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Jul 13, 200909:43 AM
Happy Hour

All there is to sip and savor in New Orleans

Misunderstood

Mario Alberto Magallanas Trejo

You have never in your lifetime, and this is no doubt true going back many, many generations, ever had a wine that was only one grape from one section of one vineyard.

I, of course, have no psychic powers, and, honest, have not been keeping track of what you’ve been drinking, but I feel quite safe in making that statement. And as for me feeling safe making any statement, that’s about the end of it.

Wines, even wines labeled cabernet sauvignon, or merlot, or sauvignon blanc, are always blends. Sometimes wines are blends of several grapes. And less frequently, wines are blends of the same grape from different plots within a vineyard.

But wines are always blends at some level or another.

Let’s take, as an example, a wine labeled cabernet sauvignon, from the Oakville region of Napa Valley in California, and noted that it came from the To Kalon Vineyard, a very famous place.

In order to state that on the label, the wine has to contain at least 85% of those grapes from that place. That leaves a full 15% of something else that can be put in that bottle, labeled that way, and still be able to call itself by the designation, cabernet sauvignon, To Kalon Vineyard.

This federal regulation gives the winemaker the opportunity to improve on the wine and to add other grapes, or maybe the same grape from other places, to bring more body, texture, aromas, whatever he/she thinks the wine needs to make it a truly memorable beverage. And the winemaker has not compromised the wine’s heritage, according to law. 

Yet, even within the To Kalon vineyard, a winemaker and a vineyard manager will keep separate the grapes that come from different parcels within the vineyard. They are sometimes picked at different times due to different ripening. They may be different from their neighboring plot due to different canopy management, which is the way the grape leaves are trimmed during the growing season to allow more or less sun time on the fruit. They may be different because of the way a weather pattern, such as a cold snap, moved across the vineyard. The soils may be slightly different, or the elevations varied, giving the fruit that characteristic from that particular place. And the grapes may even be different because the picking crew could not finish the work at a desired time and the fruit hung out there just a day or two longer than the winemaker would like.

The point is that different places within the same vineyard provide different outcomes.

It is the job of the winemaker to put together in the bottle the best possible product, and that takes using wines that came from grapes that were just….different when they arrived in the winery, so they were all kept and fermented with their own from the same place.

That, in the narrowest context, is still a blend, even though it is the same grape from essentially the same place.

Obviously when there is more than one grape type present in the wine that too is a blend. The winemaker determines what he wants his dominant grape to be and he starts moving from there to include other grapes at some percentage that add character or whatever is the goal that will be achieved.

Blending is really where the winemaker earns his/her paycheck. Growing grapes can be challenging, but most of that is due to nature and all the curveballs that she can throw at you over a period of many months with fruit that is fully exposed to the elements.

Blending is the art of controlling the final outcome with decisions made in the winery.

Specific blending decisions usually begin at some point after initial fermentation during the time the wine is resting in the barrels, or in the tanks, depending on what grapes are being turned into something we can enjoy. While in the barrels, the winemaker and his team assess what they have. Up to this point, some of that information gathering has been going on, but the immediate product after fermentation is not a joy to behold. You have to be a bit patient.

Now winemakers know their fields and they know the types of wine they want to make, which usually are those that sell off the shelves within the period of one year, when another younger wine of the same type will move in. In this regard, blending is not all about trial and error. There are “knowns” going into the blending process, including knowing what has happened in previous vintages with fruit from the same place.

Still, one mistake in blending messes everything up. You cannot go back and un-blend. And you only get one chance every year to make a wine. I have visions of bankers standing over winemakers going, “You’d better do this right.”

Probably the most outrageous example of blending is French champagne. Even some non-vintage French champagnes are blends of over 300 wines, chosen from grapes that started in different years and from different places. Can you imagine tasting through the current vintage of wine and making a decision about whether to use that wine now or hold on to it for another time? Then you have to decide how much aged wine from what different tanks to choose. And you have 270 tanks of wine from which to choose.

Then you assemble the wine that will make you proud and uphold the tradition of your champagne house.

Makes Rubik’s Cube look like child’s play.  
 

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Happy Hour

All there is to sip and savor in New Orleans

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In New Orleans, when the subject is wine and spirits, it is very difficult to leave Tim McNally out of the discussion. He is considered one of the “go to” resources in the Crescent City for counsel and information about adult beverages and their place in the fabric of life in this great city.

 

Tim is the Wine and Spirits Editor, columnist and feature writer for New Orleans Magazine; the Wine and Spirits Editor and weekly columnist, Happy Hour, for www.MyNewOrleans.com; the Executive Editor and monthly features writer for Gulf Coast Wine + Dine Online; creator and editor of his own website, www.winetalknola.com; all in addition to his daily hosting duties on the radio program, The Dine, Wine and Spirits Show, on the air at WGSO – 990AM, every weekday, 3- 5 p.m, and streamed live on www.wgso.com.

 

Over the years, Tim has proved to be an informed interviewer, putting his guests at ease, and covering tactile and technical information so that even a novice can understand difficult agricultural and production concepts. Tim speaks with winemakers, wine and spirit ambassadors, distillers, authors, people who stage events and festivals, and takes questions from listeners and readers, all seamlessly blended together in a program that is unique in America.

 

Tim’s love of wine actually came about many years ago from his then wife-to-be, Brenda Maitland, a noted journalist in her own right, and together they have traveled to the major wine producing areas in the US and Europe, seeking first-hand information about beverages that give us all so much pleasure.

 

They were instrumental in the founding of the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience, a major national and international well-regarded festival of its type. They both continue to be involved with the planning and staging of this multi-venue, five-day event now over twenty years old.

 

Tim is also considered one of the foremost professional wine judges in the US, being invited to judge more than 11 wine competitions each year, including the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition (the largest competition of American wines in the world, with more than 6,000 entries), the Riverside, CA International Wine Competition, San Francisco International Wine Competition, Atlantic Seaboard Wine Competition, Indiana International Wine Competition, Sandestin, Florida Wine Festival Competition, the State of Michigan Wine Competition, the U.S. National Wine Competition, and the National Wine Competition of Portugal.

 

Tim is a guest lecturer to many local wine and dine organizations, and speaks each year to the senior class in the School of Hotel and Restaurant Management at Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama.

 

Staying abreast of the news of the wine and spirits world is a passion for Tim, and he is committed to sharing what he knows with his listeners and readers. “Doing something I love, with products that I truly enjoy, created by interesting people, coupling the experience with culinary excellence, and doing it all in the greatest city in America,” are the words Tim lives by.

 

It’s a good gig. 

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