Why Aussie wine drinkers need to think like Europeans

I admit, when it came to blends, I totally had the wrong end of the stick. I don’t know what I thought … maybe that they were a combination of ‘left overs’ or some such accidental chemistry.

How wrong I was and how excited I now am to be exploring the blend categories.

 I recently asked a winemaker what I was hoping was a question that didn’t make me look too uninformed about wines, and I’m so glad I did.

A couple of weeks ago, at the 6 Nations Wine Challenge tasting event, I found myself chatting to Andrew Koerner from Blue Pyrenees, who had been awarded the best Red Blend Non Bordeaux for their 2013 Estate Cabernet, Merlot, Shiraz, Malbec.

The more involved in wine trail adventure I’ve become, the more I’ve learned to never be afraid to ask questions. I’ve realised that winemakers don’t expect everyone to be experts and are generally happy to fill you in. So, rather than try to bluff your way through a conversation, just come out with it.

For example: what exactly constitutes a wine blend?

In layman’s terms, blends can be described as such: while a single varietal is made from the same type of grape (e.g chardonnay or pinot noir), blends generally consist of anywhere between 40-85 percent of one type of grape and a smaller mix of two or more other grapes. The most commonly blended grapes in Australia are shiraz and cabernet sauvignon (and done very well by a great many Aussie winemakers it has to be said).

(For more extensive reading on the history of blends in Australia, you can check out this article by Wine Australia.)

Blue Pyrenees Estate Red 2013

Blends are strategic and superior

So, back at the 6 Nations Wine Challenge event, Andrew Koerner explained to me that blends are one of the most difficult wines to get right – but one of the most rewarding to drink – because it’s all about orchestrating flavour that appeals to every part of the palette.

Are you saying blends are better than other wines?

“Yes, I –  along with much of Europe – consider wine blends to be generally superior to single grape varieties. Blends are like us; each has different personalities with strengths and weaknesses,” he said.

It seems Andrew isn’t alone in this opinion. In a post on The Real Review, Master of Wine, Bob Campbell had this to say on the subject: “Blended wines are not second-class citizens. The concept of blending different grape varieties comes from Europe where both blended white and red wines are common. France’s largest wine region, Bordeaux, relies on a blend of two or more grape varieties in virtually all its production. It’s worth noting that the historical reason for making wine from several rather than a single grape variety was insurance against a total crop loss from a catastrophic weather event.”

So, how do you go about making a blend?

Andrew explained how it goes down at Blue Pyrenees Estate, “When we blend a wine before bottling, we get to taste the batches individually, assess their relative strengths and weakness and then blend with other batches or varieties of different strengths and weakness. The end result should be a lot stronger than the sum of the parts.”

What was your thinking behind the blend that won you the 6 Nations Wine Challenge trophy?

“In the case of Blue Pyrenees Estate Red 2013 – it is majority Cabernet Sauvignon, which has a great sweet fruit front palate and a strong tannin finish but lacks a little in the mid-palate. So, with the other 28% comprised of Merlot, Malbec and Shiraz, we have filled out the mid of the Cabernet as well as adding their new personalities to the mix,” he said.

“Blends are great fun and also one of the higher forms of making wine!” – Andrew Koerner

Where to start?

If, like me, you want to explore the world of blends, there is no better place to start than with the 6 Nations Wine Challenge 2017 results. Check out all entrants as well as the winners – to even be considered in a class, a wine has to be judged one of the best of the New World wines’.

The other great way to test and learn about blends. of course, is to visit a fabulous cellar door and never be afraid to ask questions.

What’s your favourite blend? We’d love to hear from you – either hit us up on Facebook or post on your own socials and tag us.

If you like what Andrew Koerner had to say and want to hear more from him, check out our post Take 5 with … Andrew Koerner.