The Art of Blending

Bruno Paillard tastes different vins clairs for one of his blends
Bruno Paillard tastes different vins clairs for one of his blends

Whether it is non-vintage wine, vintaged or some sort of special cuvée, the vast majority of champagne is a blend. A blend of several harvests (except vintage which must come from one harvest), a judicious blend of Champagne’s three dominant grapes varieties – Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay – and a blend of the myriad of different crus that exist across the appellation.

The principle behind blending together the fruit from different harvests, grape varieties and individual crus is based on the assumption the whole will be greater than the sum of the individual parts. That blending will result a more complete whole, a wine that has more different facets, greater complexity, additional nuances of aroma and flavour. In short it will be a better, more interesting wine.

There is also a historical explanation as to why blending harvests becoming the norm in Champagne while in nearly every other fine wine region in Europe vintage is king. Initially of course most Champagne was vintaged and only produced from a single harvest but quality was very inconsistent year to year in this northerly vineyard. Blending together different harvests to combat the inadequacies of one particular year was a successful response to this problem the Champenois came up with as they sought ways of making larger volumes of more consistent quality. Prior to this important change the most useful tool in combating say a lack of fruitiness, ripeness or a shortage of steely acidity to preserve and keep the wine fresh, was to look for grapes to add to your blend from somewhere in the wider appellation that had those missing qualities.

Bollinger’s Special Cuvée is an assemblage of different crus including Ory

While blending is still used today to promote regularity of style and quality, particularly in the non-vintage cuvées of the larger producers who want their customers to find a consistent tasting wine, bottle after bottle, blending is also used to help bring complexity and finesse to the top vintage and prestige styles. To add distinctiveness, not just simply promote consistency. Many Champenois are convinced that great Champagne comes only from blending together different component parts and however interesting single vineyard or single varietal wines (those made from just one grape variety) may be, they will never reach the heights achieved by Champagne’s greatest blends.