art of blending
Tasting the components of Beaucastel 2003
seemed a bit of a coincidence to be given a chance to taste samples
of the components of two different fine wines in the space of a
week: first, Beaucastel 2003 – a classic Châteauneuf du Pape –
and second Niepoort 2003, one of the very best Vintage Ports.
This made me think about the art of blending. On one level,
the classic ‘terroir’ model is to produce a wine from a single
patch of ground that then reflects the characters of the vineyard.
But even in its purest sense, implementing this terroir model will
involve a degree of blending: as anyone who has tasted a particular
wine from barrels before will tell you, there are usually subtle
(and often not so subtle) differences among them. This may have to
do with the nature of the barrel, the course of the fermentation, or
reflect differences between the grapes from various bits of the same
vineyard. Unless the winemaker decides to mix all the components
together, there’ll be some sort of selection involved in blending
the final wine.
In many cases, even staunch terroirists will do quite a bit
of work in choosing which components to blend together for the
various wines that are produced from a property. Being able to
predict what the effect of adding two or more rather different wines
together is a real skill. The most able blenders will already be
thinking about the usefulness of certain components as elements in
blend while the grapes are still on the vine: many of the
viticultural choices will be made with this in mind.
Beaucastel is an iconic wine from Châteauneuf du Pape, and
I recently had a chance to taste a wide range of different vintages
(including five vintages of the super cuvee Hommage à Jacques
Perrin). Included in this tasting was a sampling of some of the
blending components of the 2003 vintage. Beaucastel is famous for
including all 13 permitted grape varieties in the blend, but these
five varieties tried here form the backbone of the wine (around
85%). These samples
were taken from tank on Monday 8th March and tasted on Wednesday 10th
March, and were tasted with Pierre Perrin: a summary of his comments
are included after my notes.
Cinsault (4–5% of the final blend)
This shows intense, vibrant cherry fruit that is sweet and
liqouricey. Quite alluring and exciting. According to Pierre,
Cinsault is good for fruit and acidity. They do a saignée on the
Cinsault (bleeding a portion of the juice off the skins after
crushing to increase the solid:juice ratio), because this is a
light-skinned variety that gives a lot of juice. Yields of Cinsault
are 35 hl/ha whereas for the other grapes it is usually 15–18
hl/ha. A perfumed grape
Counoise (used to be 3–4% of blend, now 10%)
On the nose this shows vibrant, juicy, vivid fruit. There’s
some spicy structure on the palate. This is savoury and
mouthfilling. Pierre points out that this is a late variety,
harvested on 10 October in normal years. He likes it for its good
flavour and acidity.
Syrah (10% of the blend)
Sweet and liquoricey with intense red and black fruits. Juicy
palate with good structure. 2003 was not a good year for Syrah as it
was too hot and the vines experienced ‘blockage’. It’s
normally a variety that would provide structure, colour, minerality
and longevity to the blend.
Grenache (30% of the blend)
The most widely planted grape in the southern Rhône. This shows
alluring sweet ripe fruits with some elegance on the nose. There’s
a subtle spiciness. The palate is rich and fruity with smooth, spicy
structure. Not too showy, with lovely fine-grained spicy tannins.
Pierre says that Grenache adds alcohol, structure, finesse, fruits
Mourvèdre (30% of the blend)
Distinctive herby, spicy palate with sweet fruits and a savoury
twist. The palate is lively, structured, spicy and open. Firm
tannins and good acidity. Pierre reports that Mourvèdre is a very
reductive variety with good fruits and lots of structure: it can be
difficult to appreciate when it is in a reductive phase.
The last wine was an assemblage of the five different
varieties, in proportions approximating those in the final blend.
This has a sweet nose showing open fruit with a spicy edge. The
palate is chewy and spicy with a lovely earthiness, firm tannins and
nice structure. Good concentration. Very good/excellent 93+/100
also: the art of blending part 2: Niepoort
Vintage Port 2003