When it comes to perfecting the blend for our Society's Claret and Bordeaux Sauvignon, Liz and Nicky learned it was 'more art than science'.
NICKY: So, onto the main purpose of our trip – the blending sessions. These were approached much as you might imagine – a pre-selected line-up of samples from different batches, tasted one by one, followed by a (sometimes animated) discussion about which would work best in the blend and in what quantities. The lab coats and measuring cylinders took me back to my chemistry O-Level days but this was more of an art than a science, involving a baffling ability by the experts to hone in on the characteristics which would combine to give the best end result.
After an hour or so of deliberations, the final blend was finally settled upon and all agreed that the chosen blend was worth the debate. A sense of satisfaction all round.
We videoed the blending process and for those whose French may be a bit rusty, Tim has transcribed his conversation with Pierre Zune. Take a look and watch the magic unfold!
Blending The Society's Claret
LIZ: One of the most important visits of my trip with Tim was to the Sichel offices on the Quai de Bacalan to perform the blending of the next batch of our best-selling red wine, The Society's Claret. Quite a responsibility which, fortunately for me (a mere groupie!) fell to Tim Sykes, our Bordeaux buyer. It's a fascinating process in which the skills of a professional wine-taster come to the fore.
The Society's Claret is now a vintage wine (for many years it was not, enabling us to back-blend in wine from older vintages to keep the style consistent no matter what the character of the most recent year). As such its style will reflect the year in which it was made with different vintages bringing different characteristics to the taste. But Tim explained that the overall aim of this wine is to offer a fresh, easy-drinking and accessible wine with Bordeaux character but without the firmer tannins of other clarets that would need more time in the cellar before drinking. The beauty of working with the Sichels is that they have access to lots and lots of different parcels to make putting this together every year and hitting the right spot achievable.
Yvan Meyer presents the line-up of proposed options for the blend of The Society's Claret
So this was our first taste of the 2017 vintage. We were presented with six different wines in a range of styles. Each was a complete wine itself – each with different proportions of the classic Bordeaux grape varieties; merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and petit verdot. It's like making up a recipe – Tim explained that for the easier, earlier-drinking style we're after, a fair proportion of the softer, mellower merlot is required in the blend, but then the cabernet brothers are required to bring freshness and structure.
Tim and the Sichel's technical director, Yvan Meyer, started trialling and discussing different combinations – 70% of this blend, 20% of that, 10% of another, 'that combination is too firm on the finish and needs more mid-palate', and so forth. After a while the subtleties were lost on me! Impressively, all this deliberation was also taking into consideration how the wine will develop over the next 6-18 months, which is when we'll be selling it. It takes concentration, skill and experience – I take my hat off to the expertise of our wine buyers and to our dedicated producers who have already done pre-selections of wines based on the tastes that they know you the members have!