Last time I talked about how varietals that grow together go together – most time, but to really get a nice wine, you have to do a lot of trial and error – it sucks being a winemaker sometimes.
As the wine is maturing in the barrels, we often check to make sure each barrel is doing ok. Every few months it has to be topped off and we check to see if everything is progressing. As the wine ages, different flavors will emerge and integrate and create the characteristics of that barrel. The wine will smooth and mellow and develop its own distinct flavor.
To create complexity, you need to develop a contrast. For example, a bowl of strawberries is nice, but throw in some bananas and grapes and now we have a party. There are different flavors, textures, colors, and aromas. Blending wine is very similar we want to create a remarkable party.
Take for instance our 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon – this wine is bold with firm tannins, balanced acidity and lots of dark fruit and hints of rose and dust.
Contrast this to the 2017 Merlot – which is also a big wine with red cherry and plum notes and a hint of chocolate.
What happens when they get put together?
Now we begin to create complexity – the blend now has hints of red, black and blue fruits. They are synergetic in tannic and acid structures. The Cab is forward and demanding and finishes tannic, the Merlot is plusher and creates a middle and softer finish.
By sampling each barrel, I understand what each brings to the party, and just like arranging a dinner party we need to create balance, interest, synergy, and integration.
A Touch of this and That:
When I am creating a blend, I first identify the starting point – the wine that will be most prominent in the blend. Under US labeling laws, I am allowed to blend in up to 25% of other wines and still label it as the base wine. Over 25% it must be called table wine, red wine, wine, etc.
So, suppose the wine is lacking tannins – add a more tannic wine. Of if the color is weak – add a darker wine. If the alcohol is too high – blend with a low alcohol wine. Trial and error.
Once the blend has been established, I recreate it a few days later and taste again. The allow the “fog of war” to dissipate and I can get fresh taste buds on the creation. Sometimes this process is repeated over and over again.
A Blend to Far:
Sometimes a blend can become too much with too many people at the party. These wines will lose their individuality, just as too many paints turn things muddy and unappealing. They also start tasting all the same and one quickly loses interest. Large producers are masters at this.
We often refer to wines of this type “Franken-wine”. Utilizing technology, mass spectrometers, expert tasters, large producers have literally the ability to “dial” a wine in and create a whole plethora of blends. Too much acid, dial it back. Too much tannin, dial it back. Need acid, dump some in. Not enough flavor or alcohol – reverse osmosis. The list of manipulations is long and formable.
We only produce natural wines with as little intervention as possible. Mother nature is very good at her job, humans are just presumptuous if we think we can do better.