Congratulations to Tim McGowan
Tablas Creek in the New York Times: "The Pour"

An Appreciation of Blending Rhone Varietals

Img_4948Some of my favorite events that we do at Tablas Creek are our annual blending seminars, where we invite our wine club members and other interested members of the public to come, taste through the component varietals, and then work as a table to put together their own blends.  This is in keeping with many of the educational wine seminars that we put on each year. 

Our focus on education has two purposes.  One is a marketing purpose. We know we aren't making Cabernet and Chardonnay (wines that people can categorize easily and have an inherent understanding of).  Instead, we work with obscure grapes and blend them together.  Anything we can do to share with our customers why we persist in such a quixotic enterprise helps open up our experiences to a wider audience.  The second purpose is that the blending, itself, is our favorite time of the year, as the wines stop being potential and start to come together as wine.

Over the long term, our hopes are that people who have joined us in a chance to blend... or a chance to help during harvest... or to try obscure but wonderful varietals will be willing to follow us in our own experiments.

Img_5018What I always find most interesting about these blending seminars is how different the blends are.  Starting with the same raw materials (this year, we had 5 components: Counoise, Grenache, Mourvedre, a Syrah from a neutral barrel, and a Syrah from a new French oak demi-muid) the different groups came up with radically different blends. 

The most controversial component (perhaps unsurprisingly) was the Syrah, both from the new barrel and from the older barrel.  For whatever reason, Syrah has taken its time this year to complete malolactic fermentation, and both samples were a little bubbly and the sample from the new barrel also a little reduced.  That reduction, plus the cedary flavors from the new oak, led some groups to totally eliminate it from their blends.  And the blends that resulted from this decision were tasty: Mourdvedre and Grenache dominated, with lush fruit, good acidity, and lots of immediate appeal.

Img_4976 Other groups took the opposite tack: good percentages of Syrah (as much as 45%, in one case) with less Grenache and Mourvedre, and a focus on the longer term.  These wines were darker, gamier, with a different character to the tannins: creamier in the attack and mid-palate, but firmer on the finish... a classic characteristic of Syrah. 

For me, the least successful wines were the ones that split the difference.  When the wines had around 25% Syrah they muted the forward fruit of the Grenache and Mourvedre but didn't replace it with enough of the Syrah mouthfeel or firmness at the back, and the resulting wines felt both heavy and sharp... not a great combination.

It is this process, this rediscovery of the wines you have each year, that I find most exciting about our focus on blends.  Each vintage gives us something new, and a new opportunity to express that year, and those grapes, and this place.