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TAKE THE WINE CHALLENGE – BLENDING IS YOUR FRIEND!

Like I said in the Dueling Inexpensive Red Wine Line-Up article, I am curious. This leads to the turning over rocks thing that I talked about. Very simply, you have to turn over a rock to know what is underneath. And, I am always looking for something more than what is on the surface. So it was in doing the tasting and writing for the article that I had an inspiration. There was something I needed to try. Something I had never done before or thought about so far as I can remember. So after more than 40 years of drinking and writing about wine, this proves that I am still learning. But, before I go there, let me share something with you — something that I had not really thought about until after my inspiration.

In the early 1980s shortly after I began publishing The Underground Wineletter, I tasted the 1978 JL Chave Hermitage. I was smitten as were my friends. Soon we paid a visit to M. Chave in the Rhone Valley to taste. There was very little information about him or his wine. As was the case back then, we did not know what to expect. Communication was very difficult and most often done via mail which took weeks. Also, there was the language issue. But, undaunted, we forged ahead and arrived at the door. He greeted us and soon we were in the cellar tasting from barrels. Yes, barrels. Barrel after barrel of Hermitage. Yet he made just one bottling of Hermitage at that time (the Cuvée Cathelin came much later, but that is another story). We soon learned that we were tasting wines made from different vineyards and different parts of vineyards within Hermitage. I have forgotten how many, but suffice it to say there were a lot! As the one who would be writing about the wine, I was aghast!  How could I possibly even guess what the bottled wine would be given all the different parts and different amounts of each one. Finally, he began to pull samples and blend them. After some time, he offered the blend for us to taste. For my palate, I liked the blended wine better than any of the component wines we tasted and my friends agreed. That was my first experience with blending. But, what we were offered as “representative” of the final blend did not mean it “was” the final blend. That decision was to be made later. So the question of trying to describe and rate the wine based on what we tasted was an enigma. At best, it would be a WAG (Wild Ass Guess)! You can imagine my shock when I later saw wines that were tasted this way written up and given precise big number scores and elaborate descriptions by some writers. No matter, the point was not that the ultimate wine could be evaluated in that manner at that time, but that M. Chave believed the ultimate wine that would be blended before bottling would be better than the component parts. We subsequently re-visited several times and went through the same exercise, always with the same conclusion. The blend was better than the component parts. M. Chave had proven his point. He was the master of blending.

So this is an extreme example of blending before bottling. Virtually all wines are blended to some degree before bottling. It may be just eliminating some barrels of the same wine that are not perceived to be as good as others for whatever reason. Or it may be adding a different wine to the blend. In the latter case, sometimes it is done with the idea of making a wine from different varieties. However, it also is sometimes done to add something else to supposedly enhance the wine that is represented on the label. (But again, this is another story and one in which I will have more to say about in a later article). However, no matter the reasons, blending is a large part of making most wines before bottling.

But what about blending wine AFTER bottling? Say What? Am I nuts? Maybe, but consider this. How many bottles of wine have you opened that you wish had just a bit more of this or less of that? Less tannin? More fruit? Less acid? More acid? More body? Less body. More complexity?  Greater perfume? I could go on and on. And, I can tell you, that the number of bottles that I have tasted over the years is well into six figures. Many of these could have been improved by blending. (And, yes my liver is fine. Thank you for caring.) But not once, as I can remember, did I ever think about blending bottles together. That is up until I was involved in the tasting and writing of the Inexpensive Dueling Red Wines Line-Up article. Then one evening it occurred to me, what would happen if I started blending some of the wines I had selected to taste? So guess what? I did. And, guess again. What happened? Bingo! Many of the blends were better that the component wines. And, almost always, I could make a blend and come out with a greater quantity of wine that was of better quality than the individual components.

So take a look here at some of my results using wines from the article:

First, an outstanding blend using 2 highly recommended wines and 1 outstanding wine:

1/3 2009 Darien Tempranillo Highly Recommended $5.99

1/3 2008 Chateau Ste. Michelle Merlot  Outstanding $10.99

1/3 2007 Monte Antico Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot Highly Recommended  $7.99

Tasting note on this blend: Deep color. Gorgeous perfume showing berry, floral and spice nuances. Lovely berry fruit with a faint exotic note and complex flavors of plum, cedar, spice with a floral undertone. Well structured and balanced with a long velvety finish. This blend captures the intensity and flavor of the Tempranillo with the lush, rich fruit of the Merlot, and the complexity and finesse of the Sangiovese blend. Outstanding.  Blended cost – a little over $8

Second, another outstanding blend using 1 Recommended Plus wine, 2 Highly Recommended wines, and 1 Outstanding wine: ¼ 2009 Lamadrid Cabernet Sauvignon  $10.99, ¼ 2008 Chateau Ste. Michelle Merlot  $12.99, ¼  2008 Santa Ema Carménère  $7.99, ¼ 2009 Kirkland Signature Meritage  $13.99.

Tasting note on this blend: Deep color. Great perfume of cassis and plum fruit with hints of cedar and spice. Lots of fruit and complex flavors on the palate. Cassis, plum, cedar, spice, with hint of chocolate. Balanced and soft with a long finish this is a really tasty wine. This blend captures the flavor and structure of the Cabernet Sauvignon, the rich fruit and lushness of the Merlot, the intensity and depth of the Carménère, and the complexity and softness of the Meritage. Outstanding.  Blended cost about $11.50

Third, this is using lemons in an attempt to make lemonade as two of the wines were not recommended and would have gone down the drain (or perhaps into the vinegar jug). They were blended with 1 Recommended wine and 1 Highly Recommended wine. This was the most difficult blend of all to make. I did 6 different blends and this one was clearly the best:

1/6 2010 Schroeder Estate Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon – Not Recommended $7.50

1/3 2009 Celita Sangiovese Superiore – Not Recommended $7.50

¼ 2009 Il Papavero Primitivo – Recommended $7.50

¼  2008 Santa Ema Carménère – Highly Recommended $7.99

Tasting note on this blend: Dark color. Deep perfume of blackberry tinged with spice. Lots of rich, supple blackberry fruit on the palate. Flavorful and balanced with a very nice finish. This blend balanced the intensity of the Cabernet with the lightness and finesse of the Sangiovese and picked up richness, texture, and complexity from the Primitivo and Carménère. Highly Recommended.  Blended cost a little over $7.50

So if a wine is not corked or so badly flawed as to be totally undrinkable (as opposed to a wine that you just don’t particularly care for), this latter methodology can salvage what otherwise would likely be throw away wine. The Not Recommended wines I used were not bad, they just did not satisfy my taste. I was not going to drink them, but by blending I was able to make something that suited my taste that I could drink. This is what I mentioned in The Dueling Inexpensive Red Wines Line-Up article as a way to save wines that do not suit your taste. At the very least, this method is surely worth a try since you would be salvaging enjoyable wine consisting largely of wines that otherwise would go down the drain.

I was very pleased with this exercise. And, the more I thought about it, the more it made sense to use for certain wines that are for immediate consumption and not for aging or re-sale.

But, the thought did occur to me, after the fact, that this is precisely the technique used by unscrupulous types to make counterfeit wine. That is, put less expensive wine into bottles that have bottles and labels of very expensive wine. (Of course, these types have sophisticated equipment and techniques to keep the fake wine from oxidizing.) Then, ideally, have a critic taste the fake wine and proclaim it great. Or, if it is a wine that already has a great reputation, they can bypass this latter step. Voila! They then sell the wine for a huge amount of money. And, a lot of the people buying it will not know the difference if they drink it!

This fake wine game is something I have observed over many years. (Later, I will have a complete article on the subject of wine fraud). And, for sure, by no means am I endorsing that blending bottled wine be done for re-sale. In fact, I think that the practice is disgusting and illegal and I would like to see all the scoundrels doing it hit with very stiff fines and put behind bars for a very long time! And, even for wines you plan on aging for an extended period for your personal consumption, I think it is a bad idea to blend bottled wines. The reason is simple. Doing so in the crude manner I describe by just pouring different wines together and then putting them in a bottle with a cork exposes the wine to oxygen and causes the wine to age very quickly.

So take the challenge. Do your own blending of bottled wines for your own immediate consumption. Venture into the nether world of wine. It is a place that few have ever gone. Be adventuresome. And, if you do take the challenge, plan on drinking the blended wine over days, weeks, or, at the most, months. I would encourage you to also buy several bottles and open them all at once. Then you can taste and make your blends. It’s fun, interesting, and can result in your drinking better wine. The wine you blend is the ultimate unique boutique wine. Wine that YOU custom make for YOUR taste. For this first exercise I would use wines in the price range I chose for the article. Say around $3-4 up to $10-15. Make sure that you use small amounts and write down your blends and the amounts of each wine used as you go. This way you can do several different blends before doing your final blend for the wine you want to keep. You will be surprised that a lot of wines in the lower price range can actually enhance a blend using some higher priced wine. This is a real value proposition. Make sure the bottles are full or very close to full when you do the final blend. Put a cork in them and store them in the refrigerator until an hour or two before you decide to drink them. Here I am talking about red wines,

But, quite by accident, I took it a step further and will report on this discovery in a future article. But, in the meantime, forge ahead. Try some inexpensive red wines and get into the game. And expand this to use white wines and rosés. Be adventuresome.  Blend to win!

Bon Degustation!

In Vino Veritas,Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard

John Tilson