A Library of Wines to Blend
As amateur winemakers we’re as optimistic as ice fishermen. We buy the best fruit (or juice, or kits,) use our best techniques and equipment, and expect our Cabs to smell like black currants, our Sauvignon Blanc like grapefruit, our Merlots jammy, and our Nero d’Avola dark as sin. But all babies aren’t Gerber babies and all batches of wine have strengths and weaknesses.
You can make corrections through blending. It’s OK. But I suggest you only blend finished wine and not mix varieties together before you know how they will turn out. It’s tempting to look at two five-gallon carboys of different varieties and want to siphon them into that empty 10-gallon barrel. It would be as risky as mixing everything in your fridge together and hoping for the best dining outcome.
Most commercial wines are blends of different vineyards with different characteristics. Different varieties make up Red Bordeaux wines typically with specific varieties.
Old World winemakers sometimes make a “field blend” out of several varieties in the same vineyard. Field blends can be responsible for wide variations in different years. In my opinion, you would need fortunate timing in order to have phenolic ripeness in all the varieties happening simultaneously to include several varieties in one harvest event. It is much more logical to harvest when the grapes tell you to, make the best varietal wine you can, and then figure out what each finished variety can bring to the party.
I’m not afraid to use a little white wine to top up a barrel. The Chianti of the 1950s had a significant percentage of Trebbiano in addition to Sangiovese, Colorino, and other varieties. You can add some white wine to red without changing the color appreciably, but not the reverse. Any addition of red wine to a batch of white will result in a color change and it doesn’t take much to make the change perceptible.
I have made wines just to have in a “library” that I can draw from for specific uses. If you make six gallons of wine in a carboy and as part of your process rack it, you will create headspace that you don’t want. Since you aren’t selling it, you can add an existing wine to it so why not make some improvements? Leon Millot and Alicante Bousquet can be used at “teinturiers” to darken a wine. Since we can grow Leon Millot in my area, I make sure I have some bottles around to deepen the color of a new red batch. Norton grapes can be used the same way.
Similarly, I can make up for missing mid-palate notes or bouquet. I have added wine from the spicy white grape LaCrescent to red batches just to bring some complexity I thought was lacking. Right now, we are about to blend some wine from California Carnelian red grapes with some wine from older Chilean Malbec. A combination not found in nature, to be sure, but the Carnelian brings grippy tannin and the Malbec contributes fruit, weight, and some pyrazines in the background. Already this wine has a 30-second aftertaste. No, you can’t have any.
Blending red and white wine to make rose’ is a completely legitimate technique. When we can, we prefer to bleed off some of the new juice from red grapes before it is too highly tinted while avoiding extraction of many of the tannins to make rosé. That also serves to leave more skins in the remaining batch to bring additional color and tannins to the primary batch of red wine. But we don’t have to. A small amount of a young fruity red wine added to a crisp white could yield a pink marriage made in heaven.
Don’t blend bad wine. If you have the capacity, try to make vinegar. But don’t give it away and don’t cook with it. It might ruin an otherwise fine batch or your reputation among your friends. Once you have given someone a glass of bad wine that you made, it’s a long journey back. Our first tasting panel had the following categories: Send it (to a contest,) blend it (with something else) or upend it!
For much more on how and when to blend your wine, check out this article from the archives.