Ever wondered how winemakers come up with the perfect blend?
Welcome to another edition of Ask The Expert. We're delighted this new series has been received so well so as a result we've decided to continue it indefinitely, or at least as long as we have questions to be answered!
Red blends are one of the hottest categories in wine, but have you ever wondered just how winemakers come up with those blends? We certainly have, so we asked Director of Winemaking Mike Sinor and Winemaker Stewart Cameron of Ancient Peaks Winery to give us some insight into how they go about blending wines.
Here is their philosophical answer to the question: Blending Wines - Is it Art, Science or a Little of Both?
At Ancient Peaks Winery, our answer is "a lot of both."
To be good at blending wines, you have to know your science. But to be great, you need to bring some artistry to the task.
Let's start with the science - the chemistry of the wine. Much of this is handled at harvest time, by growing, fermenting and then aging wines that are technically sound. Your tannins, acids, pH and alcohols are established early in the life of a wine, so that is your time to get it right. You want to avoid scientific flaws, rather than try to fix or blend them away later.
However, science can only take you so far. If you are driven to achieve something great - a blend that will stand the test of time - then you need to delve into the art and mysticism of wine. You need to push and challenge yourself as a winemaker, to taste the wines of the world as your point of reference, then create something that is truly your own.
During the blending process, we don't look at analytical numbers. We are already working with sound wines at that point. We start with a vision for the blend we are aiming to create. Then, as we taste through the individual lots, some jump forward while others are kicked out. Once we have our base, we begin focusing on any holes or weak links on the palate until we have a blend that is truly whole and seamless. It's a rigorous process, and it's more art than science.
Historically, certain grape varieties are known to have synergies, such as the varieties of Bordeaux and the Rhône Valley. Those synergies often translate over the New World, which is why you will find many incredible "Bordeaux-style" or "Rhône-style" blends here in California.
At Ancient Peaks, we recognize those synergies and often rely on them. At the same time, our inner artist has taken us in some unlikely directions. For example, with our Renegade red blend, we frequently blend Syrah with Malbec and Petit Verdot. With our Oyster Ridge red blend, we rely largely on the traditional Bordeaux model, but have also discovered unconventional synergies by incorporating other varieties such as Petite Sirah and Zinfandel when warranted.
We aren't going against the grain just for the hell of it. We are listening to the wines, and letting them lead us to where they want to go.
Our estate Margarita Vineyard stands alone as the only vineyard in the Santa Margarita Ranch sub-AVA of Paso Robles. It's the southernmost vineyard in the Paso Robles region. It's a different place. If we came into the blending process with preconceptions or self-imposed limitations, we would be selling ourselves and the vineyard short.
We are not in Bordeaux. We are in southern Paso Robles. When you find yourself on a frontier, it's an opportunity to chart new ground—starting with science, and finishing with art.
Thanks to Director of Winemaking Mike Sinor and Winemaker Stewart Cameron of Ancient Peaks Winery for their answer to the question Blending Wines - Is it Art, Science or a Little of Both?
Have a burning question of your own? Shoot us a tweet or a message on our Facebook page and we'll line up an expert to get you an answer! In the meantime you can peruse all of our Expert Answers here!
Want more great content like this? Sign up for our FREE GUIDE: How To Drink Great Wine Without Breaking The Bank!