A local winemaker whom I know called me recently with a nice invitation. He was doing blending trials and wondered if I could help him out. I jumped at the chance.
Winemakers it seems will let almost anyone sort fruit at harvest time. But it takes a while before you get the chance to really taste through their wines and give input on blending decisions.
Blending trials are when you taste through every barrel that's ready for bottling, evaluate the qualities of each sample, and make decisions about what wines will go into which bottlings. They are also a physical and mental challenge.
They are the vinuous equivalent of three days of interviewing potential new hires. Add in a mouth that feels like you've eaten a dozen bowls of Capt'n Crunch and you might understand how you can feel at the end. Wine is the last thing you want with dinner, that's for sure.
So three of us took nearly two days to taste many dozens of barrel samples in small groups, sniffing and spitting, of course, again and again. Then we talked about the wines and rated them on a rough scale, and moved on to the next group. Again and again.
It was nerve-wracking to give completely off the cuff comments in this rapid fire tasting environment, especially when I went first, ticking off the wines, what I smelled and tasted, the texture, the balance, what flaws, and what rough quality level the sample seemed to be.
The winemaker of course always spoke last. But I was amazed at how well I felt I did, finding the obvious issues in a few samples and generally feeling like I knew what I was doing. Not that we didn't disagree on things. But I never felt lost, like I shouldn't be there. And I think that the other taster and I had some valuable things to contribute to the winemaker.
We spent the last day coming up with sample blends, which were interesting to blend in cylinders and taste through. One blend of 10 barrels tasted radically different from that same blend with one additional barrel. How could they be so different?
The winemaker mentioned how he finds blending non-linear, so that adding an acidic wine to a blend won't necessarily yield a more acid tasting wine. Or more tannic, or more fruity, or whatever you might want to "add" to a blend to improve it or otherwise affect it in a certain way.
In the end, we didn't make final blending decisions, though we did come up with some blends that might end up pretty close to the final bottlings. But what a tremendous experience for me, seeing how to conduct trials and prepare sample blends. Makes me want to make a bunch of my own wine and do this for myself.