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Blending Languedoc wines

LanguedocLiving, Dec 29

Languedoc is famous for blending grapes, but do you know how the vignerons do it?

Midihideaways went to the Maison des Vins in Saint-Chinian, Hérault for a lesson, and here is what they wrote.

My day started at 10:30 in the morning at the Maison des Vins, the showcase for the AOC Saint-Chinian wines.

I had come to the Maison des Vins for a tutored tasting of some of the wines which had made the Virtuoses selection of wines from the AOC Saint-Chinian, which was led by Baptiste Poncet from the Maison des Vins and Vivien Roussignol of Domaine des Paissels. [More on that in a separate article. Ed]

Before we got to tasting all those wines, a little surprise had been prepared for us. There were three bottles standing next to one of the sinks. There were four such sets of bottles dotted about the tasting area, each set contained bottles labeled with Syrah, Carignan and Grenache. Vivien had brought these wines with him. They had only recently finished their fermentation and had been drawn off the tanks just the day before. The idea was that we would create our own blended wine with wines made from the three grape varieties that are frequently used for the AOC Saint-Chinian wines.

Four teams were formed, and we were given the requisite tools for blending, namely a measuring jug and an empty bottle for our final blend. We started by tasting the individual wines. The Syrah had spent some time in oak barrels and was to add “structure” to the wine, the Grenache was for roundness, and the Carignan was for freshness. The colour of all three wines was amazing – a deep purple colour verging on black.

Once we had finished tasting the three different varietal wines, we set about working out a “recipe” for our blend. We started with 30% Syrah, 60% Grenache and 10% Carignan. Next we tried 20% Syrah, 50% Grenache and 30% Carignan. Finally we tried 30% Syrah, 40% Grenache and 30% Carignan. We tasted each of these blends in comparison to one another, and yes we did keep track of our glasses!! A sheet of paper had been placed at each station, with number 1 to 6 printed on it. We came to the conclusion that our winning blend was the 20-50-30 one and prepared our full bottle according to that recipe.

Each group submitted their bottle, which was then covered with a sleeve, and then we all did a blind tasting of the four different blended wines. Baptiste had given us a simplified version of the tasting sheets used for the Virtuoses competition.

The wines had to be rated on appearance, i.e. colour and clarity of the wine, intensity and complexity of the “nose”, followed by various criteria of taste: Intensity/concentration/bouquet/complexity, acidity/freshness, tannins/structure, balance/harmony, “length” in the mouth, followed by an overall note. Each note carried points and I rated the wine named “B” at 13.5 out of 20 points. I found that exercise to be incredibly difficult. Tasting all those wines was tough enough, but giving notes was tougher yet. Added to that was the fact that the wines were very young, and the flavours not yet very developed.

Did “our” blend come out with the highest score?? Nope, it came in last, but in our defence it was the first wine to be tasted, which, as Baptiste said, does nothing for the ranking. The winning formula was not too dissimilar to ours though: it consisted of 30% Syrah, 50% Grenache and 20% Carignan.

Vivian told us that he prepares about 3 different blends for a cuvee before he arrives at the final “recipe”. Sometimes, final adjustments are made to the blend just before a wine is bottled.

Being a vigneron is a highly skilled job AND it requires many different skills: growing the grapes, turning them into drinkable wine, blending the wine, and finally selling the wine! Before this tasting, I had no idea of just how the blending of a wine works – now I know just how much work and skill is involved, and I hope you, also, have learned a lot about all of the work, skills and abilities that are necessary to create a wonderful wine.

Thankyou to Baptiste and Vivien for this great experience!

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