Great wine is art and science and the sum of many details.
Blending is a medium for creating a wine that is more delicious than the sum of its parts. The goal of blending is to create distinctive wines that are balanced, reflect the vineyard and vintage, and of course, are a pleasure to drink. In the cellar, winemakers are careful to treat each lot of grapes, and subsequently the wine, to preserve its unique personality. Every barrel of wine is much like a puzzle piece belonging to a beautiful and nuanced landscape; a single thread weaved throughout a brilliant tapestry.
When we sit down to the blending table, there are four of us: Lisa, Ashli, our consultant, Lucien Guillemet (aka “the most interesting man in the world”) and me. Lucien is the winemaker at Chateau Boyd-Cantenac, a Grand Cru Classé Château in the Margaux appellation of the Bordeaux region of France. He visits Maryland twice a year to taste, deliberate, and blend. His expertise acts as a sounding board – multiple skilled palates are a key to the successful blending process.
Each year we improve individually and as a team. We build on past experiences. We labor over the nuances. We sweat the details. We seek greatness. We taste and reflect on past vintages in a concerted effort to refine a vision for the next vintage.
Bordeaux is the quintessence of wine blending. In Margaux, for example, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot are the usual suspects. These varieties are always blended – each variety bringing a unique characteristic to the table. Cabernet Sauvignon contributes full-bodied wines with high tannins and noticeable acidity that contributes to the wine's aging potential. Merlot is full in body with lush, velvety tannins with intense plum and blackberry fruit. Cabernet Franc contributes finesse and lends a peppery perfume to blends with more robust grapes. Petit Verdot contributes course tannin, inky color and violet and leather aromas, in small amounts, to the blend. Blending each of these varieties in just the right proportions is essential to creating truly stunning wines.
Where we begin
Armed with a few wine glasses, a pipette, a graduated cylinder, and a spittoon, we set out to assemble our Magnum Opus – our greatest work. We taste each lot separately and take detailed notes on aromas, flavors, structure and overall quality. We consider our goals for each blend and start blending a few wines we suspect will play well together. We again take detailed notes. We tweak the blend. We ask, "do you like the direction this wine is going?" We continue to adjust the percentages of each wine in the blend until we find the proportions that sing – it’s often quite obvious!
The finish line
The process isn’t finished until every individual lot has its home in a stunning wine. Rough blends are typically compiled over a few long intensive days. We then revisit these wines over the ensuing weeks, hypothesize, and make nuanced tweaks. We then share finished but not yet bottled blends with our friend, customer, sommeliers and restaurateurs for feedback.
Over the past five years, we have honed our blending skills and are quite proud of this year’s results. We can’t wait to share the fruits of our labor with you later this spring!
If you’d like to learn more about the nuanced art and science of winemaking, then consider joining our "Cru"!