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DIY blends from cheapo wines


formerly grueldelux
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Do you ever mix two or more wines in a glass? Me neither, until I recently did a Charles Shaw taste test. Like a lot of people, I found them only barely drinkable but I found that when I mixed the cab with the merlot the result was much better than barely drinkable. This act was quite liberating, and I was left wondering why I never tried it before. Why, for example, I suffered through all those bad wines in the past when I probably could have come up with a tasty red wine cocktail if had only thought of it. Obviously I respect the winemaker's craft too much to consider this with any remotely serious wine, but with cheap ones I now feel no restrictions. If one wine is way too dense or oaky, for example, I'll lighten it up with some beaujolais or something with more fruit. I hosted an event for a couple of friends (all of us with only basic wine knowledge) and we had four different bottles from which we made a half dozen blends and then tasted, compared etc. It was a lot of fun.

With this I realized that I was actually learning something about wine in the process. It wasn't just a perverse frugality instinct run amok (because, you might ask, why wouldn't I just start with a better wine?). So what do you think? Is this a common practice? Does anyone else share this habit? And a question for the experts, is this sort of thing a part of a typical wine education? I suspect the main criticsm will be that making a blend from poor varietals won't teach you all that much. But what if it's done with good ones?

-michael

"Tis no man. Tis a remorseless eating machine."

-Captain McAllister of The Frying Dutchmen, on Homer Simpson

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I have seen people attempt to do the "chez cuvee" but it begets the question "Why are not you buying better balanced wines in the first place?"

Balance does not always imply costly. Balance can be found at any price point but it sometimes means inconveniencing yourself, instead of grabbing that two buck with your ten pounds of frozen shrimp and giant bag of dried cherries, drive once more, find a reputable wine merchant and let them help you buy a bottle that you won't have to doctor up when you get home.

over it

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There's a saying -- two wrongs don't make a right. Instead of two 750ml bottles of plonk, the best you can hope for is a 1.5L volume of almost plonk.

But, as you wrote, it's a fun thing to do. Once.

We cannot employ the mind to advantage when we are filled with excessive food and drink - Cicero

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I have seen people attempt to do the "chez cuvee" but it begets the question "Why are not you buying better balanced wines in the first place?"

Balance does not always imply costly. Balance can be found at any price point but it sometimes means inconveniencing yourself, instead of grabbing that two buck with your ten pounds of frozen shrimp and giant bag of dried cherries, drive once more, find a reputable wine merchant and let them help you buy a bottle that you won't have to doctor up when you get home.

This always assumes that you can find a reputable wine merchant within suitable driving distance and even then he's not necessarily tuned into your tastes or your wallet.

One of the joys (and hazards) of wine is that it is almost a living breathing substance so what is raw and tannic today is beautifully balanced tomorrow and just plain dull, if smooth, after that. And that assumes decent storage and presentation throughout. At many a tasting I have found wines at all price points which were fine as they were but would have benefited from a little "something" - fruit, tannin, weight, lightness, wood, whatever. Impromptu blends in the glass can often give a surprisingly good result, but also can ruin two decent wines if you get it wrong.

One of the strengths of the old French system was that they did the blending for you, culminating in Chateauneuf which can be a blend of practically everything. The modern trend for varietals means this balance of grapes is often missing and if you find one that is a little one-dimensional then the judicious addition of a wine with complementary properties can improve both.

Edited by britcook (log)
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I have seen people attempt to do the "chez cuvee" but it begets the question "Why are not you buying better balanced wines in the first place?" Balance does not always imply costly. Balance can be found at any price point but it sometimes means inconveniencing yourself, instead of grabbing that two buck with your ten pounds of frozen shrimp and giant bag of dried cherries, drive once more, find a reputable wine merchant and let them help you buy a bottle that you won't have to doctor up when you get home.

Yes it's sensible to seek out a reliable merchant to steer you to balanced wines, but I agree with britcook - it's inevitable that some bottles from even the most reputable merchants might benefit from a splash of something in the glass. It's peculiar to me that people are so reluctant to do this. They'd sooner pour a glass down the sink then try to make it more to their liking.

Can you concoct a decent table wine out of blend of $3-$5 wines? Is it instructive to try? Though Brad might be right that it's plonk in plonk out, I'm not yet convinced, and while I continue my experiments I'm thinking more critically about things like balance than I ever do when drinking a better bottle. Suppose I took the cheapo factor out of the equation. Suppose you started with a bunch of respected varietals in the $20-25 range. Do you think it would be instructive/intersting/fun to try to come up with a pleasing blend? I do.

-michael

"Tis no man. Tis a remorseless eating machine."

-Captain McAllister of The Frying Dutchmen, on Homer Simpson

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Can you concoct a decent table wine out of blend of $3-$5 wines? Is it instructive to try? Though Brad might be right that it's plonk in plonk out, I'm not yet convinced, and while I continue my experiments I'm thinking more critically about things like balance than I ever do when drinking a better bottle. Suppose I took the cheapo factor out of the equation. Suppose you started with a bunch of respected varietals in the $20-25 range. Do you think it would be instructive/intersting/fun to try to come up with a pleasing blend? I do.

I can see your point, and it's great that the experimentation is getting you to think more about balance (and perhaps other tasting elements), so the practice can't be discounted entirely. But I do think your education will reach a plateau (regardless of price point or wine quality going into the experiment), and that you'll learn more from tasting wines that are better produced next to ones that aren't more than you will doing the homemade cuvee thing.

As an aside, however, Kendall-Jackson used to have a blending event that they took to the public at-large through their distributors. The education session would consist of about 5 different out of barrel or tank chardonnay wines, and give the participant the opportunity to make his or her own blend using some or all five of the wines. Participants were given mini-graduated cylinder-like things to get more precise measurements in creating their various blends. It was a way for people to learn about tasting elements and their preferences.

Blending exercises are valuable to create many comparisons. In Champagne, there are master blenders responsible from producing a house cuvee that is consistent from year to year using base wines from multiple vintages and vineyards. In this particular case they are looking for a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts.

I didn't mean to poo-poo your experimentation since there is something to be learned from it. But I do think there is a ceiling to the return on investment.

We cannot employ the mind to advantage when we are filled with excessive food and drink - Cicero

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We do this quite often with "hostess gift" wine. Often people will give us Merlot when we host, which I generally don't like much, but if you mix it with the inexpensive cabernet I keep for the marinara sauce and it isn't so bad. Sometimes we suprise ourselves and it's quite good. Of course, sometimes it is REALLY bad too, but that is half the fun.

What's wrong with peanut butter and mustard? What else is a guy supposed to do when we are out of jelly?

-Dad

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I can see your point, and it's great that the experimentation is getting you to think more about balance (and perhaps other tasting elements), so the practice can't be discounted entirely.  But I do think your education will reach a plateau (regardless of price point or wine quality going into the experiment), and that you'll learn more from tasting wines that are better produced next to ones that aren't more than you will doing the homemade cuvee thing.

As an aside, however, Kendall-Jackson used to have a blending event that they took to the public at-large through their distributors.  The education session would consist of about 5 different out of barrel or tank chardonnay wines, and give the participant the opportunity to make his or her own blend using some or all five of the wines.  Participants were given mini-graduated cylinder-like things to get more precise measurements in creating their various blends.  It was a way for people to learn about tasting elements and their preferences.

Blending exercises are valuable to create many comparisons.  In Champagne, there are master blenders responsible from producing a house cuvee that is consistent from year to year using base wines from multiple vintages and vineyards.  In this particular case they are looking for a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts.

I didn't mean to poo-poo your experimentation since there is something to be learned from it.  But I do think there is a ceiling to the return on investment.

Interesting, thanks. I can see that the benefits will quickly plateau. Home cuvee aside, I still think it's odd that people, at least from my experience, are completely passive about the wine they drink, and way too reluctant to do anything to make a particular glass more pleasant . They'll either suffer through it or pour it out , but for some reason would never consider doing something even as simple as adding a tablespoon of water.

-michael

"Tis no man. Tis a remorseless eating machine."

-Captain McAllister of The Frying Dutchmen, on Homer Simpson

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I still think it's odd that people, at least from my experience, are completely passive about the wine they drink, and way too reluctant to do anything to make a particular glass more pleasant . They'll either suffer through it or pour it out , but for some reason would never consider doing something even as simple as adding a tablespoon of water.

I think this is because wine is considered a completed "work" or opus of the winemaker, vineyard and vintage. This is something that is respected and has historic relevance.

Of course this matters not at all when in comes to common everyday table wine. In Europe they do all kinds of things to these simple wines and adding water is normal. At the bars here in our town in Lombardia they serve cheap, frizzante Prosecco on tap. It is normal to "improve" this wine with a little Aperol or Campari and frankly adding them changes a pretty bad wine into a very pleasant aperitivo.

Blending "2 Buck Chuck" is a harmless exercise in fun and changes the wine in no important way because there is no important difference in flavor between the named varietal on the label. At the end of a party I would not hesitate to blend all the open bottles into one - what's the difference?

At the very least this kind of play is a good education for the palate as you see how the wine changes as you add a bit of this or that.

However, is there a really a difference in Charles Shaw Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. I think not.

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However, is there a really a difference in Charles Shaw Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. I think not.

I suspect not. When I was younger and drank wine from the cheapest bottles I could find, I remember running across several brands of California wines that seemed to taste identical across the brand no matter the varietal on the label. I recall bardolinos and valpolicellos that also seemed to have been bottled from the same casks. In the case of the latter it was a matter of the same grapes and the same style of making wine--or maybe the grapes from each district going into the same hopper and the resultant wine being bottled under separate labels in proportion to the tonnage from each district. Intellectually and ethically it didn't really matter, but I always bought a mixed case for variety. Having to choose between two identical wines with different labels was part of growing up and acting decisively :biggrin:

I'm assuming this blending exercise is not really using wines with any distinct terroir and there's no criminal loss in that regard. I'm wondering if the resultant blends are really better balanced, or just more to one's taste. At the higher levels of wines, I find most drinkers show some appreciation for most wines. At the bottom level, some personal taste preferences seem to make some wines acceptable to some and not to others.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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I have seen people attempt to do the "chez cuvee" but it begets the question "Why are not you buying better balanced wines in the first place?"

Balance does not always imply costly. Balance can be found at any price point but it sometimes means inconveniencing yourself, instead of grabbing that two buck with your ten pounds of frozen shrimp and giant bag of dried cherries, drive once more, find a reputable wine merchant and let them help you buy a bottle that you won't have to doctor up when you get home.

This always assumes that you can find a reputable wine merchant within suitable driving distance and even then he's not necessarily tuned into your tastes or your wallet.

One of the joys (and hazards) of wine is that it is almost a living breathing substance so what is raw and tannic today is beautifully balanced tomorrow and just plain dull, if smooth, after that. And that assumes decent storage and presentation throughout. At many a tasting I have found wines at all price points which were fine as they were but would have benefited from a little "something" - fruit, tannin, weight, lightness, wood, whatever. Impromptu blends in the glass can often give a surprisingly good result, but also can ruin two decent wines if you get it wrong.

One of the strengths of the old French system was that they did the blending for you, culminating in Chateauneuf which can be a blend of practically everything. The modern trend for varietals means this balance of grapes is often missing and if you find one that is a little one-dimensional then the judicious addition of a wine with complementary properties can improve both.

huh ? :wacko:

A meal without wine is... well, erm, what is that like?

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each to their own, but I find it ludicrous to think that home blending is improving an average bottle.

I don't think the issue is the value of the bottle either, surely you are taking something a little dull and making it worse.

what next, why not bring a little something to your favourite restaurant, perhaps some saved special sauce off your big mac would really give things that extra kick.

A meal without wine is... well, erm, what is that like?

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I suspect the main criticsm will be that making a blend from poor varietals won't teach you all that much. But what if it's done with good ones?

-michael

Hi Michael,

I think in this case, you would be wasting 2 good bottles of wine.

You might have heard of masterclasses/tasting sessions with champagne where the participants take the base wines and attempt to blend up their own NV's.

It's a lot of fun, but the one of the main purposes is really to show you how crap you are at it, and to leave it the experts. And this is with base wine, not a finished product as some have suggested.

If a white wine is unpleasant, you can add some soda water for a spritzer, if a red is a bit rough - hold your nose and guzzle!

A meal without wine is... well, erm, what is that like?

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each to their own, but I find it ludicrous to think that home blending is improving an average bottle.

I don't think the issue is the value of the bottle either, surely you are taking something a little dull and making it worse.

what next, why not bring a little something to your favourite restaurant, perhaps some saved special sauce off your big mac would really give things that extra kick.

I don't think anybody is suggesting this sort of exercise at a restaurant, only either at a tasting or at home. I don't know about you but I'm always trying new wines, a few, very few, make it onto the regular purchase list, but it does mean that I come across wines that are not all that they might be. If I've got other wine around that may be complementary a blend in the glass may be an improvement, maybe not. No big deal either way, I don't think we should be put off from the occasional experiment but on the other hand I wouldn't base my wine buying policy on being able to "improve" whatever I bought.

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Dale De Groff mixes a couple of spirits and is a genius.

But mix a couple of different wines, and you are a philistine?

What is the difference?

The difference is that liquors are, for the vast majority, *intended* to be mixed.

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I hope no one takes offense at my shouting, but give me a break! There is nothing magical about the winemaker's art. Anyone who thinks blending a plonk Merlot with a plonk Cab has little chance of improving on either wine clearly hasn't tried it. The wine in the bottle is not a gift from god of recieved liquid, but rather food. Michael, do whatever the heck you want with the wine you drink! If it tastes better, do it. Not to single you out, Bux, but talk about a "criminal" loss of terroir is just the sort of thing that gives wine geeks an image of taking everything way too seriously. Perhaps I haven't drunk enough expensive Burgundy to develop the appropriate reverence for terroir, but I just don't see how wine, alone among all beverages, is wholly unsuitable for blending, when winemakers do it all the time.

Furthermore, the varietal straitjacket does, IMO, reduce the complexity of a wine. Most 100% C.S. I've tried are a little monotonous. I can easily see how they would be improved by a bit of table blending.

Walt

Walt Nissen -- Livermore, CA
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I hope no one takes offense at my shouting, but give me a break! There is nothing magical about the winemaker's art. Anyone who thinks blending a plonk Merlot with a plonk Cab has little chance of improving on either wine clearly hasn't tried it. The wine in the bottle is not a gift from god of recieved liquid, but rather food. Michael, do whatever the heck you want with the wine you drink! If it tastes better, do it. Not to single you out, Bux, but talk about a "criminal" loss of terroir is just the sort of thing that gives wine geeks an image of taking everything way too seriously. Perhaps I haven't drunk enough expensive Burgundy to develop the appropriate reverence for terroir, but I just don't see how wine, alone among all beverages, is wholly unsuitable for blending, when winemakers do it all the time.

Furthermore, the varietal straitjacket does, IMO, reduce the complexity of a wine. Most 100% C.S. I've tried are a little monotonous. I can easily see how they would be improved by a bit of table blending.

Walt

Walt,

I don't really know what to say to this very individual opinion, other than that I am somewhat dumbfounded by your attempt to debunk things I don't get the feeling you fully grasp. Your comments about terroir are curious.

No one said winemaking is magical, in fact it's quite the opposite - highly scientific and technical. If it were some nebullous, high falutin' idea I could agree with you much more easily. but I don't.

These wines are finished products, blending occurs well before this time. If Gallo or charles shaw thought blending the 2 wines would help, they would have. But let's not head down that road, it gets into too much 2nd hand presumption.

Perhaps it's easier if I explain it this way: a finished wine - particularly at this level, has had the tannin, sugar, and acid adjusted, often various sulphites are added, maybe it will also be flash pasteurised to meet a certain technical levels of specification and ensuring basic balance and stability. this is already done, you put 2 wines together and almost certainly the balance of the wine will be wrong.

last I checked I didn't enjoy unbalanced wines a great deal.

Edited by Scott (log)

A meal without wine is... well, erm, what is that like?

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