Friday, April 24, 2009

Nose of a Muscat, Body of a Chardonnay, Brain of a Winemaker, and it’s…it’s…a WINE! HAHAHA!

One more thing to consider before you bottle is whether or not you might want to blend your wine.  It is important to keep in mind that the reason for blending is to improve the wine in some way, such as adding complexity, improving aroma, having more mouthfeel, etc.  If the blended wine is not better than the base wine that you started with, there is no reason to blend.  I love blending.  It brings out the “mad scientist” in me and it is such a joy to create something that ends up being the best of all the parts. 

In order to create a blend that you feel will be a good mix, you need to know and understand the complexities, the pros and cons of your individual wines.  What qualities do each of them have going for them and what can they bring to the table, so to speak.

Another consideration is whether you want to be able to label this wine with a varietal designation.  A varietal designation means putting the name of the grape on the label (e.g. Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Cabernet Sauvignon, etc.).  In the United States the regulations regarding varietal labeling stipulate that 75% of the wine in the bottle must be from the grape stated on the bottle.  In California, the requirement is 85%.  Assuming you are not a professional California winemaker, this gives you 25% to “play with” for your blending purposes.  However, I would caution that you do not want to change the character too much of a wine that is labeled as a varietal.  The idea in this case is to enhance the varietal a bit by blending something else into it, not to make it taste like something entirely different.  Personally, I find it very annoying to buy a bottle that is labeled, say, Sauvignon Blanc, and have it taste like Chardonnay or Muscat.

If you decide to blend in more than 25% of one or more other varieties, then there is no concern regarding having the wine taste like anything specific as there are no expectations from the consumer regarding a particular varietal.  The sky’s the limit, the best taste is the goal.  Since you cannot use a varietal designation in this case, you have to come up with what the TTB (Tax and Trade Bureau, formerly BATF, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) calls a “fanciful” name.  You have seen thousands of them in the store. At our winery we have “Kaleidoscope Gold” and “Kaleidoscope Red”, so named because the blends are of many types of wines.  Other examples would be “Big House Red”, which has a funky label depicting someone putting down a rope to escape from a prison cell, and “Seven Deadly Zins”, which gives you the information that 7 Zinfandel wines were blended together, but is not considered varietal labeling.  Today, most any fun, funky, or sophisticated name you think is clever, will do.  Most get approved by the TTB.  In times past, this was not the case and many fanciful names were once denied as inappropriate due to moral or other reasons.

It will likely be no surprise that we head back to the lab to run some trials, usually with 100 ml samples as this is an easy measure.  Before I start mixing, I generally give the various wines I have available some thought on paper.  What are the characteristics that make that wine what it is?  Maybe one has great mouthfeel but lacks some in the aroma or flavor area, but another has a little spiciness, and the next has a great fruity aroma and flavor.  You need to figure out which wine will be the base wine.  In the following example I am choosing the one with the great mouthfeel that just needs its other assets pumped up a bit.

Let us say I want to keep the varietal designation, so my base must be at least 75%.  In my lab I will mix up maybe 4 samples.  Each will have at least 75 ml of the base wine, of course.  A good example of what I would try is 75 percent base wine, 10% spicy wine, and 15% fruity wine for sample number one.  Then wine number 2 would be 85% base, 10% fruity and 5% spicy, and so on.  The combinations are endless, actually, but sticking with 100 ml samples makes the measurements very simple since each milliliter of wine is equivalent to a percentage point in each blend.

One last comment – if, in fact, this is a wine that you plan on having some residual sugar in (as described in my previous post), that will need to be added to the lab trial “mix”.  This is very important as adding sweetness will enhance certain characteristics and make them more pronounced.  For instance, sweetness brings out fruity, floral, and spicy aromas.

So, as you can see, there is a lot to consider, but the best finish to a blending session is when you find that “Oh, wow!” moment.

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