First, a few words about blends. Coupage is the blending of wines aimed to obtain homogenous, typical and standard organoleptic properties or in some cases to cure wine weaknesses and flaws.

Coupage is necessary because of differences in climate, weather patterns, soil, slope, solar exposure of the vineyard, grape airing, etc. Grapes harvested from the same vineyard on different days make different wines, because grapes differ by their ripeness, sugar content and acidity.

Vineyards may spread out over vast space in big farms, and grapes grown in the same vineyards may differ from one another. As a result, wines develop different organoleptic properties, aroma and taste.

A good wine is balanced, i.e. its organoleptic properties (color, aroma, taste and aftertaste) are fine, harmonious and delightful. Such wine will not be too sweet or too acid, it will not be too alcoholic or too harsh, tannic. A balanced wine’s aroma and taste match its bouquet.

Every grape variety has its properties. They can be either enhanced or weakened by terroir, i. e. climate, meteorological characteristics of the vintage (maturity year) and soil. Several varieties of wine are blended for balancing purposes (for instance, for mitigating the acidity, fixing aroma and enhancing the fruit scent). This process is called assemblage, coupage or blending.

A frequent goal of coupage is to meet the required wine parameters, including alcohol and sugar content, acidity and other physical and chemical properties. This requires calculation of quantities of materials with known properties. For example, 80% of wine material with 6.5 grams per liter acidity mixed with wine material with 7 grams per liter acidity will make a blend with 6.6 grams per liter acidity.

Winemakers frequently use formulas based on equations with set parameters. Such equations are solved in many enology (wine science) research centers which often operate at universities. Besides, many farms have grown experienced in wine coupage over decades or even centuries.

As a rule, several test blends are created before commercial coupage is produced. The blends undergo physical, chemical, microbiological or organoleptic (tasting) tests. The best blend is commercialized. Commercial coupage is made in large mixers. The wine is mixed until the whole volume turns into a blend.

in vino veritas winemaking Bordeaux cultural life

Bordeaux appellations map from website

Blending requires experience and knowledge of wine material technicalities. Theoretical knowledge, practical technique and intuition are the main ingredients of success. The blending skills are probably the most important component of the art of winemaking.

As we have said before, every part of the blend complements another in a harmonious and balanced product. Vast coupage experience has been accumulated over years of winemaking. Most combinations of grape varieties have become known and have been profoundly studied in the centuries-old winemaking tradition. Some regions, for instance, Bordeaux in France or Valpolicella in Italy, practically do not make varietal wines but produce blends only. There are opposite examples too, for instance, Nebbiolo wine in Piedmont or Pinot Noir in Burgundy but they are much less frequent.

The world has about two dozen ‘classic blends’ learned by enologists, wine industry professionals and wine connoisseurs by name, variety assortment and organoleptic properties. Today we will tell you about one of the most famous wine regions of France and the entire world and its wine (and blends). This is Bordeaux.

The Bordeaux wine region is situated in southwestern France, the Gironde department in the Aquitaine province. It lies in the estuary of the Gironde River which flows into the Atlantic Ocean and its tributaries, the Garonne and the Dordogne. The regional climate is largely influenced by the ocean and the Gulf Stream current.

Bordeaux appellations map from website

Winters are mild, rainy and quite warm, and summers are sunny and moderately hot. Bordeaux is probably the largest wine region in the world. There are several thousand wineries (almost all of them called chateaux) and 61 appellations (AOC) there.

As a rule, Bordeaux is divided into three main regions:

1) The left bank of the Garonne and the Dordogne with predominantly gravel soils (pebble layer thickness of up to three meters), which play a role in the production of claret – complex, exquisite fine wines based on Cabernet Sauvignon. The main sub-regions are Medoc and Graves. The famed Medoc appellations are Margaux, Saint-Estephe, Saint-Julien, Listrac, Moulis and Pauillac. Pessac-Leognan is tradtionally singled out in Graves.

2) The right bank of the Garonne and Dordogne with predominantly clay soils and a thin layer of Pyrenees pebble (up to 0.5 meters). Blends are based on the Merlot variety. The main sub-regions are Cote de Blaye, Cote de Bourg and the Libournais area comprising of Pomerol, Saint-Emilion, Fronsac and Lalande-de-Pomerol.

3) The interfluves area between the Garonne and Dordogne (Entre-Deux-Mers), which mostly produces white and light (non-reserve) red wine.

Red grave varieties of Bordeaux are:

  • Cabernet Sauvignon;

  • Merlot;

  • Cabernet Franc;

  • Petit Verdot;

  • Malbec.

White grape varieties are:

  • Sauvignon Blanc;

  • Semillon;

  • Muscadelle.

‘Left-bank’ wines feature a high tannin content, they are saturated and complex. The dominance of Cabernet Sauvignon adds the scent of black berries (black currant, blueberry, blackberry), violets, spice and tertiary aromas – humidor, leather, chocolate and often pastries, jams and even dried fruit. A reserve span is up to 5-20 years. Graves and Pessac-Leognan wines are rounder, more complex and exquisite. Their bouquet carries more fruit and mineral scents and tertiary aromas shift to fried and smoked scents. They are less strong than Medoc wines and their reserve span is shorter, approximately 10-12 years.

‘Right-bank’ wines are more velvety and dense and have a rich and complex bouquet. It is hard to describe them in general because of the great diversity of nature, soil and climate factors. The Merlot dominance brings the scent of red and black berries (especially plums, strawberries, raspberries and cherries), cloves, cinnamon and other spice, caramel, chocolate and dry fruit, especially prunes, and tertiary aromas – mushroom, humus, leather, bread.

White Bordeaux is mostly made of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillion. As a rule, these wines have good acidity and minerality. A special item (alongside rose wine) is the tasty sweet dessert Bordeaux, Sauternes. This is white dessert (sweet) wine made in the Graves region. Sauternes grapes are exposed to noble rot, Botrytis, which leads to the loss of liquid and partially transforms berries into raisins. The wine is concentrated and expressive.

Sauvignon Blanc contributes the vivid herbal flavor, freshness and crispness, while Semillion adds the scent of honey to the white blend. Classic white Bordeaux is pale gold, it smells of citric fruit, pears, grass and hay. Traditionally, the while Bordeaux assemblage contains at least 25% of Sauvignon Blanc which makes it herbaceous, mineral and fresh. Small amounts of Muscadelle are added for wine aromatization.

Bordeaux means wine, and wine means Bordeaux – this is a common saying in the winemaking region which has been a center of the world winemaking industry for generations. Bordeaux winemakers combine long-standing winemaking traditions with modern technological progress. Their methods are used in every winemaking region of the world. Bordeaux Enology Faculty, the Wine and Spirits Institute and many other research centers promote the development of new practices, methods and techniques. In addition, Bordeaux is developing wine tourism. Chateaux welcome wine lovers who are introduced to the winery and vineyard history, are given vineyard and cellar tours and are invited to degustation. Wine tours are organized by all international tour operators and specialized agencies in Bordeaux.

Shirel-Natalia Munina and Meir Chernetsky

Shirel-Natalia Munina and Meir Chernetsky in vino veritas winemaking Bordeaux cultural life