Tue 10 Mar 2015

Blending The Society’s Claret

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Not long ago I was lucky enough to be able to watch as The Society’s Claret blend was put together by buyers Tim Sykes and Jo Locke while on a short trip to Bordeaux. It was a fascinating insight into the care taken to create a wine that is so much a part of The Society’s fabric that it is sometimes easy to take for granted.

Blending The Society's ClaretThe Society’s Claret is one of those wines which defines the Society range and represents more than just supremely drinkable Bordeaux wine at an excellent price. After The Society’s White Burgundy it is our bestselling wine (and consequently our bestselling red wine), and as such it is an important introduction for many members to the joys of claret drinking.

It has to represent the Bordeaux style, as well as The Society, with aplomb while remaining good value and that is quite a responsibility. So how is it made and who makes it?

At the Quai de Bacalan, on the banks of the River Garonne in Bordeaux itself, sits the HQ of Maison Sichel: growers, négociants and long-time suppliers of The Society’s Claret, as well as a number of other fine Bordeaux wines. It is an unflashy façade that opens up, Tardis-like, onto a network of rooms and corridors that stretches way back from the river.

In a simple, white and bright tasting room in the heart of the complex, we found 12 bottles labelled from 1 to 12, each containing a blend already put together by the Sichel’s vastly experienced technical director Yvan Meyer from properties all over the Bordeaux appellation. The bottles contained varying ratios of merlot, cabernet sauvignon, and cabernet franc with three of the samples coming from the 2013 vintage and the rest from 2014.

Beside them stood a bottle of the current Society version, on sale as we speak, acting as a control and reference point. A sheet listed the samples and the proportions of each grape variety in each sample for Jo and Tim to refer to. Charlie Sichel, who had generously hosted us for dinner the night before, and Leigh Claridge, head of their UK sales team, looked on as the process got under way.

Under the watchful eye of Yvan, Jo and Tim tasted the current bottling followed by each sample individually, assessing merits and weaknesses and making many notes, occasionally revisiting the current bottling to confirm an impression. I followed in their wake, noting the clear difference between the current bottling and the younger samples. The extra time in bottle of the current edition showed clearly against the more primary fruit aromas and flavours and youthful tannins of the samples. The current claret was mellow, rounded and sweet fruited with flavours that were integrated and developed but without losing freshness. I enjoyed the youngsters but could see that they were still a little angular in comparison to the current example.

Jo Locke MW tasting the wines

Jo Locke MW tasting the wines

Having tasted each sample individually, noted their characteristics and considered their merits, Jo and Tim watched as Yvan took up a graduated cylinder and carefully began pouring different amounts of selected samples in to it. These he poured for us and again Tim and Jo weighed it up and made their notes.

This regimen was followed over the next two hours: each time a different amalgam of sample measures was tasted and assessed according to Tim and Jo’s requests and towards the end it came down to tweaks of samples that seemed the obviously best candidates.

Blending The Society's ClaretOne thing that made me stop and think was that it never appeared to be as simple as saying, for example, that it needed a little more acidity and then adding a drop of a sample that exhibited what seemed to be the right amount of acidity when assessed alone. It often seemed, for example, that the acidity displayed by a sample did not necessarily show as expected in the suggested blend and was lost in the mix after all, or stood out like a sore thumb. Therein lay the skill of Jo and Tim, judging the nuances, subtleties and potential of the blends, trying to accurately gauge how these youthful samples might evolve together as they were reassessed time and again until agreement on the final selection was reached after many blends, slurps, swirls, sniffs and scribbles.

There was a quiet satisfaction when the job had been done but no ceremony or celebration and we moved swiftly on to a tasting of a range of petit châteaux represented by Sichel, so there was no time to reflect any more deeply on the new Society’s Claret.

It was a job quietly and well done. Having tasted the final blend in its salad days I am very much looking forward to trying it when it reaches The Society’s list in a slightly more mature form.

Steve Farrow
Wine Information Editor

Comments

  1. Scott Green says:

    Interesting article and will make me appreciate more the effort put into blending the Society’s Claret which I look forward to tasting.

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