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I Want To Be a Master Wine Blender…When I Grow Up

What does it take to be a master wine blender? A lot of patience and anxiety, it seems. USQ hosted winemaker Andy Erickson, known for his work at for Ovid, Arietta, Screaming Eagle, Dalla Valle, Dancing Hares, and his own label, Favia, for an Art of Blending seminar. The interactive session, complete with five barrels samples of 2011 Napa Valley grapes, pitted three “teams” against one another to come up with unique red wine blends based on Erickson’s own Leviathan. Oh! And USQ made a blend too.

If you want to be a master blender, start off by perfecting your palate. Then gather a bunch of beakers and brush up on chemistry. Might want to learn the metric system. And math, you know, since the percentages of each grape in the blend should add up to 100 percent. After tasting through barrel samples (so fresh they haven’t even been RACKED yet) of Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and two clones of Cabernet Sauvignon (191 and 337, for the record), Erickson discussed the attributes of each with the group. He mixed a blend on the spot, but assured us that the final percentages always change, as the wines each evolve in their French oak barrels.

On group wanted more Cab Franc and another pushed for Merlot, while the third group wanted a blend much like Erickson’s. USQ? We said toss in 45 percent Syrah (!) just to mix it up. We ended up with a selection of shockingly different wines, each with their own pros and cons. The key to balance is working with blending ideas throughout the aging time, so by the final round, you have some idea how each grape’s elements change over time. Our blend featured a bit too much Syrah for elegant balance, but hey, never know how the Syrah will taste in a few months!