Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Blending a Winning Wine

One of the events that Chris and I look forward to participating in every year is the Consensus Blending sponsored by Keswick Vineyards in Virginia. This past weekend marked the fourth time that we have made the trek to the vineyard to participate.
Keswick Barrel Room
Ready for Consensus Blending

The task is to create the best tasting wine from the young wines that the winemaker provides as raw material. The event was held over three weekends this year allowing for about 360 members of the wine club to participate. Divided into teams of six people each, which allows for about ten teams on each day of the weekend, the teams come up with their best wine and enter it into the judging to become the Consensus Wine which will be produced, bottled, and sold by the winery.
Chris, Sue, George, Peggy, and Mark
The Team 

We went to the winery with a complete team, ready for the blending. Chris and I, and Mark and Peggy are veterans, while George and Sue were the rookies. But, we have gone in previous years on our own and just joined a table when we arrived. It is a pretty laid back start to the day.

This year, Stephen, the winemaker at Keswick, provided two different cabernet sauvignons, a norton, and a syrah as the raw material for blending. Seated in the always too cold barrel room and after a few opening remarks, the blending begins. Stephen says that we are doing in two hours wine blending that takes him six months.

But it is not just blindly blending wine. Or drinking wine for that matter. Each of the prospective wines in the blend must be evaluated for their strengths and weaknesses. Then the team decides upon a strategy to put the wines together to create a complete blends that had a nice aroma, good color, and a full flavor in the mouth. The hazards are many. Out table, for instance, appreciated wine that is dryer, while the most salable wines in America are fruitier and not as dry. The winners will create a wine that others will like and buy not necessarily one that we will like or buy.

Through seven different blends of the wines, we collectively decided upon the blend that we thought was the best of the wines provided. It, coincidently, was the third blend we created, but we had been unable to improve it through subsequent iterations.

Once all of the tables blend and submit their entrants, there is a break for lunch after which the judging begins. Each wine is judged by every table. A couple of ringers are added for control purposes and although there were only 8 tables on Sunday, we judged eleven wines--three of them were the same. It provided insight into how tough it really is to judge wine.

Did we win the day? No. We were a very close third--only four one hundredths of a point out of second place. The wine that won the day then entered the next stage of the competition against the other five day winning wines to become the 2012 Keswick Consensus Blend based upon average score.

In the end the real winner was everyone who participated. The wine craft learning and insight that I get every year is more that worth the trip. But more than that, it is just fun to be in the barrel room with the winemaker talking wine and blending and getting insight into how award winning wines are produced.

-- Bob Doan, Elkridge, MD

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