Winemaker's Journal - September 2011

Blending and Blending Trials

In response to the frequent queries I receive about blending wine, I will review the background and approach we use at Cinnabar. Some of our blends are designed to be varietal wines (75% minimum of the wine named on the front label) while others are proprietary blends (Tripartite or Sorcerer’s Stone). Most are red, but whites such as Mercury Rising Blanc undergo similar treatment.

Blending Philosophy

Above and beyond all else, the individual blending components must be sound enough to stand alone. For example, if we consider blending a harshly tannic cabernet sauvignon, then that liability would overshadow the benefits of marrying it with other wines.

Second, the final blend is often greater than the sum of its parts. For example, the three components of Tripartite 919 (Paso Petite Sirah, Clarksburg Petite Sirah, and Paso Syrah) are powerful varietal wines on their own, but they take on even greater presence when blended.

Next, a little white wine can enhance the nose of a red blend. For example, the touch of viognier in our 2009 Paso Robles Solana Vineyard Petite Sirah adds complexity to the aroma in a manner that mimics the addition of picpoul blanc to reds from Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Finally, wines such as syrah act as chameleons in a blend (i.e. complement the wines they are blended with) while others such as petite sirah are more dominant.

Goals of Blending

We consider the desired outcome and potential goals before we begin:
• Improve color (Syrah, petite sirah and petite verdot add deep tones.)
• Enhance the nose (Cabernet franc and viognier contribute wonderful fragrances.)
• Soften tannins (Merlot helps soften the tannins in Mercury Rising.)
• Augment structure (Petite verdot and cabernet sauvignon increase the amount of tannins.)

Blending Trials

We’ll use Mercury Rising to demonstrate the business of conducting blending trials. In general, we like to maintain a style of Mercury Rising that expresses dark color, approachable tannins, a full mouthfeel, and a lingering finish while respecting the uniqueness of each vintage.

We first establish a base wine with cabernet sauvignon and merlot. If the cab is slightly more tannic than we like, then we include a higher percentage of merlot because of its soft nature.

Next, we add cabernet franc, malbec and petite verdot to enhance the existing qualities the way spices complement a stew.

The Players

Grower Relations Manager Alejandro Aldama and I, through the process of harvesting the grapes and making the wines, have the greatest insight into their strengths and limitations. Consequently we form the initial blends before presenting them to company President/GM Suzanne Frontz and Marketing Manager Angela Cesari, and finally, the entire staff.

Confirmation

Tasting our blends six months after they were made typically confirms the soundness of our decisions, but we’re occasionally surprised when the synergy of a particular blend surpasses our greatest expectations.