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Blending Your Own Bordeaux
Have fun and learn something too!
About two weeks ago I ran a review of the Marqués de Casa Concha Carménère, an extremely dense, deeply colored, tannic monster of a wine. At the time we reviewed it I couldn't help but think, why not blend this monster out? Use it to give more color and depth to some of their other wines or perhaps blend in a little of their Cabernet or Merlot in to mellow it out a little. So, I checked with the importer... sure enough, while their Cabernet and Merlot are all 100 percent, they had blended in about 10 percent Cabernet with the Carménère. Hmm, I thought 25 percent might have been more effective.
A word of explanation here... most of the wines you buy are blended. Many wine growing countries, including Chile and the United States, allow wine makers to still call a varietal by its name as long as they have at least 75 percent of the base varietal in the bottle. This allows the winemaker to add color, structure or fruit by blending usually small amounts of other varietals with his base wine to create the characteristics he wants the wine to express.
We had the Cabernet and Merlot in stock along with the Carménère. All three wines are excellent examples of their kind, each with plenty of varietal character. So, we decided to see what would happen when we created our own Bordeaux-style blends.
These are the base wines we used along with their reviews...
Marqués de Casa Concha Carménère 2007 Puente Alto, Chile $17.99 What the Wine Critics Thought: Wine Advocate 91 Points Saturated purple in color, it offers up a splendid bouquet of toasty oak, tobacco, Asian spices, plum, and blueberry. Mouth-coating, layered, and bordering on opulent, there is plenty of ripe tannin lurking under the fruit, succulent flavors, and excellent balance. This awesome value will be at its best from 2012 to 2020.
Marqués de Casa Concha Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 Puente Alto, Chile $17.99 What the Wine Critics Thought: Wine Spectator 90 Points Concentrated, with a solid core of black currant, fig and hoisin sauce notes, all layered with alluring bittersweet cocoa, espresso and roasted vanilla, followed by a long, fine-grained finish. Drink now through 2010. 73,000 cases made. –JM
Marqués de Casa Concha Merlot 2006 Peumo, Chile $17.99 What the Wine Critics Thought: Wine Spectator 90 Points Ripe and polished, offering a dark core of plum and black currant fruit layered with warm fig sauce, loam and cocoa powder notes, with a solid, fleshy finish. Drink now through 2010. 42,000 cases made. –JM
And this is what we did with them...
The Wine Guy's Blend: I decided to start with a base of 50 percent Cabernet for structure and character, added 30 percent Merlot to soften thing up a bit, and then used 20 percent of the Carménère to add color and body. I was pretty pleased with the result. The wine maintained the cedar and blackberry characteristics of the Cabernet, picked up some chocolate notes from the Merlot, and the Carménère seemed just round things out a little.
Tom Landshof's Blend: At 60 percent Cabernet, 10 percent Merlot and 30 percent Carménère Tom's blend tasted a lot like mine but sported more tannic structure and definitely picked up some weight and body from the Carménère. There was some disagreement over which one was better, but all six tasters did agree that they thought the blends, while very different from the pure varietals, would both make very nice standalone wines. In fact, four of the six said they liked the blends better than any of the three pure varietals .
Paul Johnson's Blend: Paul, our resident Francophile, has lived and studied in France and speaks fluent French. So, it was no surprise when he chose to create a traditional "Right Bank" St. Emilion style blend of 70 percent Merlot, 20 percent Cabernet and 10 percent Carménère. The result was pretty dramatic, much more approachable than Tom and my blends, with softer tannins and more forward fruit. All tasters agreed that he created another completely different style wine that was very approachable and easy to drink.
Our Conclusions: This was a very interesting and informative experience, and we were all more than a little surprised by the quality of the results. And, while I don't think any of us will be getting job offers from wineries anytime soon, it is fun to get some insight into the blending process. In fact, it might make a great theme for a wine tasting party. You can try this at home! A word of warning, though – this involves lots of comparative tasting, so plan to spit or plant not to drive.
June 25, 2009