The art (and science) of blending…

Winery / Wednesday, May 27th, 2020

If you haven’t had a chance to watch my interview with Rob a couple of weeks back, then you may have missed some very important news!

And, if you cast your mind back a few more weeks, I let you in on a little secret regarding a potential new wine for the Somerled stable. A lovely Graciano!

What Rob let me know during our interview was that it was being picked that very day (so, two weeks ago now), but that there weren’t going to be enough grapes to make a stand-alone wine. 

Never fear, because Rob has some very exciting plans for this fruit. Not only does it make a delicious wine in its own right, but it also makes for a fabulous blending wine.

In fact, in Spain where most of the world’s Graciano is grown, they love to blend it with (among other things) Tempranillo. And what do we just happen to have sitting in the winery as we speak?! A lovely rich tempranillo!


I’ll tell you some more about that in a bit, but first, let’s chat about blending…


Why blend?

Some winemakers and wine experts believe that blending different varieties makes for a lesser wine.

But blending is a pretty tricky thing to do.

It takes several years (if not a lifetime) to master the art of blending. Great winemakers often use a combination of technical analysis and tasting. Some blends go through a process of 50 or more tries until the perfect “recipe” is created.

Also, blending wine is like a lovely combination of science and art. It takes individual pieces to make the sum better than the parts.


Well-known blends

There are a lot of pretty famous blends out there. Some you may not even immediately think of as blends.

Like Champagne for example. It’s usually a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (and often Pinot Meunier as well).

And although there has only ever been one official Somerled blend (some of you may remember the 2010 Picnic Races Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc blend?), Rob always blends his McLaren Vale Shiraz. He selects fruit from 3 or 4 sites to blend together to make the final product.

I’m not going to list them all, but let’s take a closer look at just one famous blend and why it works so well…

Bordeaux Blend

“Bordeaux Blends” reference the red blends from Bordeaux, France.

It is a mix of…

  • Cabernet Sauvignon which adds body, herbal character, and mid-palate texture that finishes on an oaky-note. Overall, the taste profile is big and long.
  • Merlot which has slightly more cherry fruit flavors and more refined tannins offset the herbal nature of the Cabernet varieties. It’s more about the mid-palate.
  • Cabernet Franc is often blended alongside Merlot to add complex peppery flavors and a more dynamic finish.
  • Malbec is all about up-front richness and black fruit flavors. The finish is not as long as Merlot or Cabernet, but it’s just as smooth and lush.
  • Petit Verdot adds floral notes and tannin, along with deep colour.



Why do we see specific blends recreated over and over?

Two very good reasons…

  • Tradition: Historic wine-producing regions developed wine blends over a long period of time. Classic French blends are today’s benchmarks.
  • Climate: What grows together, goes together. Grape varieties that adapt to the same climate generally make good blending partners.



Blending 101

As I’ve already mentioned… blending wine is tricky business.

Firstly the winemaker needs to make a decision about WHEN to blend the wine. There are two schools of thought on this…

  1. Once fermentation is complete and before they are safely tucked away in their barrels to mature.
  2. Some time down the track once both/all wines have individually finished their maturation in oak barrels.

While there are pros and cons for both, the final decision really is just a personal one. It depends if you would rather work as the wine as a whole, tweaking it along the way so you know exactly what you’re working with. Or, if you would prefer to work with the components separately so you know what they taste like and then figuring out the right combination at the end.

Once winemakers start blending, they pull samples from a selection of barrels, and out come the pipettes and graduated cylinders!

Many winemakers will start by making what is referred to as a ‘base blend,’ which will be the foundation of the wine.

Then it’s a matter of trialing and testing until they get the right mix!


Somerled Tempranillo Graciano blend

Now, back to that exciting new Somerled wine.

Rob prefers the first method when it comes to blending. For reasons he couldn’t really put into words, he feels like it’s a more seamless transition from winery to bottle. He likes the idea of the wine maturing as a whole.

It’s still very early days for the Graciano. It only started its primary fermentation last week. So, Rob isn’t 100% sure what the flavours will be like just yet.

The tempranillo though is big and rich. It’s also a little tannic, but that is to be expected this early in the piece. The oak will take care of that. And perhaps even the addition of the Graciano.

I’ll have updates for you in the coming weeks when Rob knows more! Stay tuned!

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