Charlie Opines About Wine

In my search for interesting wines to serve to guests at our Cape Cod Bed and Breakfast, I attend many planned and impromptu wine tastings. I am happy to share my experiences with you. It's a tough job but someone has to do it.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Wine Blending: A New Craze?

Charlie’s Weekly Wine-ings

In my never-ending search for wines to share with guest at our Cape Cod bed and breakfast, I attend all kinds of formal and informal wine tastings. In fact, I usually do some sort of structured tasting at least once a week. No, seriously, this part of my job and most tastings follow a predictable course. For example, the weekly Wednesday tasting at the Belfry Bistro normally includes four wines, two white and two red, each pared with an appetizer to complement that given wine. At a recent event I was introduced to a wine blending experience, which gave me a whole new appreciation for wine. Jan often asks me if I would every want to make my own wine and up to now I was always more interested in enjoying the product of others' efforts than making my own. But this attitude may be changing with my new knowledge. 

The event was officially titled, Magnificat: The Art & Experience of Blending. It was held at the Belfry Bistro and was co-sponsored by Cellar 55 Wine Merchants, the Horizon Beverage Company, and Constellation Brands. Julie Handel Ochse, Constellation’s Sales Director for Luxury Wines, hosted and lead us through the blending experience; an educational, fun, and completely new experience for me and I think for all the other participants.   

Julie gave us a lot of background before we got to the art and fun of blending. The great French wines from Bordeaux are the classic examples of a blended wine where a number of different grape varietals are blended together and presented as the finished wine. In France, Bordeaux is classically made from five black grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec. For centuries, the magic and mystery of each individual bottle of Bordeaux is the result of where the different grapes are grown, the terroir, and then how the winemaker chooses to mix or blend the five varietals.

In the 1980s, as California wine varietals gained worldwide attention, some of the early Napa Valley pioneers wanted to demonstrate their skills and create memorable blends. They coined a uniquely American word, Meritage, derived from ‘merit’ and ‘heritage’, to designate proprietary wines made only of the five Bordeaux varietals. One of the driving forces in this movement was the Franciscan Estate Winery with its 240-acre Oakville vineyard in the very heart of Napa Valley.

Franciscan's Magnificat
Franciscan’s first 1985 Meritage was labeled ‘Magnificat’ after a classic Bach choral piece written for five voices, i.e. the five classic Bordeaux grapes. Jan is a classically trained singer and I am sure has sung this piece and the next time I hear it I’ll sip a little of Franciscan’s Magnificat and hear it from a new perspective.

With that background, let’s get back to the blending. Each participant was seated in front of a placemat on which sat eight glasses, five with wine in them and three empty. The five glasses had a measured amount of the five varietals placed in a circle that identified each. Two of the empty classes were on circles marked respectively Trial Blend 1 and 2. Also on the mat were a booklet and a plastic pipette. For those of us who as students missed some of our Chemistry classes, what is a pipette? It is a long tube with milliliter measurement markings on it that you suck on to pull liquid into the tube to transfer to another container. I would have called it a miniature ‘wine thief’, like those I have seen used at barrel tastings. Julie instructed us on how to use the pipette and read the markings.

Photo of wine blending kit
First we tasted each of the five varietals and Julie reviewed their characteristics with thoughts as to how each may influence the taste of a blend. Then we used the pipette to extract the amount of each varietal that we felt would make the perfect blend and deposited it in another wine glass. After tasting our Trial Blend 1, we repeated the exercise, adjusting the amount of the varietals used to create our Trial Blend 2. It was very interesting to see the difference that your blending choices had on the final wine. Our last glass on the placemat was then filled with the 2007 Magnificat and we had the chance to do a side-by-side comparison of our Trials and the real thing. Julie also shared with us the actual 2007 Magnificat blend of 69% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Merlot, 6% Petit Verdot, 2% Malbec, and no Cabernet Franc.  

When I finished, my placemat, glasses, and hands were wine stained from my sloppy use of the thief, but even though a little red, I had great time. Yes, I learned more about wine making then I knew before, but to be honest I did not enjoy either of my two trials anywhere near as much as the real Magnificat. So, I also learned to leave the winemaking to the pros, but I appreciate even more the skill and effort it takes to create the marvelous blends we enjoy. Stay with us at our bed and breakfast and I’ll share some of my favorite blends with you and we will have a magnificent time. And, as always.....
Happy Wine-ing

Charlie Preus, the Innkeeper’s Assistant and Wine Steward at the 1750 Inn at Sandwich Center, Sandwich, Cape Cod Massachusetts  

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