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What is an assemblage?

Categories : History of wine

What is an assemblage?

A blend is a mixture of wines from the same geographical origin, selected for their complementary qualities. It involves bringing together vintages vinified separately by grape variety, plot of land, terroir or vintage in an attempt to obtain the best possible wine. The winemaker will blend these different elements to find the best complementarity: the freshness of one grape variety will lighten the power of another, the lightness of one cuvée will attenuate the concentration of another.

Depending on the legislation governing each appellation, varietal blends may or may not be permitted, and vintage blends may or may not be authorised, but all appellations allow the blending of terroirs or plots.

Blending grape varieties

The blending of grape varieties is an ancient technique that can be linked to the traditional practice of planting several grape varieties in the same plot (complantation). As the different grape varieties each have their own characteristics, including maturity, they help to achieve balance and contribute to the complexity of the wine. Today, blends of grape varieties no longer depend on this planting technique; they are planted on different plots. 

They can take place from the beginning (during alcoholic fermentation) to the end of the winemaking process (during ageing), depending on the type of aromatic exchange the winemaker is looking for and his or her ability to 'imagine' the future cuvée. Bordeaux, Languedoc and Roussillon are among the regions where blending is the rule.

Blending terroirs/plots

Some regions, such as Burgundy and the Loire, which produce wines from a single grape variety, nevertheless use different forms of blending. The winemaker can, for example, play with the varieties of the same grape variety.

Each grape variety has several different clones. For example, there are 45 approved clones of Pinot Noir and almost 800 different clones in several collections of conservatory vines. He can also use different terroirs or plots depending on the type of soil, the orientation, the age of the vines, and so on. He can also use different types of ageing, such as barrels (of varying ages), concrete or stainless steel.

The aim of these blends remains the same: to produce wines that are richer, more balanced and more complex than if they were bottled separately.

Blending vintages

The blending of vintages is prohibited in France except for sparkling wines such as champagne, and is known as reserve wines.

Thanks to this blending technique, champagne brands can maintain constant quality and taste characteristics over time. This is why the vintage year does not appear on champagne labels, as it is made from grapes from different vintages. Vintage champagne is the only type of champagne that indicates the vintage year, as it is made from grapes from a single, usually exceptional, year.