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Blending's Best

Written by  Harry Haddon | April 8, 2014

When considering which wine to buy on their way home from work, many I think tend to ignore, no, not ignore, simply forget about blended wines.

It is a trend that is starting to shift, especially as South Africa is producing some of the most exciting and good-valued white blends in the world of fine wine; but even at the more moderately priced end of the supermarket shelf, blended wines offer excellent value.

    The comparison of winemakers to artists is a common one. It is a good comparison, but when it comes to blending wine, we can be more specific. The winemaker is a painter. Using the vineyards as her palate the winemaker chooses flavour, aroma, acidity, tannin and sugar from different wines to create a balanced product that must be complex, drinkable and interesting.
    During the blending process, the winemaker keeps in mind how the wine will age, deftly adding the right amount of each variety to make sure this is a graceful and rewarding journey.
    Blending is not simply the mixing of different varieties, but the melding of the same wines aged in different types of oak barrels, or grown in different soils. It is about being given a thousand different aromas, textures and tastes and getting them all to balance on the end of a pin.
    We might even tend to think of a blend as a ‘fixed’ wine, a wine that is somehow not as pure as a varietal wine. That it somehow didn’t turn out great the first time round so the winemaker had to add a bit of this and a bit of that to make the wine drinkable. Most of the time, this is just simply not the case.
    The blender sets out to make a wine – she has an idea in min, formed from tasting the berries in the vineyard, and as the wines come to be she blends towards that goal. Always looking for balance, complexity and interest.
    And while some of the finest and most expensive wines in the world are blends, more affordable wines also benefit from this art. Take for example these two blends from the African Pride range of wines. The Footprint Chenin/Semillon and the Footprint Merlot/Pinotage.
    Both of these wines have been made for a purpose by winemaker Mike Graham. Graham wants to create an “easy-drinking, contemporary style of wine” that will still, in some way, capture its origin. For this he turned to the skill of blending. Graham acquired his skill from all over the world, working both in France and locally before starting African Pride wines in 2002.
    The Chenin/Semillon blend is a smart, refreshing wine that shows the benefit of creating blended white wines excellently. The riper Chenin brings tropical fruits and some richness to the wine, while the Semillon allows for more citrus, verve and pear. The wine goes down easily. Too easily. It is encouraging to see blends like these that offer interesting flavours at these sorts of prices. Clearly Graham’s “trail-blazing journey through site-specific vineyards” is paying off.
     The other blend is the Merlot/Pinotage which is a good example of how blending can tame certain aspects of one variety when it is blended with another.
    Pinotage can sometimes be seen as the ugly duckling of the South African wine scene, one that hardly ever grows up to be a beautiful swan, just a big, ugly duck. Yet we have come a long way in recent times and our Pinotages are getting better and better as winemakers focus on its softer flavours, control extraction better, and look for better vineyard sites for this divisive grape.
    In this Footprint blend, the typical soft, plummy flavours of the Merlot are a great complement to the spice and wildness of the Pinotage. It is as if the Pinotage gets finishing lessons from the Merlot, and is just somehow far more presentable as a result. The wine is juicy, refreshing and one of those cleverly delicious wines that makes you pick up and call for a pizza after a single glass.
    Don’t forget the value of blended wines next time you are looking for wine. White blends are becoming South Africa’s speciality; so start stocking up before the world takes too much notice and our prices shoot through the roof.