Blending, the Birth of a Bordeaux Wine

Most French wines (mainly in the south) are the result of a tricky process : the blending.

With the exception of Burgundy (the land of single varietals Pinot Noir and Chardonnay) the best wines from Bordeaux, Rhône valley, Languedoc-Roussillon, Champagne etc…all come from blends of different grape varieties.

Last february I took part as a consultant, in the blending process for a château in Northern Médoc alongside the owner and oenologists. I was facing 15 bottles representing 15 “cuvées”, basically 15 different wines coming from different grapes, plots etc…

We went on to rate each sample with a grade going from A to C. The best ones formed the château’s first label, while the more ordinary ones put together the vineyard’s second wine.

However, an important question arises : with the raise of single varietal wines in the global wine supply (thanks mostly to new world countries) why should the french wineries keep producing blended wines ?

– As proved in the USA, consumers get familiar with the different varietals and associate a specific taste to each of them. When at the wine shop or grocery store, they just pick the one they prefer : it’s easy, convenient and fast. We are also starting to see this more and more in France, as most people feel lost in this jungle of appellations, châteaux, domaines, vintage etc…

supermarche-spar-soisy-sous-montmorency-1361598793In such an intricate supply, I admit that it’s not an easy task to choose a bottle of wine.

– As far as winegrowers are concerned, it’s much easier to grow a row of Cabernet-Sauvignon, harvest it all at once, vinify it, and then bottle it rather than taking care and blending more varietals.

Why should most of those French wineries should keep making blended wines ?

The answer is simple : for the sake of quality.

There is one word French winegrowers are fond of : terroir. Technically, the terroir is the combination of geography, geology and climate of a certain place. Combined with the winemaker’s hand, it’s the cause of a wine’s signature taste. They don’t make a wine to sell a brand, they make a wine to sell a terroir.

This is exactly the point of blending. By putting together those “cuvées”, the winemaker tries to create a wine that will represent the estate’s terroir as much as possible.

In Languedoc-Roussillon, winegrowers blend grape varieties such as Carignan, Grenache and Mourvèdre among others. In Bordeaux, it’s usually a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. A wine isn’t only a blend of different varietals, indeed the same grape variety will express itself in a completely different manner depending on the vine’s age, the soils and subsoils it’s planted on etc…

Before putting together the wine, the goal is to identify what each cuvée brings to the table. One will bring pulp and flesh in the middle of the mouth, another one will bring a longer finish, another one finesse and classy tannins, another one a lot of flavors etc…

In conclusion, creating a wine is the art of blending wisely all of those samples by finding an harmonious balance. Something incredible usually happens at that time, the final result is often infinitely better than everything separated, that’s the best part about it.