The only way to really understand wine is to drink it. A lot of it. Get your hands dirty: ask the industry professionals questions, take notes, and pay attention while you drink it. What’s the point of blending? Ultimately, it’s to make a delicious, balanced, and complex wine. Winemakers mix to enhance aromas, tweak body and texture, adjust alcohol and tannin, and moderate any overwhelming qualities of a particular grape.
DO try this at home for fun and experiment just as the winemakers do; you can totally DIY and enlighten yourself on this. As you learn a little more about your flavor preferences through this blending exercise, wine will organically become more approachable. You may end up mixing something you seriously like. Grab some bottles, some friends, and do a little wine workout.
You are going to craft your own Bordeaux style blend. Common grapes of red Bordeaux blends are listed below: you will want to grab one bottle of each singular grape variety. Make sure the bottles you buy are all from places near each other (basically, you just don’t want to blend a new world varietal with an old world varietal). If you can find them – buy bottles from the same maker.
What You’ll Need
One bottle of each:
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- Petit Verdot
- Cabernet Franc
- Clean wine glasses – approx. 7 each. If you don’t own many glasses, ask your friends to bring their own.
- Paper placemats and pens. Label the glasses of pure, single varieties you’re going to use for mixing, and keep track of the blends you’ve made as you go.
- Pipettes. Blending is a game of adding. Use these tools for precise measurements – this way you can keep track of exactly how much of each variety goes into the glass. If you can’t find pipettes, use measuring cups. Rinse the pipette or measuring cup each time.
- Water and crackers to cleanse the palate.
Try each bottle on its own: decide what you like and don’t like about each bottle: think about what characteristics or flavors the wine could benefit from or what each bottle is lacking.
Bordeaux Blends are predominately Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot usually act as subordinate blenders. Cab Sauv and Merlot, as stand alone varietals, are often considered to be better-balanced, people-pleasing wines in comparison to the rest of the grapes used in Bordeaux style. Feel free to break these rules – go by your own preference. In general, Merlot is softer than Cabernet Sauvignon, whereas Cab Sauv has more backbone and tannic force than Merlot.
Medium to low-acid Cabernet Franc can add herbaceous (particularly green peppers) and tobacco notes to a blend. Think of utilizing some Cab Franc if your starter wine or blend begs for more seedy earth or tastes a bit too mellow. Malbec is interestingly inky-dark, often palates super-juicy berry characteristics, and can have a spicy, feisty finish. For example, winemakers might add Malbec to increase fruit in a blend or add more finishing punch. Petit Verdot seldom accounts for more than 10% of many Bordeaux style blends. This deep, violet colored grape is generally added in small amounts to increase tannins, adding structure and vigor to the wine.
Get your creative juices flowing. Start with one of the varietals bought that you don’t find pleasing. What do you not like about it? Add one of the other varietals to it that you think possesses something the particular lone varietal needs. Continue adding varietals using the pipette, keeping track of how much you add each time. This will eventually be your “recipe.”
Try out as many different combinations as you like ‘til your taste buds tire out or until you found a rockstar blend you can sell back to the producers for bajillions of dollars.
Other Fun Blends To Try:
- Create your own Super Tuscan by mixing together some Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and a little Sangiovese. Stick to base varietals from Tuscany.
- Got a Tempranillo that’s a little too harsh? Add some Garnacha to make yourself a lovely Spanish Rioja blend.
- Try your hand at an Alsatian blend: use Pinot Gris, Riesling, Gewürtztraminer, and Muscat. Buy these in French form and blend ‘em up for a curious tangling of classic whites.
Good To Know: Probably best not to do this at a wine dinner unless you want to hurt some feelings. If you do this at a restaurant, be prepared for a pissed off sommelier (and a really big wine bill, so maybe he/she won’t be THAT angry).