Champagne only comes from Champagne, France

Blending Champagne wines

The blending process at the heart of Champagne winemaking plays on the diversity of nature, combining wines from different crus (growths), different grape varieties and different years.

Three dimensions of Champagne blending

Blending wines from different crus
There are so many subtle differences between the crus that no two blends are ever the same. The result is an array of wines that capture the multifaceted character of their appellation

Blending wines from different but complementary grape varieties
Marrying different grape varieties brings contrasting and complementary qualities to Champagne wines.

  •  The Pinot Noir contributes aromas of red fruits and adds strength and body to the blend.
  • The Pinot Meunier, the fastest-maturing component in Champagne, contributes supple body, intense fruit and roundness.
  • The Chardonnay gives the blend finesse. As a young wine, it brings floral notes, sometimes with a mineral edge. It is the slowest to mature of the three Champagne varietals and the longest-lived.

Blending wines from different years

The annual weather variations in Champagne affect the quality of the grapes, making for very different vintages depending on how cold, hot, wet, etc it was in the year in question. 

Champagne blending usually encompasses all of these three dimensions, though the winemaker may decide to focus on one dimension in particular.

  • A vintage Champagne commemorates a truly exceptional year by including no reserve wines at all..

  • A single-varietal Champagne, whether Blanc de Blancs or Blanc de Noirs, celebrates the taste of a single grape variety.

  • A single-vineyard Champagne expresses the distinctive qualities of a single cru, ‘lieu-dit’ (named vineyard plot) or sometimes a ‘clos’ (walled vineyard).

Fourth dimension of blending: the winemaker’s talent 

By combining wines with different sensory characteristics (colours, aromas, flavours) the Champagne maker looks to create a wine that is greater than the sum of its parts – one with a carefully balanced harmony of notes in which no one note is dominant. The ultimate objective is the same today as it has always been: to create a sense of balance that is not found naturally and could not exist without human intervention.

The Champagne blender brings together contrasting wines to create a cuvee that is different every time and distinctly superior in quality to the sum of its parts.

Dégustation pour l'assemblage du Champagne

Experience of the vine

The concept of blending dates back to the time when man first started to grow vines. It was always evident that different parcels of vines produced different results depending on the age of the vine, the type of rootstock, planting techniques and especially annual weather conditions.

Awareness of these different factors led winegrowers to look for ways to obtain better-quality grapes, by harvesting at the right time and applying specific methods of pressing grapes. Today each cru, each marc of grapes and each wine is recognized for its own distinctive character, which must be preserved up to the point of blending.

So it is that the winegrower or cellar master is able to choose from a rich array of blending components, orchestrating them so as to make the most of their complementary qualities.

Sensory memory

Blending is rarely the work of a single person, usually reflecting the combined talents of a team of professionals or family members. It does however rely on the sensory experience and memory of each individual team member.

The taster must predict the future development of each wine in turn, drawing on the sensory impressions stored in the brain as memory, together with their impressions of the particular growing conditions that year.

The actual blending process can take from a few days to several weeks, bench-testing several combinations before assembling the definitive blend.

Creativity

Blending plays on the relationship between Man the creator, and Nature that provides for that creation. Man’s preferences, represented by the winemaker, are driven by his personal vision of Champagne, one reflecting his particular tastes or commitment to tradition. He may take a hands-off approach to creating Champagne. Or he may look to assert his individual winemaking style.

The blender’s (or blenders’) personality is an important factor. The type of blend envisaged will vary depending on whether the blender is by nature passionate or reserved, original or conformist, jovial or austere.

Convention and culture are other determining factors. The greater their impact, the more they affect the style of the Champagne, urging its creators to maintain a certain unique and timeless signature.

For centuries, Champagne makers have been turning the complexity of Nature to their advantage, playing on the difficulties inherent in their terroir to create a wine as unique as the soil that produced it. Over time they have displayed a genius that has raised blending to the status of an art.

Blending is the prelude to the other steps in the Méthode Champenoise, creating a harmonious balance of flavours that will be made more emphatic still by second fermentation, aging on lees, riddling, disgorgement and dosage.

For centuries, Champagne makers have been turning the complexity of Nature to their advantage, playing on the difficulties inherent in their terroir to create a wine as unique as the soil that produced it. Over time they have displayed a genius that has raised blending to the status of an art.

Blending is the prelude to the other steps in the Méthode Champenoise, creating a harmonious balance of flavours that will be made more emphatic still by second fermentation, aging on lees, riddling, disgorgement and dosage.

Stabilisation

Once blending is complete, the wine undergoes cold stabilisation: the process of chilling wine prior to bottling to induce crystallisation of tartaric acid (particularly important for sparkling wines), so preventing crystal formation in the finished product. The wine is held at a very low temperature (-4°C) for at least a week and sometimes much longer; or for a faster effect, it may be seeded with cream of tartar crystals. Renewed clarification then leaves the wine perfectly clear.