any odder than the fact that new barriques help fix the pigments of nebbiolo, and hence make modernist Barolo look darker. You’d think the micro-oxygenation of the small barrels might break down the pigments.

No one uses anything close to 20% white grapes in the north. Most people who include viognier use 3-5%, with a few going up to 10%. Moreover, the impact on color isn’t necessarily obvious. I learned recently that Texier uses about 15% white grapes in his Cotes du Rhone from the south, and you’d never guess it from the color. I’d been drinking it without knowing it included white fruits until someone posted here and I checked Texier’s web site. It doesn’t look different from a typical lighter style grenache-based wine.

Only in Hermitage are marsanne and roussanne allowed in the reds, and I’m sure anyone actually uses them. Cote Rotie allows only viognier and Cornas allows no white grapes.

I’m not necessarily thinking of it in some type of modern context, rather a more historical one. At some point in time, producers begun adding white grapes to Syrah throughout the Northern Rhone for some reason. It had to be a somewhat common practice and done so in such a degree that it was codified to 10-20%, depending on the particular AOC. It seems peculiar to me that this tradition would be based solely on color pigmentation, especially given how unintuitive it is. Not only that but it seems like an entirely un-French thing to do! :stuck_out_tongue:

Here’s a better link: http://www.ajevonline.org/content/63/4/538.abstract

As long as we’re Googling, here’s something on the other side from Ridge’s blog:

Post 1: “Chemically, there are non-pigmented phenolics within the viognier skins that have a strong affinity for bonding to side-groups of the anthocyanin pigment of syrah. Once these bonds are formed, they remain soluble and stable within the wine and provide a deep blue/purple spectrum of color.”

Post 2: Cofermented “viognier performs three very key roles here: 1) Intensification and preservation of coloration, 2) Enhancement of viscosity/silkening of mouthfeel, and 3) Counterbalancing of aromatics. Put another way, the viognier does wonders for the color, and accordingly the aging and development of this wine; it also soothes and rounds out the mouthfeel, taking the oft-times rough, even granular chalkiness of syrah and giving it a far more luxurious palate encasement; and it delivers a brilliantly floral and lively counterbalance to the deep and dark syrah aromatics.”

Does Marsanne and Roussanne provide the same dynamics as Viognier in fixing pigmentation? And why Clairette in Southern Rhone?

I just feel like it has to born out of some other idea than just color pigmentation. And fixating on color (no pun intended) over possible dilution (up to 20%) seems quite contrary to so many other French ideals. The sum would have to be greater than the parts. I couldn’t imagine more than 5% being allowed if it was primarily for color.