Wine is subjective. A juicy wine that tickles your taste-buds might seem like Kool-aid to the snob sitting next to you. Like an abstract painting, we perceive wine with our senses – sight, smell, texture, taste – and form our own personal feelings and opinions. Everyone has different taste buds and connects with the wine on different levels. Because wine is so personal, winemakers focus on creating balance in the final blend while not pushing his or her own specific taste preference.
Crafting a blend is one of the most important tasks of the winemaker.
Blending should always add to the character for which the winemaker is striving. If a wine has lots of fruit character but is lacking in structure and depth, a full bodied wine can be added to create balance and add complexity.
Blending in Europe goes without saying. Wines are almost always a blend of the varietals from the region where they are grown. The classic example is a French Bordeaux blend. A wine from Bordeaux will be predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon from the left bank of the Gironde River, and primarily Merlot if the wine comes from the right bank. The vintner also has the option of adding any amount of the other three Bordeaux varietals (Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, or Malbec) to accent and enhance the final product. Rarely will you see a French wine named for a specific grape.
Contrary to our friends out in Europe, American wines are defined by grape varietal. A bottle that reads Zinfandel must legally contain 75% Zin. That extra 25% can be anything from Petite Sirah to Viognier and still be legitimately labeled Zinfandel on the wine shop shelf. However, blending is not required, and it can be exciting and educational to see 100% varietal wines served.
When a winemaker feels that a wine needs a bit of enhancement or balance, they conduct blending trials to see how much of a different varietal contributes to the final blend. A bit of Merlot here, a smidge of Syrah there, and voila: harmony. If a wine label reads “Red Blend,” there are no requirements on any percentages of varietals. These wines can be quite intriguing, leaving the winemaker a full spectrum of components with which to craft his or her vision.
As an example, our 2012 Eight Sides Paso Robles Zinfandel boasts 85% Zinfandel, with 10% Syrah and 5% Petit Sirah rounding out the blend. We sourced the Syrah and Petit Sirah to add depth, complexity, tannic structure, and a deeper color to the gregarious red fruit character and lip-smacking acidity of the Zinfandel. The final product is a perfectly balanced wine that can match up well with a wide variety of dishes, from a fire-grilled leg of lamb to a take-out deep dish pizza.
(Pick up a bottle of our Zinfandel to try at home, once our online shop opens in a few short weeks!)
Every wine producer does things a bit differently than their neighbor. Everyone has their own perspective on the perfect blend. The next time you go wine tasting, try doing your own blending trial with the different varietals in front of you. Not only is it fun to practice, it will let you develop a deeper sense of the style of wine you enjoy the best.
Plus it always ruffles the feathers of the tasting room staff :)