THE WORLD of wines would be very monotonous if it weren’t for the fact that no two wines are ever alike. Different grapes yield forth a diverse array of wines and the same grape planted in different soils will exhibit differences in character. Even the same wine from the same winemaker will change from one year to another. With all this diversity, the real trick is not variety, but rather consistency. He who can make the same wine year on year has a higher chance of being successful than another who may make good wine, but can’t deliver a nearly similar product with every harvest.
Which is where the art of blending comes in. Blending wines is not a new concept, it has been practised since hundreds of years. More recently, Dom Perignon at the Abbey of Hautvilliers was credited with being one of the first people to make ‘Assemblage’ an accepted method to ensure quality and consistency.
So why blend? Isn’t wine supposed to be a natural beverage with minimal (human) intervention? Blending, luckily, isn’t really considered to be tweaking. The idea of a blend is to take the natural potential of grapes and to combine them in a manner so that the total is greater than the sum total of their individual strengths. Put otherwise, the different components contribute to a greater new goodness, one which wouldn’t have been possible by using simply one grape.
Cabernet, for example, shows great aromas and a lasting finish, but can often be lacking on the mid-palate. Blending it with Merlot, which is a very soft grape, helps fill that gap. When blended with Shiraz, not only is that space bridged, it is further enhanced with added aromas and layered complexity on the palate.
Other times, blending is done to tone down strength, as is the case with using some white Viognier grape in Syrah wines, thus yielding a full-bodied red wine with lovely floral aromas and a taut palate.
And then, blending is done with the same grape coming from different parcels. The same grape grown in varied patches of soil will highlight different aspects in the wine and by combining a few such samples, we can come up with a fairly layered multi-faceted blend.
These three mentioned above are the main types of blending to be found. In each case, the blend is meant to enhance the overall enjoyment. It also helps protect against the anomalies of nature to help create uniformity in the product. In case one patch of land gets too much rain, we may need to cut back on the crop from there, shifting focus instead to a site, which saw more amenable weather. And this is one chief method to ensure consistency.
But the most important aspect of creating a blend is not just about having all the necessary constituents. Once we have the requisite ‘ingredients’, we need a great chef to put them together and this is where the winemakers’ skills matter. It is their job to ensure that the resulting wine is (a) the best possible in the given year; (b) can be made in large quantities at a (c) price-point that won’t fluctuate too much every year; and (d) can be made every year in such a way that even on ageing the wine’s taste doesn’t deviate too far from an established path.
And this is where the importance of the winemakers is highlighted. It is never enough to make a good wine one year; it should be second habit, something that can be repeated almost voluntarily and endlessly.
And yet, in spite of all the reasons in favour of blending, many people prefer to make mono-grape wines. Nothing wrong with that, even if they don’t admit to using different vineyards to bring together the same wine. Thing is, these people feel that blending creates too much homogeneity, which is not a desirable trait. For them, wine should vary, oscillate like a wicked pendulum if it wishes to, but it should never be straitjacketed into being the same every day.
Personally, I am in favour of blends and consider people who eschew blending as just plain lazy. Wine is a pleasure, which enriches each conversation it oversees.
The writer is a sommelier.