Friday, 22 October 2010

Anatomy of a blend

'Must not structure have a genesis, and must not the origin, the point of genesis, be already structured, in order to be the genesis of something'
 Jacques Derrida, "'Genesis' and 'Structure' and Phenomenology," in Writing and Difference (London: Routledge, 1978)

There is a paradox implicit in great blends, to succeed as a blend they must be the sum of many different parts. Each of the different parts is the product of man's intervention into the environment, and yet each part is also determined by the climatic conditions that preceded the harvest.
Certain elements of the blend may not be excellent by themselves but may shine when partnered with other complimentary elements.
In general we encounter these wines in their finished state and can only wonder as to what exactly each of the parts has contributed. On occasion one gets the chance to peek behind the curtain.

Best's Great Western is a small family winery in the Victorian region of the Grapions, now in their 5th generation they are blessed with some incredibly old stock of vines. Shiraz plantings going back to 1867. Their top two wines are respectively Bin no.0 and Thompson Family Shiraz. The Thompson family wine is a single vineyard expression of the 11 rows of 1967 stock and is made in quantities around 2400 bottles. The Bin no.0 is a blend of their other vineyards, with some of the old stock and is arguably more interesting.

I've long regarded the art of successful blending to be one of the dark arts of wine making. Wineries pay hundreds of thousands pounds to secure the assistance of a successful consultant to help ensure their blend is perfect, and yet after all the talk of soils, vineyards and cultivation methods it remains one of the most important elements in the outcome of the final blend. That and the date of picking, but we'll get onto that later.

This afternoon I had the pleasure of tasting a breakdown of the Bin no.0 blend components in the cellar at Best's with Adam Wadewitz their head winemaker. Fascinating it was.

All the wines were from the 2010 vintage

First pick off the hill vineyards – gravel and granitic soils so excellent drainage. This was given a 100% whole bunch fermentation a method that contributes aromatic complexity, adding a certain green herbal perfume, however it's quite important to get lignified (fully ripe and woody, not green) stems to avoid the green tannins that can result. Discussing what sort of characters the whole bunch pressing gives, Adam was of the opinion that there was a certain dill character that was present.
Indeed there was a fresh nose, some herbal and vegetal characters married to some meaty dark fruit, nicely fresh and perfumed, not too full bodied with a directness of intent and linearity of acidity and tannins.

2010 second hill pick and no whole bunches, the second picking was three days later. I was remarkable how the aromatics differed there was a blast of fabulously opulent cherry liquor, raspberry and red fruits – still very fresh and direct on the palette, showing dark red fruits and hints of dark fruit on the palette. Despite the difference in aromatics there was a noticeable similarity in structure on the palette.

Adam went on to explain that he doesn't crush very much, what they're looking for is integrity and anything other than a very soft crushing is detrimental to the final delicacy of the wines.

Moving onto the 1970 block, this section usually gives quite aromatic and floral wines so they have opted to leave it on the lees to develop more mid palette body. Personally I found it had a very floral and aromatic nose – rose petals and violets, blue fruits which was followed by an incredibly floral palette, rose water, violet love hearts, there was some mid palette structure, but this was a component that was almost overwhelmingly aromatic, certainly an interesting component to have for a blend, but not for a single vineyard wine.

Their 1966 block is usually divided into two picks, one of the area surrounding the gum tree as they like to be able to isolate the heavily eucalypt oil affected grapes. The first pick showed the expected eucalyptus, some meat, mint, and choc chip ice cream. It was quite creamy on the palette, more velvety and richer. Fuller on the palette, bright red fruit as well, twist of pepper at the back?
To quote 'tannin, acid and density are what this wine brings to the blend', though personally I felt that this was another wine that would be ading aromatic complexity and interest.

The 1966's second picking was on the following day and had some whole bunch (30%) ferment, to start with it was a bit reduced, toasty (due to more new oak), smoky (flinty?) and quite complex. On the palette it showed some hard to pin down red, with fullish rich velvety tannins, fruit and
lovely lip smacking acidity on the finish

The 1867 Shiraz plantings are divided into two plots, 4 rows and 11 rows, the 4 rows goues into the Bin no.1 blend, whilst the 11 rows are put into a separate wine if the year is good enough.

The Thompson family vines 4 rows from 1867, this had brooding raspberry and balsam notes, it was aromatic, full bodied with quite tight restrained tannins, great concentration and balance, (incidentally these are often the first shiraz vines to be picked).

The Thompson Family 11 rows, this is regarded as Best's best fruit and in good years it will be the Thompson family Shiraz wine, Adam was pretty certain that this would be one of those years. Indeed the wine was intense showing mint choc chip ice cream, raspberry, a perfumed aromatic nose. On the palette it was serious with both freshness and balance. Finally the tannins were chewy and powerful with great length.

To add some perspective to the tasting we then looked at the Bin no.0 and Thompson Family Shiraz 2008 wines.

Bin no0 2008, this had a gorgeous nose showing mint, balsam, some spice, creamy red fruit, raspberry and on the palette it was sweet and direct with great acidity, elegant tannins, Very, very good and still a baby.

Thompson family 08 – this was a bit closed with red berried fruits some hints of herbal characters, raspberry and spice. Some cigar box notes were on the finish, and it had a great consistency of palette depth. However it was still far to young and acting all coy.

To quote Michaelangelo 'True art is made noble and religious by the mind producing it. ... The true work of art is but a shadow of the divine perfection. ... A man paints with his brains and not with his hands'. It is with this in mind that I often feel the better blends of a producer are the true works of vineous art. Single vineyard wines, whilst beautiful, fail to have the added intellectual depth of purpose that the great blends get to carry.

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