Monday, 4 November 2013

Champagne: The Power of Blends



It's worth considering that Champagne is not an extracted wine; the ratio of juice to phenolics derived from low yields can be detrimental to the quality of Champagne. Starchy tannin has a place in red wines, but in acidulous vin clair its presence only exaggerates austerity and bitterness.

Blending originally comes out of pragmatism, and the need to overcome seasonal climatic anomalies, but it has become creatively refined. Bad blends repel, like the identical poles of magnets that are forced together. The Chef de Cave is looking to create vectors of flavour, small synergies, and energies of combination. Too often blending is depicted as a potlatch which proceeds haphazardly, crashing the new into the old.

The Chef de Cave is like the Jesuit priest who takes the child and returns the man. He makes decisions at a very early stage of the process, the final elaboration and consequences of which may not become clear for 10 years.

Yields are something of a red herring in Champagne. The prise de mousse boosts the wine's power and intensity. Wines coming off a low yield may end up lumbering, particularly if the time in the cellar is over-extended. Champagne offers drinkers a reflux between refreshment and sapidity: salt, citrus, bubbles, malt. It entices its drinkers to drink again, so it needs to combine delicacy and intensity: delicacy comes from the climate; intensity from the terroir, blending and the prise de mousse. The best wines are mutually dominated by their origins and Champagnisation. Heavy base wines from low yields that are subjected to long lees ageing can be every bit as poor as wines given the minimal term in the cellars.

Champagne Houses understand the relativity of consumption. Most of their drinkers don't go through the Newtonian ritual of the ISO glass before taking a sip. Festivity is Champagne's natural form of expression, but this does not imply a lack of integrity on behalf of the Houses. Just as the handsome architectural facades of Reims hide a subterranean world of hard work, so most blends are the articulation of hard earned preferences. The best wines are an extraordinary expression of intellectual property that can't be revealed by disgorgement dates and the like. Sometimes it's best to wonder at a process, particularly one as beguilingly creative as blending.



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