Unwrapping a blend

Oh dear, I’ve recently proved that old saying about work expanding to the time allocated to it can be equally truthfully applied to mass and the space allocated to it, at least if our cellar is anything to go by. The bottles (many of them empty, but I’m so attached to them as their presence reminds of great tastings and travels to other winelands of the world – a photo album of sorts, though I don’t bore visitors with all the holiday stories!) and other wine paraphernalia was taking up all and more of the space they should, until I decided to take action last weekend.  No doubt I’d have procrastinated longer, the mess being somewhat intimidating, but it was too wet to work in the garden, another area where weed growth is taking up more than its fair share of space.

As I dug deeper (in the cellar, not the garden), the task took on a new, more enjoyable look thanks to some re-discoveries or to be more honest, wines I’d forgotten about.

LaibachblendOne of these was a box containing the five bottles in the photo; what an interesting discovery it turned out to be. I’ve (also) forgotten the details of why I came to have the wine, but I do remember Laibach’s winemaker, Francois van Zyl talking about assembling this blending kit to illustrate the individual components and how they fit into the jigsaw puzzle that is the final blend.

High time to try this quintet, which is what I’ve done over consecutive evenings, starting with the petit verdot, followed by cab franc, merlot, cabernet and finally the flagship blend, Friedrich Laibach. A fascinating exercise, which illustrated very clearly how a blend can be more than the sum of its parts, what those parts bring to the blend and that not all can stand alone.

Actually, that’s the whole point. The winemaker isn’t looking for pushy, individual solo divas but good chorus members in all parts – soprano, alto, tenor and bass – which together make a complex whole.

I have to admit that it wouldn’t have hurt to have found this lost box a few years ago, although all the wines were still alive.  As a solo player, the petit verdot (5%) was probably the least satisfactory; quite simple in flavour, the structure now reliant on the wine’s bright acidity. The cab franc (15%) delivered more flesh and a glimmer of its typical fine tannin. But I think I’d have got more out of them three to four years’ ago.

Francois van Zyl is one of the best merlot producers in South Africa – actually, his whole range is pretty smart – so I was pleased to find this 20% component still showing juicy, well ripened fruit albeit styled to complement the rest of the team.

As the major 60% partner, one might expect cabernet sauvignon to put in a good performance, which it did; the tannins lending but a gentle squeeze around the ripe, supple flesh.

After these four, you can imagine how curious I was to taste the final blend, coming – if you need reminding – from one of the best vintages of the noughties (after 2009).

If not greatly complex, it was by far the most pleasurable bottle having freshness, ripe flesh all shaded by those now much-rounded tannins.

Two lessons here: blending is an art, which demands a good understanding of the individual parts to arrive at a bigger whole and don’t ‘lose’ wines in the cellar when they would have been better enjoyed some years’ earlier.

I wonder whether any other producer has put together a similar blending kit? It’s the sort of project I feel many winelovers would enjoy trying.

 

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2 thoughts on “Unwrapping a blend

  1. Hi Angela

    Although not quite the same as your Bordeaux style blend above, one blending kit that I can immediately think of is the one from Newton Johnson. It shows the 3 single Pinot Noir vineyard offerings that they blend to give them the final Family blend. The Windandsea that won red wine of the year is part of that kit.

    1. Hennie, the major difference with the Newton Johnson trio of pinots is that they are stand alone wines – very much so. I doubt they released them in this way with the idea of making up a blend to match the Family Vineyards wine, but it would be interesting if a trifle of an expensive exercise to try!

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