Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Time for wine blends

T'is the time of year that the local vintners do their blends. Nearly all the wines of this region are a blend of two or more grapes. You can easily find four to six different varietals added in varying quantities in some of the great wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the Côteaux d'Aix, Les Baux de Provence, and of course, throughout Languedoc. The different varietals blended together are what bring depth and complexity to these wines.

Grenache is known to be relatively alcoholic, rich in fruit flavors (most notably strawberry jam), cocoa, and even floral and fresh. Syrah is known for its dark color, exotic spices, deep black berry and cassis notes. Mourvèdre can lend sous-bois and mushroom notes, or hints of the herbal garrigue and liquorice, even dark cherries. Carignan, particularly when from old vines, has its own gifts which the talented and hard-working vintner can harness. Other possibilities in the region are Cinsault -- known to be an elegant, less alcoholic floral note -- and Counoise, a grape I know the name of and not much else! It is very rare, yet nonetheless present in a tiny minority of wines including at our friend's the Domaine D'Eole in Eygalières, though I believe he puts it into his rosé, not his red.

In Vauvert we were working with the four possibilities planted on the property: grenache, syrah, mourvèdre, and carignan. Now, over and beyond these simple varietal distinctions, there is the syrah of the Jardin Secret parcel, and the more recently planted syrah; there is the old grenache planted by JP's father, and the very young parcel planted only five or so years ago. And, then there are the various juices of the press and the jus de la coule, as well as the special cuve of old carignan that was vinified with the special technique of macération carbonique.

The goal was to produce five reds, two whites and one rosé. The rosé had been decided during the vinification, and as it is made purely with quickly pressed red grapes -- no white, it was needing only a sign off from the AOC board before it gets bottled next week.

The whites were easy. The clairette was bright and tart, potent grapefruit in the bouquet, zesty notes of orange and lemon on the palette. It will make a great vin de pays. The viognier is far more elegant, higher in alcohol as well (13.5) with lovely yellow flower notes, and a hint of honey on the palette. A touch of clairette with the viognier will brighten it up, adding in a necessary note of acidity.

For the reds: a vin de pays - fruity, not too tannic, easy to drink. Job done with ease. This is the wine to which the younger vines contribute their fruit, and to which you don't want to add the potentiall harsh juices from the press. For the moment, this is the bag in box option for the winery, though we might bottle it again. It used to be available in the bottle, and there is a lovely label ready and waiting to be printed. I keep a box of it in my kitchen and serve myself (and any friend present) a glass with each meal.

Then we looked at the possibilities for the cuvée Jardin Secret. The vast majority of this wine comes from the special parcel of syrah, giving it its dominant notes. But to this, a touch of the old carignan vinified with the macération carbonique technique, bright and rich in aromas, it immediately enlivened the wine. Then the best of the grenache: cocoa, violets, torrefacted notes, a touch of coffee. And the mourvèdre which really came out very well this year... and voila. The blend was decided.

For the Rouge Tradition, which is the primary wine of the Domaine, we sought a balance of flavors, texture, tannins and bouquet. Into this the best of the press juices (the mourvèdre and the press from the carignan were particularly interesting) contributed their ripe tannins. This wine took the longest to get just right as we considered doing a more elegant version to bottle, calculating the bottles necessary for this year including our hopes to expand into the North American markets, and another, slightly lesser (but still very good AOC) version to sell in bulk to our ever demanding German and Belgian clients to the north -- long devoted to the organic choice. And, hmmmm, it will be a lovely wine! Better than last year, with fresh notes of lilac, toasted notes of cocoa and coffee, a tart hint of cassis, ripe tannis, structure ...

And what was left? just a little bit, some less attractive press juices, etc., that shall be easily disposed of as vin de table.

Now, off to the cellar to physically put together all these recipes!

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