Blended with Love
It is not possible to express the different flavours and aromas, a wine’s complexity, or its balance in simple numbers, so creating a blended wine comes down to a winemakers discerning palate. Honing their craft by playing with different varietals’ attributes to mould something novel and innovative each time, building blended wines becomes a subtle art form. Jacqueline Foy of Wineries of Victoria sits down with Joanne Nash, General Manager and Head Winemaker of Tahbilk Winery, to dive into the fine art of blended wines and all they have to offer.
Intermingling different wine varietals to create a blend that becomes more interesting or complex than any of the wines are on their own is the driving principle behind wine blends. The wines blended might be different varietals, different regions, different aging processes and different vintages, with the resulting mix containing one or more additional varietals on top of an anchoring base wine. This process can enhance the finished products in nearly every way – an upgraded aroma, colour, mouthfeel, body and finish can be achieved by adding just a small percent of another grape, making a brand-new wine or improving just one aspect of an existing one. Focusing on stunning Australian reds like cabernet sauvignon and shiraz, explore the process of creating new wine blends and Tahbilk’s innovative wine blending experience with Nash and I below.
ART MEETS SCIENCE
Like so many young Australians, Nash headed abroad on a working holiday after completing her schooling and it was during this time that her passion for wine was ignited. After many months of research and self-education in the wine bars of England, France, Spain and Italy, she headed home to Australia to return to study. “I loved the concept of combining art and science to create magic in a bottle,” Nash notes. The combination of art and science that captured her heart at the beginning continues to drive her passion to make the best wine possible out of every vintage at Tahbilk today.
Nash explains that the innovation of blending simply came about as winemakers realised that the sum of many parts sometimes made a more interesting wine than just the varietal on its own. “Blending allows us to make wines more complex as each of the base wines bring different character to the finished wine. Some wines might lack length or have a hollow mid palate, which we can fix with the addition of another wine,” she says. The use of multiple varieties allows a blend to become more wholistic – filling the gaps, so to speak. Varietals like cabernet and merlot complement each other well, as they often fill the holes that they each bring to a blend; shiraz and cabernet also do the same.
GREATER THAN THE SUM OF ITS PARTS
The most important thing about blending is considering what you are trying to achieve and then how you are going to get there. Nash explains that blending involves looking at the base wines, knowing the direction you want to go, thinking about what each wine brings to the party, and then pulling the levers from there. “There is no point trying to make something that you just don’t have in the base wines,” she says, “if it isn’t in the base wine, then you won’t find it in the blend.” Pure varietal wines can equally be as good, if not better, than blended wines, especially if the principles of blending are not fully understood. Nash explains that in both cases, the varietal characters of the wine need to shine through, whether it is in a blend or a single varietal. “If a blend fails to highlight each varietal’s character, then the winemakers have missed the mark,” she says.
Cabernet sauvignon and shiraz are optimal varietals for blending and are the varietals that Nash focuses on at Tahbilk, both in her own winemaking and Tahbilk’s wine blending experience at the cellar door. Both of these reds are renowned for the fruit-forward characteristics they have. Shiraz is more of an elegant style of wine, with lovely reds fruits such a cherries and raspberries, whereas cabernet is more robust with fruits from the darker spectrum like blackberries and blackcurrants, Nash explains: “when we think about the balance of the fruit, we get light to dark, and everything in between,” she says. The same goes for the palate, cabernet with its richness and tannic nature, can often need a little softening and mid palate fullness, where the shiraz’s qualities can come into balance the end result. “What is important is that neither varietal out compete the other, both have a place in the blend, both bring the individual components to the blend, whereby we are chasing that balance, length, intensity and complexity,” Nash explains.
THE SECRET ART OF BLENDING WINE
Proving their dedication to broadening the understanding of the art of blended wines, Tahbilk Winery offers a unique wine blending experience centred around the great Australian blend of cabernet sauvignon and shiraz – giving customers the opportunity to acquire a deeper appreciation of the wines they’re tasting. Guided by an expert Tahbilk wine ambassador in the iconic Len Evans Museum, the session starts with a detailed tasting of two different vintages of the shiraz and cabernet sauvignon; helping customers understand how to taste like a winemaker, what to look for and how to identify the differences on the palate and the disparity between the varietals. From here, customers are given the opportunity to blend their own wine using different ratios suited to their tastes. With the help of the Tahbilk wine ambassador they have the opportunity to taste and adjust their wine blend. Together, they then blend enough to bottle, cap and label, then take home their very own signature blend.
“At Tahbilk our blending session is educational and we seek to help our customers learn, understand and demonstrate the principles of blending,” Nash explains. “Like with all wines, there is no right and no wrong, it all comes down to preference,” she adds. What might only seem like a small change to a blend, ultimately can be the difference between a good wine and a great wine.
Photos courtesy of Tahbilk