Most of the time when you are looking for that perfect bottle of wine to buy for dinner, you look for your favorite varietal such as cabernet sauvignon, merlot, chardonnay and my favorite: sauvignon blanc. But what you might not realize is that most of the time even these are blends.
In winemaking, for a wine to be considered a specific varietal, it must be made up of 75% of one type of grape. It doesn’t have to be from the same plot of land, either. Many times, winemakers have the same type of grape grown in multiple areas around the state.
This is done for a few reasons, but mainly if one area has an issue due to weather or other circumstances, then they still have a crop to harvest. The other 25% of the wine in that bottle is up to the artisanal skill of the winemaker.
The more common way we think of wine blends is when there is no specific varietal listed – instead, the blend goes by its own name. Local examples include Barrister Winery’s Rough Justice, Barili Cellars’ Red Ass Red and Craftsman Cellars’ Left Bank wines.
With these types of blends, there can be a limitless number of varietals, but typically it’s between four and nine types. Also, the blends can include wine produced in different years, that is why you rarely see a vintage year on this type of blend.
In order to have a vintage year, 95% of the wine in the bottle must be made from fruit harvested in the same year. If you have a wine blend with no vintage year on the front, look at the back label in the lower left or right. Many times you will find a number or a roman numeral. That numeral represents how many times the winery has made that specific blend name.
To start building that blend, the winemaker uses pipettes to take samples from most all of their barrels to map out how the wine is aging and the flavor profile of each. Then come the graduated cylinders where the initial blending takes place.
If you have never seen a graduated cylinder, it looks like a beaker from high school science class with volume measurements on it. This is where the winemaker puts their signature on the wine blend, and the process can take days.
Most winemakers will try and match the style of wine they currently produce. For instance, Greg Lipsker of Barrister Winery describes their style as “fruit forward, with a gentle mouth feel, soft tannins and a long finish.”
Once the winemaker has arrived at that year’s perfect blend, they will wait a day or two and try it again to make sure nothing changed in the flavor profile before putting together the larger quantity.
Then it’s into the barrels for two to three years before being bottled and released.
Michael Allen is the director of Spokane’s Cork District.
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