Wine Blending is like the perfect marriage, but, is it to have and to hold...until death do you part? Let me lead this sermon and guide you through this ceremony about blends. When it comes to blending wines, it is vital that a winemaker has a very good palate and understanding of what they want to portray and to find the perfect balance and harmony between flavours and aromas. A winemaker is literally a mad scientist and an artist in one. Scientific enough to understand the chemical compounds in a wine, but most importantly an artist that adds his special genre within a blended wine.
What is Wine Blending?
Wine blending falls into two parts. The first and most well-known form of blending is by combining two or more varietals, but you also get what we refer to as single-varietal blending, which is blending the same varietal from different vineyard blocks or vineyard areas. Blending is an extremely important part of the winemaking process as it is literally an art. Some examples of classic blends are from Bordeaux, the Rhône Valley (especially Châteauneuf-du-Pape), Champagne, Rioja, Tuscany, various examples from New World countries and Port.
. "The boss, Eddie, using his artistic flair to find the perfect balance and harmony in his wines
What is the Purpose of Wine Blending?
1) Blending different varietals together
Ultimately, the purpose of blending is to improve the flavour and aromas of the wine; add complexity that can assist in enabling ageing; and to create a unique wine that represents its region and expresses its terroir by taking the very best characteristics of each varietal. Each grape variety that is added to a wine blend contributes special aspects, which when combined, creates a perfectly well-rounded, rich and smooth-tasting wine.
2) Blending single varietals from different vineyard blocks
When it comes to single varietal blends the main purpose is to maintain consistency of a product. Many people become familiar with a specific brand and the style and flavour profile of that particular wine. In order to consistently maintain this vintage after vintage, they need to blend from different vineyard blocks and regions to keep a relatively similar flavour profile. This method of blending is mainly for bulk production.
If you look at the above image, you will see an example of the five classic individual Bordeaux grapes on the left, coming together to form the perfect square on the right, symbolising a Bordeaux blend. What this depicts is that although each individual component (grape variety) can be influential on its own and serve its individual purpose, it can also make something that is structured, balanced and more complex when it comes together. In other words, sometimes a whole is far greater than its individual parts.
To summarise, the purpose of blending is basically extracting something that is one dimensional and turning it into something that is three dimensional.
Famous Wine Blending Regions
Bordeaux is separated by two styles referred to as "Left Bank" and "Right Bank".
- Blends are dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon (usually over 60% of the blend).
- There are two famous regions on the Left Bank: Medoc and Graves.
- These wines are concentrated, tannic and most of them need to be cellared before drinking.
- Blends are dominated by Merlot (usually over 60% of the blend).
- Referred to as "The Libournais" which include two famous regions: Pomerol and St. Emilion.
- These wines often have great fruit concentration and softer tannins.
White Blends of Bordeaux
- Referred to as Bordeaux Blanc.
- Dry white blends are dominated by Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.
- Sweet wines are referred to as Sautérnes and are blended with Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle.
Just like Bordeaux, the Rhône Valley is also separated into two styles: Northern and Southern Rhône.
- Blends are dominated by Syrah.
- Famous for SMV (Syrah, Mourvédre & Viognier) and SMG (Syrah, Mourvédre & Grenache) blends.
- Famous regions within Northern Rhône include Côte Rotie, Condrieu, St Joseph and Hermitage.
- Blends are dominated by Grenache.
- Famous for GSM (Grenache, Syrah & Mourvédre) blends as well as white and rosé wines.
- Famous regions within Southern Rhône include Gigondas, Vacqueyras and Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
White Blends of the Rhône Valley
- White grapes that are permitted in a Rhône Valley blend are Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne.
- Predominantly produced in St. Joseph and Hermitage in Northern Rhône.
- White grapes in Southern Rhône are mainly used in Châteauneuf-du-Pape blends. They include Ugni Blanc, Roussanne, Bourboulenc, Picpoul and Clairette.
All champagne wines are blended, be it single-varietal blending (Blanc de Blanc − 100% Chardonnay) or multiple varietal blending (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier).
"Champagne Blending (also known as Assemblage) is arguably the most difficult form of blending in my personal opinion"
There are only three grapes that are permitted in the production of champagne.
- Chardonnay: Adds acidity for structure, citrus fruits and marzipan flavours
- Pinot Noir: Adds orange and red fruit flavours
- Pinot Meunier: Adds richness and yellow apple flavours
Non-Vintage (NV) Champagne is a blend of champagne from different years (vintages), typically produced to create a 'house-style' that is consistent year to year.
Port is a fortified wine made from a variety of blended indigenous Portuguese grapes. There are several styles of port, but the most commonly produced are white port, tawny port, ruby port and vintage port. There are a few examples of rosé port, but are less common.
"Some Port blending in action"
- Made from a variety of grapes that include Rabigato, Viosinho, Gouveio and Malvasia.
- Standard White Port is a style that is lighter and has more citrus flavours, and often has less sweetness.
- Reserve White Port is aged for seven years and is bolder and more robust, with nutty flavours and more sweetness.
- Made from a variety of grapes that include Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Tinta Barroca and Tinta Cão.
- Basic Tawny is very sweet, barrel aged for a minimum of two years and has oxidative nut and caramel flavours.
- Colheita is a special style of tawny port made from a single vintage (year) and typically released 10 years after harvest.
- Made from a variety of grapes that include Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Tinta Barroca and Tinta Cão. There are also around 52 other varietals known to be blended as well.
- Ruby Port is a lighter, more affordable port that is a lot more fruit forward and generally meant to be drunk young.
- Reserve Port, which is similar to Vintage Port, is a premium style of Ruby Port that is not meant to age, but rather be drunk young as well.
- The same red varietals as both Tawny and Ruby Ports, but more limited in terms of grape selection for blending. Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca are the two dominant grapes.
- Produced from a single harvest and barrel aged for about 2−4 years before being bottled. Once bottled, vintage port is left to lie anywhere from 10 to 40 years before being released.
From this I think we have fundamentally established why blending is like a marriage - it connects the perfect partners together that have formulated mutual bonds that will last forever to create wines that are so special, unique and distinctive in their own rights. So, would you agree that it is to have and to hold...until death do you part? I most certainly say "I DO".