One of the key skills for a Bordeaux wine maker is blending and now is the time many are starting to look at the blend for the 2011 vintage. Blending is more than just throwing all the different grape varieties together. Although appellation laws control what grape varieties wine makers can grow and use in their blends, be they white or red, how and when it is done is down to the individual wine maker.
It is rare to find field blends in Bordeaux, that is wine made from different grape varieties fermented in the vat together. Wine makers will choose the varieties they plant and where they plant them as a function of the soil types, the topography, and the micro climate they have in their vineyard (the famous terroir). This plot by plot management of the vineyard will give vines of different ages and varieties on different soils, all of which will be ready for picking at different times. This will be carried through to the wine making with each plot vinified as a separate wine in preparation for blending.
Some properties blend when the malolatic fermentations are finished and the wines are run into barrels, allowing barrel aging to take place for the final blended wine. Others prefer to barrel age each grape variety separately, allowing a different oak selection for each cuvee before blending at bottling, for others it will be a continual process bringing together the final blend over the aging period. In all cases there is always a final blend to ensure consistency and blend out the barrel difference.
Blending is never a fixed recipe, despite the percentages planted in the vineyard, the final blend will vary from vintage to vintage depending on what mother nature has thrown at us. Some vintages favor an excellent expression of Cabernet and others Merlot, both in volume and quality. The wine maker has the added advantage, at most properties, of being able to blend 2 wines, a first or grand vin, and second label. Don’t be mislead, the second label is not a dustbin where everything that is not up to scratch gets blended. Often from younger wines, sometimes with a higher percentage of Merlot, they offer a wine that is ready for drinking earlier than the ‘Grand Vin’ and more accessible in price as well as in style – think diffusion range instead of haute couture (an interesting analogy given the presence of Chanel, LVMH and PPR in the Bordeaux firmament). Many properties, even offer a third blend allowing for even more leeway. Properties may always reserve certain plots of land for certain levels of quality such as the Grand Vin of Chateau Latour that only ever comes from the same vineyards, known as l’Enclos, close to the chateau. Wheres as Les Fort de la Tour come from the surrounding areas that never enters the grand vin blend and the Pauillac again is sourced from further afield. Wine from the Enclos many enter Les Forts – but never the contrary.
If you want to learn more about blending why not try your hand in Bordeaux, the Ecole du vin de Bordeaux will teach you how to blend in their technical class or you can go to the heart of the problem and learn with wine makers in a Château.
Chateau Lanessan in the Medoc offers a wonderful ‘Winemakers visit’ that offer the chance to taste the various grape varieties before creating your own blend and comparing it to the winemakers selection. Or you can join in a blending workshop with Les Medocaines, leaving the Bordeaux tourist office in the morning the tour includes visits to 2 of the properties again tasting the different varieties and a mystery blend to identify and a tasting of the final blends from all four properties.
Later this month, on 24th february, 2 properties from different areas of Bordeaux have joined together to offer a discovery day including blending skills. As well as visiting the spectacular Chateau Camarsac in the Entre deux Mers and Chateau Bouscaut in Graves and making your own blend to take home you can enjoy a lunch at Classified growth Château Bouscaut. On the right bank Chateau Siaurac offers another approach to blending tasting wines from Merlot and Cabernet aged in both barrel and vats for you to blend.
Be careful you may discover a new vocation.