The Art of Wine Blending

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Spring is blending season and April will see us assembling the 2017 Norton Estate and 2017 Norton Locksley Reserve blends. Chrysalis grows Nebbiolo, Tannat, and Petit Verdot to provide tannic blending components for these wines. But blending can involve a lot more than deciding on the ratios of these components. For example, a vintage designated wine is required to have at least 85% wine produced from the stated vintage. This is an opportunity to blend in up to 15% of another vintage. Most of the time this means an older vintage of wine. But nothing prevents us from using a younger vintage in the blend. And the variety statement on a label has even more leeway; this is a 75% requirement. And there’s nothing preventing us from using a component that may not be very intuitive. The 2013 Norton Locksley Reserve, for example, was blended with 5% Viognier.

Blending is a curious art. We’re often told that blending creates a wine in which the blend is greater than the sum of its parts. Along this line of thought we’re led to the Bordeaux model of wine production in which every bottling is a blend of different (though related) varieties. But there are plenty of examples where not blending is the custom. French Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are two obvious examples. Loire wines are often 100% varietal. And French Syrah and Viognier can be found as 100% varietal wines. Of course French law dictates blending requirements (or prohibitions) in order to use a place-name (appellation) on the label. In the US, our appellation system has no such regulations for variety usage, it only guarantees geographic pedigree.

Blending Norton is unlike blending most other wines. This is because blending most often involves using varieties that are very similar in character (think Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc). But Norton is unique, its character resembles nothing else in the industry. By itself, it’s a wine that expresses intense floral character with an acidic bite and intense color. Barrel aging, malolactic fermentation, and other cellar processes help to temper this character but it still remains a wine very dissimilar to other varieties. This presents both a challenge and an opportunity with blending.