Blend Like a Super Tuscan
Happy February, Winemakers!
Blending sounds so easy in theory — and really if you’re just playing around it is. Add a little bit of this, a little bit of that. Taste. Taste again. Maybe taste a few more times. Decide on what you like. But if you want to make better blends, it pays to determine what direction you want to go in before you start playing mad scientist.
Some people prefer to follow the lead of Old World winemakers when concocting blends — such as French Bordeauxs, or Italian Chiantis. But if you want to go your own way and maybe break some rules, in the February-March 2016 issue of WineMaker, Bob Peak discusses taking some cues from the Italian winemakers who created the genre of wines known as “Super Tuscans.” If you don’t already know the origins of Super Tuscans, in a nutshell they were born from the imaginations of Tuscan winemakers who wanted to make bigger bold Sangiovese blends that could compete with Bordeaux blends. However at the time — during the 1970s — wines from the Chianti Classico region of Tuscany were strictly defined by the DOC system (Denominazione di Origine Controllata), which said at the time that any wine made in that region of Italy had to be made in a certain historical style with a specific composition of approved varietals. As Bob says in his story, “The regulations reflected the original work of Baron Ricasoli in the nineteenth century when he set the recipe for Chianti as 70% Sangiovese, 15% Canaiolo, and 15% Malvasia Bianca. Wines were often very light, intended for immediate consumption and did not age well.” Wanting to break out from the rules, Tuscan winemakers who wanted to start blending their Sangiovese with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and other French varietals started making these new wines and calling them “vino da tavola” — table wine. These table wines were wisely marketed to stand out from typical plonk, hence the name Super Tuscan
As home winemakers, there are a number of reasons why we might want to make a non-traditional blend. For one, we don’t always get the varietal choices or quality of consistency that professional winemakers get, and you might end up with some batches of homemade wine that don’t necessarily make up the classic recipe for Bordeaux-style blends (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot), but that doesn’t mean you can’t make an interesting blend of your own. We also don’t have the DOC (or the French AOC — appellation d'origine controlee) checking up on our home wineries, so we can do what we like. If you’re ready to let your blending imagination run a little wild, Check out Bob’s story in the February-March 2016 issue — which also includes some great tips for making these blends with kit wines by Tim Vandergrift. And when you’re ready to do some outlaw blending, be sure to follow Tim’s blending guidelines:
• Do blending from finished wine. Pre-fermentation blending is extremely tricky and may mess up fermentation and clearing schedules.
• Have a goal in mind before you start. Are you trying to make your lean, dry Chianti sleeker and fatter? Want to bring up the tannin and blackberry on your Tempranillo? Itching for a customized GSM (Grenache-Syrah-Mourvèdre)? Write it down.
• Blend wines of similar type. Cabernet and Sangiovese for example.
• Decide what your base is. This is the backbone of your blend, and what you’re going to hang all of the other wines from.
• Choose your adjunct wines carefully. Use those that you think are going to improve the base. Keep it to two at most, otherwise your palate will get fatigued and your intent may get lost.
• Do not blend bad wine. It’s a waste. Throw bad wine away.
• Always bench trial your blends. A 3 ounce mistake is easy to shrug off; 24 gallons (90 L), not so much
• Blend wines of the same age. Well-aged wines blended with younger ones seem jangled — simultaneously tired and green
• Write it all down. As ever, if it turns out great, you’ll be able to do it again. If it’s a disaster, you’ll know what not to do.
Best of luck with blending to all, and cheers to this month’s winemaking!
-- Betsy Parks