wa2.gif (4241 bytes)

abut9.gif (3095 bytes)

abut12.gif (3207 bytes)
abut10.gif (3636 bytes)

abut11.gif (4039 bytes)


The art of blending
Tasting the components of Beaucastel 2003

It 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 variety.

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 and elegance.

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  

see also: the art of blending part 2: Niepoort Vintage Port 2003

Back to top