The Art of the Blend
What's a winemaker to do during the depths of winter? Turn mad scientist, of course! Well, not mad, exactly, but--honestly--who else drinks wine out of a graduated cylinder?
Over the last week I joined Carl for two wine tasting sessions, each with a different purpose. For the first, we tasted samples of 3 different 2019 red vinifera barrel samples--Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petit Verdot--from our Cadenza estate vineyards, with an aim toward figuring out the percentages of the 3 wines which will comprise the best 2019 estate blend.
The 2019 vintage was scarred by the deep freezes that hit our vineyards during December of 2018 and January of 2019. Because of the vine damage, the whole cycle of growth was delayed by a couple of weeks--an occurrence which can cause major effects on the grape quality. Other than this, 2019 was a "normal" year in the vineyards, in terms of the bud break timing, amount of summer heat, and the weather during the autumn. In average years like this, as in more exemplary years, the ability to imagine the right blend of grapes is an exercise in quality development.
During our tasting, first Carl made tasting notes about each of the reds on its own, like asking 3 singers at a choir audition to first sing solo. The Cabernet was light, with cherry notes; the Merlot had lovely body and wonderful raspberry character; the Petit Verdot was all blackberries and a more serious rustic voice.
Then he thought about which wine should comprise the backbone of a 2019 Cadenza blend: clearly, it was the Petit Verdot. We tried 5 different blends, sometimes just of 2 varietals, and sometimes with all 3. In the end, it was a 10% Cab / 30% Merlot / 60% PV blend which seemed to win the day, with the PV enhanced by the body of the Merlot and the brighter note of the Cabernet. There's definitely something to be said for the power of harmony!
During our second barrel sampling, we took on a different challenge: getting a sense of the 2020 flight of white wines, including Albariño, Semillon, Viognier, Chardonnay, and Rosé (bled from Cadenza estate vineyard red varietals). All came from grapevines in their fifth "leaf" (growing year), and all have been in neutral oak barrels since harvest time.
Interestingly, the standout from this tasting was definitely the Albariño. It has wonderful acidity, highlighting bright flavors of mandarin oranges and white peaches. Carl is currently eyeing a blend between it and either the Semillon or the Viognier. At this point in their development, the other wines are more subtle, not having quite found their voice.
It is interesting to be a part of these wine "auditions" and to watch Carl think through the ways that these estate-grown grapes will fit into our future wine lists. On some warm future summer day or some nicely chilled future autumn day, I can picture us sitting out on our benches, sipping the art and the craft of these, come to fruition.
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