How I Blend Wines

updated 06/09/2024

While my “white papers” are (mostly) scientifically based, anything in the “Mental Meanderings” category is more a matter of opinion. This post is in the “I’m not sure” category, so I posted under Mental Meanderings.

A common question among home winemakers: How does one blend wines?

I mean beyond the basics of pouring varying amounts of wines 1 through X into a beaker. How is the decision making executed?

This post explains my method.

Note: I’m not a professional winemaker. I am strictly an “uneducated” amateur. What I know was gained from practical experience, research, and discussions with other winemakers.


While I supposed blending can be attempted in a scientific fashion, using various measurements, I go entirely by taste.

Soapbox time (which is why this post is in Mental Meanderings).

If I check pH at bottling time, it’s curiosity and learning. I see no point in achieving the “perfect” pH if I don’t like the wine. Ditto for total acid and any other measurement people consider.

The big problem with using measurements as a guide is that the various constituents of a wine work together — or not — to produce the aroma and taste. Alcohol level (Alcohol By Volume, ABV), total acid, pH (ionization level of the acid), sugar, “body”, and other factors must work together, so if one is high, another may need to be low (or high) to balance or complement it.

Individual numbers will never tell the story, so I smell and taste. It helps that I’ve been doing this for decades and learned to trust my own senses to make good decisions.

/soapbox


It makes the most sense to simply explain what Eric & I did when we bottled the 2022 Grenache and Tempranillo. Both wines were barrel aged in neutral barrels for 12 months.

Additionally we made a blending wine we call “Rhone Blend”, composed of equal parts Mourvèdre, Petite Sirah, and Syrah. The original plan  was to blend it into the Grenache and possibly into the Tempranillo. If any was leftover, we’ll bottle it on its own. This wine was aged in glass.

Note: Sample measurements below are in ml (metric), as it’s easier to measure than working in fractions of an ounce. Besides, the medical  syringes are marked in metric.

Preparation

The same initial procedure is used for all wines:

Homogenize the wine: Since wine has no convection currents, the wine in different parts of a container can be different, especially if an oak adjunct such as cubes are used, e.g., the wine around the oak will be oakier. Also, it’s common to have a fine bit of sediment, and we want to rack off that. Plus we have multiple containers that need blending. The wine from each container is racked into a large primary — we have 32 gallon Rubbermaid Brutes that work great for our batch sizes.

I leave a bit behind in each container, to ensure we don’t suck up sediment. When bottling a 23 liter carboy, this method produces 29 clear bottle and 1 that may be a bit muddy. This one is used first, commonly for cooking. Note that a bit of sediment in the bottle is unsightly, but it’s fine to drink. I think of it as extra roughage …

Add K-meta — We add K-meta shortly after the first siphon starts, and stir periodically during the rack to ensure it’s distributed evenly.

Add Glycerin — We add glycerin to improve body and mouthfeel, and to smooth rough edges of the wine. Glycerin is thick and doesn’t like to dissolve, so we measure it in a sanitized cup, hold it inside the receiving container, and direct the siphon hose into the cup to dilute the glycerin and overflow it into the wine. Using this method we rinse the cup with wine several times. There is always a film remaining, but we get as much as we can.

The periodic stirring (mentioned above) helps ensure the glycerin is well distributed. At this point the wine is ready to bottle.

Tempranillo

We decided to bottle the Tempranillo first. Using the above method, we prepped both the Tempranillo and the Rhone Blend.

Note: During the last 3 months we were out of top up for the Tempranillo — beyond the barrel we had a 12 liter carboy full. I didn’t feel like breaking it up, so we have topped up with the Rhone Blend. The Tempranillo is not 100% pure, but the addition is relatively small — 4 bottles in 17 gallons, which is about 4%.

We decided to try 5%, 10%, and 15% blends. Using a medicine syringe (not the needle kind) we created 4 samples:

  • 30.0 ml Tempranillo
  • 28.5 ml Tempranillo + 1.5 ml Rhone Blend (5%)
  • 27.0 ml Tempranillo + 3.0 ml Rhone Blend (10%)
  • 25.5 ml Tempranillo + 4.5 ml Rhone Blend (15%)

Note: I don’t try to fine-grain blend the wines too much. Our measurements are not as precise as needed for that, and I’m not convinced my tastebuds are educated enough to know the difference between 4% and 5% of a blending wine. So we use 5% increments.

Then we tasted the four samples, discussing as we tasted.

We really like the Tempranillo as-is, noting that it’s got a heavy tannin in the finish that will require bottle time to soften.

We also like the 5% blend, as the Rhone tones down the tannin, adds complexity, and will make it drinkable sooner.

In the 10% and 15% blends, the Rhone overshadows the Tempranillo instead of complementing it.

We changed plans at this point. Since we like the 100% Tempranillo as-is, we bottled 3 cases of it, and bottled the remainder (4 cases) as the 5% blend. Yes, I realize that the 5% blend is actually 9% because of topup wine.

The final decision on what to bottle was made solely by taste, e.g., which wine(s) did we like the most. The discussion about each sample helped us each think it through.

Grenache

We used the same procedure as the Tempranillo. And we also ran out of topup wine for the barrel, having a full 19 liter carboy that I didn’t want to break up (yes, I’m lazy), so the last 3 months we used Rhone Blend.

Because we expected to use more of the Rhone Blend, we did five samples:

  • 30.0 ml Grenache
  • 28.5 ml Grenache + 1.5 ml Rhone Blend (5%)
  • 27.0 ml Grenache + 3.0 ml Rhone Blend (10%)
  • 25.5 ml Grenache + 4.5 ml Rhone Blend (15%)
  • 24.0 ml Grenache + 6.0 ml Rhone Blend (20%)

Oddly enough, we liked the Grenache as-is, and decided we’d bottle some without additional blending.

We also agreed that the 20% blend wasn’t quite right. So we made two additional blends:

  • 22.5 ml Grenache + 7.5 ml Rhone Blend (25%)
  • 21.0 ml Grenache + 9.0 ml Rhone Blend (30%)

We settled on the 25% as the best blend; with the 30% the Rhone Blend dominated the Grenache. In the 25% the Grenache nose and aftertaste are still distinctive.

The final result was that we bottled 3 cases of 100% Grenache and 6.5 cases of the 25% blend. This batch is larger because there is a lot more of the Rhone Blend in it.

Remainder

When done we had about 3/4 gallon each of the Grenache and Rhone Blend left over, so I simply mixed them and bottled 1/2 case of a 50/50 blend.

The original intention was to produce 2 main wines with some of the Rhone Blend mixed in, and bottle any remaining Rhone Blend as-is. The final result was 5 different wines.

This post is based on a post I made on WineMakingTalk, and at the time I wrote it (November 2023) I was drinking a half bottle of a Frankenwine that has all of the above in it — I have absolutely no idea what the proportions are, but wish I had a few cases of it. This came out really good!

2 Responses

  1. Do you ever come up with a blend in sample but don’t actually have enough Grenache or whatever to make that blend? The reason I ask is my wife and I went to an alumnae event at a winery. The vintner was an alum and so we really went behind the scene and made a blend with our own label. We didn’t have as much Cab Franc as we wanted.

    • I haven’t had that happen, as when I’m blending I’m focused on my base wine and adding to it. It wouldn’t occur to me to try other blends that I lack materials to create.

      Having only 1 case of the results of a great blending? THAT has happened.

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