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Here a Blend, There a Blend

I’ve read that there are at least 3,000 different decisions made about a wine from the time a winery starts to consider where to plant vines to the time a bottle is actually released. Blending decisions are made very late in that timeline. However, blending has a huge impact, arguably more than any other decisions, on the final taste of a wine.

It is impossible for a wine consumer to really understand how much difference minute variations in blend can make without actually having a blending experience first hand. Fortunately, a number of wineries now offer you just that opportunity.


The first blending seminar I attended was at Penfolds in massive winery in the town of Nurioopta. That is in Australia’s Barossa Valley. You can see a number of my fellow mad scientists sporting lab coats and pipettes in the photo that accompanies this article. As you can tell, this blending session was held in the Penfolds lab and was a bit formal.


Our challenge in this blending exercise was to create the best wine we could from three Barossa Valley components: Shiraz, Grenache and Mataro (that’s Aussie for Mourvedre, mate). This is the mix used in Penfolds’ Bin 138 and we were actually using exactly the same components that they did for their 2007 cuvee.

Australia is famous for Shiraz (aka Syrah). There are so many wines made Down Under that are either entirely or predominantly Shiraz that one’s natural tendency when fiddling with these components would to be go with a SGM. That’s a wine which is mostly Shiraz but has more Grenache than Mourvedre. And that is the direction I took, because I wasn’t listening to my nose and my tongue couldn’t make itself heard either.

The reality is that the Shiraz was, how can I put this kindly..., burly. It was tannic. It was dark, a bit green and it was in no way cheerful. I won’t say that the Shiraz was rougher than the Mataro. Okay, I will. And it certainly made the Grenache seem like a happy little bowl of fruit by comparison. Remember, the very best of the Shiraz grapes available to Penfolds go into wines like Grange, RWT, Magill Estate, and St. Henri. It’s not that the Shiraz we were given was bad. It just wasn’t meant to be the focus in a wine intended to be consumed young.

But, I had the preconceived notion that Shiraz should be dominant and created my blend accordingly. Lesson number one in blending: preconceived notions of that sort are not useful. People can only smell and taste what you put in the bottle, not your intentions. Focus on what the components tell you, not what you think they should say.

In the end, my blend was okay but far from great. We bottled some up in a little green 375ml bottle with a nice laser-printed label and a red screwtop cap. We drank it with dinner later in the week. My wife’s blend was Grenache-centric and more enjoyable. However, I don’t think anyone in the session came close to creating the blend that Penfolds wound up releasing: 66% Grenache, 21% Mourvedre, 13% Shiraz. Almost a third more Mataro than Shiraz! That’s why Peter Gago makes their wines, not me. His blend rocked.

We learned a lot from our blending session at Penfolds and had fun too. If you are going to be in the Barossa, I encourage you to give it a try. They offer two sessions every day. The class lasts 90 minutes and the cost is $65 (Australian) per person. It’s essential that you make reservations and do so at least 24 hours in advance.

Tomorrow’s article will cover blending Alexander Valley Zinfandel at Sausal Winery.

This article is original to Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

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