The consumer wine world is forever-changing. People’s tastes are determined by the latest restaurants, trendiest superfoods on supermarket shelves, popular food programs on the telly and of course, what is best suited to enjoy with the weather.
We are sometimes oblivious to the fact that vineyards are even more so exposed to the ever-changing face of climate and weather patterns. France is currently experiencing massive heat waves, and the 2019 vintage in South Africa made it clear that the wine industry is still suffering the knock-on effect of the drought with much smaller yields. Small changes in temperature and moisture may have drastic effects on the vineyards that ultimately need to produce the grapes that the winemaker needs to provide a consistent product. The fickleness of nature prodded our predecessors to plant different cultivars on different slopes and soil types as a form of insurance that would later be used to our advantage in producing different styles of wines for different palates.
Vertical tastings – where a number of the same wines from different vintages are tasted, will reveal the impact of these climatic changes. They may affect colour, intensity, complexity, and longevity. Still, the winemaker needs to understand how far he can push the envelope without compromising the wine and always to honour what a specific vintage has given him or her to play with.
The art of blending
Bottling a single cultivar to shine on its own and to emit all those unique characteristics associated with that particular variety is an art. However, the art of blending these cultivars is also an age-old tradition to combine structure and fruit for the ultimate balancing act of acidity, tannins, alcohol, and sugar.
This can involve blending different grape varieties and become as intricate as blending different vineyards of the same variety (like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot), different regions (like Walker Bay and Stellenbosch) and different barrels (French and Hungarian). The timing of these blends is just as crucial. The winemaker will sometimes patiently wait it out to let each cultivar come into its own in the selected maturation vessel, whether it is oak, concrete or stainless steel, before ultimately tasting all the components and preparing it to create the blend. Tediously but masterfully, each wine will be shaped to as little as 2% per cultivar to create that aimed sensation the winemaker has envisioned for the wine.
It is imperative to understand that blending wine is no haphazard affair. Each component needs to comply with the above rule that it portrays the best characteristics that the cultivar is known for. An added measure is to see how successful the winemaker was to make all these significant components shine even brighter! Wine blending is a skill that comes with years of experience – understanding the different cultivars but also understanding the terroir where they grow. Regional blends are trendy in South Africa – especially when the seasons were more unpredictable than usual. The winemaker will then have to scope for components that will best suit his blend to deliver a consistent and balanced wine. This could, for example, involve adding grapes from a cooler climate to add acidity and freshness or adding grapes from a warmer climate to add richness or more primary fruit expression. However, it goes even deeper into the soil. Grapes used from vineyards planted on different soil types can also make a massive difference to a blend, adding structure and finesse. The age of the vines is also a yardstick for style.
With many regions and vintages under his belt, the cellar master Johann Fourie has taken on the challenge to focus on one estate. That being said – the vines planted in the marginal terroir of Benguela Cove has the potential to bear a plethora of styles with different microclimates, soil types, slopes, and clones to contribute to the blend and that is one of the qualities of this estate that fascinates and drives him.
The Collage is carrying its name with grace. This is where the diversity of an estate like Benguela Cove becomes the winemaker's artist palate, with different vineyards and pockets enabling him to create an artistic collage of a particular vintage in a bottle. The Collage is a blend of different vineyards and different cultivars that performed at its best that year. It remains consistent with style – in this case, a classic Bordeaux blend. Although "Bordeaux" still reflects a combination of cultivars traditionally blended in this sought after region in France, many decades of producing a blend including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot in South Africa, have led to the new world to the top ranks in this category.
South Africa has since come on board with Cape Blends – a red wine that needs to include a certain percentage of our heritage grape, Pinotage to fly our flag or equally popular blends with Shiraz that consumers had come to love. Where a Bordeaux blend like the Benguela Cove Collage 2017 can be slightly more austere, needing the guidance of different flavours on your plate to reveal all the layers, a Shiraz-driven blend like the Lighthouse Moody Lagoon awards you with more opulent fruit, showcasing various vineyard pockets on the farm. That is the excitement that keeps both the winemaker and the consumer on their toes when exploring different wine blends.
This is still considered the King of Grapes that will bring structure and weight to any blend. Most often it forms the backbone on which the other cultivar is poised, padding it with extra fruit, flavour and detailed nuances. Cabernet is associated with cassis, black current, cedar, leather, and more.
Some call it herbal; others are more sensitive to the graphite character that Cabernet Franc is known for. This cultivar has great power that can bring structure and fruit to a blend, but it can easily overpower its fellow components if not used with skill. Hence, a 15% portion can elevate the wine to a different level.
Albeit less popular in traditional Bordeaux blends, Malbec has the potential to deliver on intense colour and fruit. It is a force to be reckoned with when blended with care.
"Always the bridesmaid never the bride," Fourie once said and then gave this cultivar its place in the limelight in the Vinography Range. The truth is, often hidden away in these traditional blends, the cultivar graces the wine with vivid acidity and fine tannins, adding an exotic twist that laves notes of florals and spice on the aftertaste.
The Moody Lagoon bridges the desire between a Rhone blend – driven by Shiraz – and a Bordeaux blend where Cabernet still plays a significant role. Syrah joins forces with its Bordeaux counterparts to deliver a wine with dark fruit, embraced with spice, hints of marzipan, violets, and blueberries for a well-balanced and rewarding experience of all.
Merlot adds fruit and mid-palate to create a vibrant and juicy core. Although Cabernet is associated with big tannins, Merlot's tannins cannot be underestimated and often adds fresh and grippy tannins. Other associated aromas include more red fruit, liquorice, and herbs.
Samarie Smith - Brand Business Manager
Benguela Cove Wines | Benguela Collection
Samarie Smith is a certified taster and committed to spreading the wine gospel where she goes, albeit on wine judging panels, educational tastings or sharing the love while cooking for friends and family.
Follow her on Instagram @Samarie.Smith