2017-08-04 / Wine Notes

Mixing Up a Great Glass

Robert D. Richards, CSW

Blending is nothing new in the wine business. In some countries, tradition and law dictate blending protocols. For instance, the classic Bordeaux wine is a blend of five grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot.

Blending is where the science of winemaking meets the artistry of the enterprise. The science of winemaking is evident throughout the process, from fermentation through bottling, where cellar workers painstakingly check yeast, proteins, temperatures, acidity levels, color extraction and a host of chemical changes.

In the end, however, the winemaking team decides how to combine the wine from a variety of lots, vineyards, grape varietals and barrels to get the very best product from that year’s yield. The process gets very precise, and the blending room is often a lab complete with pipettes, beakers and test tubes. Yet it’s the palate of those in the room — the very unscientific tasting of the wines separately and combined — that facilitates the creation of the blends that completes the wines we enjoy

Winemakers have a great deal of resources at their disposal. Consider, for example, just the barrels used for fermenting or aging wines. The barrels might be French, American or even Hungarian oak. They might be new or only a year or two old. Newer barrels impart a stronger oak aroma and flavor to the wine. The barrels may be toasted inside, which adds a smoky quality. The winemaker may take parts from different barrel ages or types to help create the blend.

Combining grape varietals or grapes from different vineyards adds to the blend. Climate and each season’s weather also factor into the process. In the United States, unlike other countries, there are few rules that govern the winemaking process. To label a wine by a varietal name, e.g. Cabernet Sauvignon, 75 percent of that grape must be used in the production. So, even a varietally labeled wine can comprise up to one quarter of other grapes. The producer may list the grapes used in the wine on the label, but there is no legal requirement to do so. Here are some producers known for making notable blends. •SCM

Bonny Doon
Randall’s Proper Claret 2012

(#48791, $13.92)
A blend of five grapes makes up this offering from the eccentric California winemaker Randall Grahm that shows hints of plum, raspberry and a touch of tobacco.

Conundrum Proprietary
White Blend

(#9964, $24.99)
Although the exact percentages of the grapes used are not revealed and vary from season to season, this white blend includes Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat Canelli, Semillon and Viognier, which yield a floral and tropical burst that makes this wine good for sipping or pairing with food.

Decoy Red
Blend 2013

(#49581, $21.99)
This second label of Napa Valley’s Duckhorn Vineyards contains the traditional Bordeaux blend of grapes in this perennial favorite.

Robert D. Richards, CSW, is a Certified Specialist of Wine through the Society of Wine Educators and has passed the first-level certification of the prestigious Court of Master Sommeliers.

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