When it comes to the production of champagne, blending is to winemakers what a signature dish is to a Grand Chef. It is the key element in the creation of champagne. The art of blending involves crafting a wine by marrying clear wines from different vineyards, grape varieties, or vintages with unique characteristics. It is the very essence of its complexity and balance. Just as a Michelin-starred chef meticulously crafts a dish and recipe, the Chef de Cave carefully develops the blend. For example, rosé blending requires a perfect balance between several grape varieties. Careful and precise dosages are used to enhance delicate, fruity notes. It becomes a true signature for the domain. What exactly does this art of blending entail?
Table of Contents:
- Champagne: Which Grape Varieties for Blending?
- The Characteristics of Grape Varieties for Blending
- Blending: The Mission of the Cellar Master
- Blending: A Balancing Act
- Blending: Passing Down the Champagne Method
Champagne: Which Grape Varieties for Blending?
The Champagne method, which bears an AOC designation, primarily relies on the use of three major grape varieties. Thus, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier are the three grape varieties on which champagne production and blending are based. For example, rosé blending is made from a combination of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
These grape varieties represent the very identity of the clear wines that will be used in the blending process. Each of these grape varieties has its own characteristics and contributes body or finesse to a blended champagne.
In terms of coverage, Chardonnay covers 30% of the Champagne region's vineyard surface, while Pinot Noir covers 38%, and Pinot Meunier covers 31%. These wines are used in Champagne method blends due to their uniqueness, which imparts a strong flavor and individual identity.
Wines derived from these grape varieties allow for the creation of blended champagnes characterized by complementarity and distinctive contrasts. This is what makes each house unique.
Historically, in Champagne, blending was done naturally during the time of the clergy. In order to pay taxes, vineyard owners paid with grapes from different plots.
Furthermore, each harvest has its own characteristics to which the Cellar Master must adapt in order to make the most of it. We also invite you to discover how the Champagne harvests are carried out.
The Characteristics of Grape Varieties for Blending
To succeed in blending, it is essential to have a good understanding of the characteristics of the grape varieties. This is crucial for creating a good blended champagne. Each grape variety brings its own specific note due to its characteristics.
Chardonnay is a grape variety known for its floral and mineral notes. It offers incomparable finesse in the mouth and is perfect for aging. Chardonnay wines are recognized for their floral notes and delicate aromas of citrus that stand out. With slow evolution, this grape variety can be aged for several years.
A 100% Chardonnay blend results in Blanc de Blancs, which are delicately subtle. Their length in the mouth is appreciated when paired with seafood or white meats. Chardonnay is also used in the composition of rosé blends and Rosé de Saignée champagne. In fact, Maison De Lozey, as it enjoys sharing, creates its Rosé de Saigné Champagne through this delicate art of blending.
Pinot Noir is used in champagne blending for its power, body, and red fruit aromas such as blackcurrant or cherry. It can also release spicier notes like cinnamon. When included in a blend, such as rosé blending, it produces structured wines. A 100% Pinot Noir blend results in Blanc de Noirs champagne. Despite its power, this champagne remains delicate.
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Pinot Meunier, on the other hand, is a grape variety that evolves rapidly. Originally a soft and fruity wine, it adds roundness and intensity to wines. It produces wines with a light color and aromas of raspberry and green apple. This grape variety is used in blends because it thrives in the challenging climatic conditions of the vineyards.
Blending: The Mission of the Cellar Master
If grape varieties bring their characteristics to blends, it is the Cellar Master who is responsible for this delicate mission. This task requires rigor, a keen sense of smell and taste, as well as a lot of patience. When you see the range of flavors at their disposal for creating complementary blends, patience is a must.
To succeed in blending champagne, several parameters must be considered. Whether it's rosé blending, Blanc de Blancs, Blanc de Noirs, or any other type of blend,
- The grape variety, which provides the primary characteristic to the clear wine
- The vintage, with each year having its own characteristics related, for example, to climatic conditions
- The vineyard plots, as the exposure of a vine will leave its mark on the grapes
- The reserve wines that may or may not be added to the blend.
All of these elements constitute the aroma palettes that serve as the foundation for the Cellar Master's work. Like a top Michelin-starred chef, the secret weapon of a Cellar Master lies in their personality. Uniqueness or conformity, passion, austerity – these are all human characteristics that come into play in the selection of aromas.
The blending process requires preparation time. It involves the stage known as "vins clairs" or clarification. This operation involves filtering the wines to remove solid particles. Once clarified, they can be reclassified for blending.
Finally, there is the actual blending stage. Its ultimate goal is to create a blended champagne that is both unique and maintains a common characteristic with previous years' blends. However, it also fulfills the duty of preserving characteristics from previous years.
Blending: A Balancing Act
The final blending stage is a true balancing act. It all takes place in the cellar and begins with a tasting session.
In a small group, especially in the presence of the Cellar Master, a small team of specialists and blenders conducts a tasting of the clear wines. The oenologists' task is to analyze the potential of these young wines. The Cellar Master brings their experience, sensory memory, and the history of the brand passed down by possible predecessors.
When the harvests have not been favorable enough, it may be necessary to draw from wines from previous years, in other words, reserve wines. These sleeping wines will contribute the balancing touch for blended champagnes. Reserve wines help compensate for deficiencies in the wines of the current year. They also help maintain the identity of a house.
Blending is an operation that takes time. It can sometimes take several weeks or months, for example, to create a rosé blend. It is not composed of just two wines but rather several dozen wines made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes.
The wines will then be judged based on:
- Fruity and floral character
- Length in the mouth
- Grape varieties
- The wines of the year, which provide freshness and liveliness to the blend
- Reserve wines, which guarantee the consistency of Champagne's wine characteristics
If blends are made using wines from previous years, it is possible to create Vintage Champagnes to preserve the expression of a single year.
Blending is the final step before bottling. It requires extensive knowledge of the terroirs, flawless sensory memory, great creativity, and the ability to anticipate the wine's evolution after the second fermentation and aging period.
Blending: Passing Down the Champagne Method
In Champagne, the production of champagne from grape varieties is more than just an art; it is a tradition. Benefiting from the AOC designation, the Champagne method is passed down as a precious savoir-faire. Blanc de Blancs blending is the only one allowed with 100% Chardonnay grape.
What characterizes Champagne is the diversity of its vineyard plots. Each one leaves its mark on the grape variety. From this diversity, endless combinations for blending are born. Each house, each winemaker has their own way of working with blended champagnes stemming from the tradition of the Champagne method. Some winemakers will seek to highlight the fruity aspect, while others will look for minerality. Others will prefer to make their blend their own characteristic. This is the case with Champagnes De Lozey, which offers the Cuvée des Gentlemen, a blend of the best vintages of all their grape varieties, or the Cuvée du Dimanche. The latter, made from a blend of 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay, is intimately tied to the personal history of our house.
Blending must respect the Champagne tradition but must also convey the soul of the house and the vineyard. In a rosé blend, it is sometimes necessary to use reserve wine if the Pinot Noir grape has not been productive enough. Maintaining consistency from year to year can be a challenge.
The art of blending in the Champagne way is to be able to determine, among the wines that have balance, good mouthfeel, and great aromatics, which wines will be kept for aging and which will be used in the blend for the year. Only the Champagne tradition and the blending method allow for playing with the various palettes of wines in this way.
However, passing down the identity of a house lies in its specificities. For example, Maison De Lozey explains that in their blended champagne, they use Pinot Blanc instead of Pinot Meunier. This is what constitutes the secret of the house's grape varieties. For others, it may involve vinifying each pressing independently.
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In conclusion, now that you know more, you will agree that blending is a crucial step in the production of champagne. Each house makes blending its signature cuvée. It is a step not to be missed in the production of champagne, requiring a lot of skill and careful steps until the perfect blend is achieved. Champagnes De Lozey are no exception to this rule. They even offer you a 3-minute immersion into the heart of their blending methods to learn more.