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Blending & Maturation

Updated: Jun 22

I've never cried much.. Poignant moments in movies rarely evoke a response (Spenser Tracy's soliliquy in Guess Who's Coming To Dinner is an exception). Sometimes a newly discovered musical talent does (e.g., Susan Boyle, Paul Potts, Alice Fredenham). The sure thing that brings tears to my eyes is appreciation, knowing that someone thinks you are special. I recently attended the marriage of a good friend to his adoring wife to whom he is rightly smitten. Their friendship brings tears to my eyes.

Wine is different than any other beverage. Alcohol is essential to its spiritual nature. Beer and spirits can be refreshing or ethereal but are made more by man than nature. It’s the wonder of new experience, the epiphany of worldly existence, and the profound sadness of remembrance that places wine in a special place in our hearts. Wine evokes our humanity. Perhaps a touch, a glance, a thought can do the same but not as consistently.

Let me tie the knot between marriage and fine wine. They both promise fealty and a good life regardless of circumstances. Comparisons are unencumbered and appreciation is paramount. Disappointments are temporary and love is a promise to the loved and a learned experience.


Blending

Most wines and spirits are blended, whether it be different years, grape varieties, vine age, terroir, estate-grown and contracted sources, field blends, or stages of winemaking (e.g., free-run or press wine, malolactic conversion, time on lees, wood exposure). Some examples:

  • Multi-vintage champagne is both a horizontal blend (multiple vineyards) and a vertical blend (multiple recent vintages plus up to 30% older reserve wine)

  • Sherry is produced using the Solera system which blends wines from many harvests. Sherry vinos generosos de licor wines are blends of dry wine from palomino grapes and sweet wines from pedro ximenez and moscatel varieties.

  • Les Grands Crus classés en 1855 are blends of varieties that complement each other

  • Vérité is a blend created from a mosaic of more than 50 micro-cru plots in Sonoma

  • Jean-Michel Deiss calls his riesling-dominant Alsace Grand Cru Altenberg de Bergheim field blend a "wine of terroir".

Many wines are produced using several of these blending practices. The point is that blending is where the winemaker influences nature's bounty. Of course blending can be used for deception as well as improvement, but adulteration and fraud are ultimately destructive for such shortsighted operators.


Maturation

Maturation lets the components marry so they complement the union, fleetingly distinguishable and contributing to the overall complexity and balance of the wine. However, unlike marriage, the vast majority of wines do not age well. Luke chapter 5 verse 39 says "And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say 'The old is better'" but "better" is a matter of taste. I tell my friends that most wine is meant to be drunk within a year after harvest and a miniscule amount improves beyond 10 years.


Most popular wines made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Zinfandel, Tempranillo, and eastern European wines should be drunk within 10 years. Tannic red wines with high acidity and white wines with high extract have a greater capability of aging. Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Nebbiolo, Tannat, and Aglianico may improve over 20 years. Fine wines like classified Bourdeaux, Grand Cru Burgundy, Vintage Ports, Sauturnes, Riesling, Furmint, and Chenin Blanc may be appreciated beyond 20 years. But most can also be appreciated younger.


Service

I enjoy selecting a wine and preparing it for service. Not the same as a wedding for sure but evocative. Both seek to provide the best experience possible. Serving a wine releases anticipation, aromas and tastes, and teases forgetfulness to overcome thoughtfulness.


I am one of the last people you want to give a toast as my public-speaking skills and practical etiquette are usually less than inspiring despite knowledge of the sometimes impractical service standards of the Court of Master Sommeliers. I appreciate good service but I value authenticity over formality. The best servers are those that combine both traits in a friendly, empathetic, and personal manner.


Manuia!

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