One thing I love about wine and travel is that there are always new things to explore. This past weekend I had the chance to virtually travel to Bordeaux during a wine blending class taught by Master Sommelier Michael Jordan at the Wrigley Mansion’s annual Festivin wine event.
Jordan is one of only 273 Master Sommeliers in the world. For a wine lover, this is akin to being taught how to throw a football by Aaron Rodgers. While Jordan is one of the most knowledgeable oenophiles in the world, he is down-to-earth and makes wine easy to understand. No wine snobbery here.
A Trip to Bordeaux
Bordeaux, France is one of the most iconic wine regions in the world. Not only does it produce stellar red wines, but its cute villages like St. Emillion, charmed the heck out of me when I visited in 2018.
Bordeaux red wines are usually a blend made up of some concentration of its five primary grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec. The type of blend a chateau produces depends a lot on if it is on the right or left bank of the Garonne River.
The Right Bank’s most famous appellations are St. Emillion and Pomerol. The Left Bank is also known as the Médoc and its famous appellations are Pauillac, St. Estephe, Margaux and St. Julien. Cabernet Sauvignon reigns supreme on the Left Bank, while Merlot is the building block of Right Bank blends.
Wine Blending Takeaway #1
Before you taste a wine, you smell it. Experts believe there are 800-1000 aromas that could be perceived in wine, which can make wine tasting difficult. But it also means that what you’re smelling is never really wrong.
Despite having done many tastings, Jordan’s tip to smell the top of the glass and move it side to side is an a-ha moment for me. He’s right, doing this brings out entirely different flavors than sticking one’s nose deeper in the bowl as I’d been taught. Smelling above the rim helps me detect lighter, more floral and herbal notes that can get overshadowed by the dark fruits from deeper in the glass.
Wine Blending Takeaway #2
Before you can make a great finished product, you have to understand the ingredients. In this case it means we need to taste the individual wines that will become part of our blend. By tasting the more tannic Cabernet Sauvignon, the softer Merlot and the velvety Malbec we can see how each wine is different and determine what we like.
Wine Blending Takeaway #3
Knowing how each individual wine smells and tastes is part of the puzzle to understanding what each varietal brings to the party. The other part is an understanding of each wine’s structure. For example, Bordeaux winemakers use small amounts of Petit Verdot because even though individually it’s a more closed wine with drying tannins, a bit of it with Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon lets those grapes jump on the Petit Verdot train and ride it for a longer finish to the wine.
Wine Blending Takeaway #4
Making wine is both an art and science. The fun comes in seeing what works and what doesn’t. You need to be playful and open to experimentation.
Jordan shared with us the blend composition of several famous Bordeaux houses including Cheval Blanc-66% Cab Franc, 33% Merlot and 1% Malbec and Chateau Margaux-75% Cab Franc, 20% Merlot and 5% Petit Verdot. Armed with this information we were let loose to have fun and create our own blends.
Jordan encouraged us to make several different versions to see what we liked best. After much experimentation the Vin Roché blend I liked best was a Cabernet Sauvignon dominated wine softened by Merlot and a dash of Malbec and given structure by a small percentage of Petit Verdot.
Want to have your own blending experience? Join a Vin Roché blending class today.