Beginner Blending Wine by Winemaker Chris Pallatto

Click. With just a few sips, something clicked, and our winemaking group became better wine tasters and, hopefully, better winemakers. Our group held our first blending summit to assess our 2019 varietals and make a legendary blend. This post is about our process for blending wine and lessons learned.

blending wine

Managing Expectations

To be clear, this is not an article for beginners by experts; rather, it chronicles our journey as beginners to become better winemakers. While I wish I could describe our wines with terms like “robust,” “fruit-forward,” or “hints of leather,” what I typically smell is just, well, wine. Bold and boozy, but just wine. Over the past year, our group’s goal has been to discuss and make notes of each tasting throughout the year and watch each varietal progress. As a spoiler, this blending experience did more for our collective palettes than any regular tasting.

Meet the wines:

  • Wine #1: 2019 Malbec from Lodi. pH 3.43, TA of 7.2, and ABV 13.2%. Malolactic fermentation complete. Bulk aged in steel. D254 yeast.
  • Wine #2: 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon from Lodi. pH 3.68, TA of 6, and ABV of 13.75%. Malolactic fermentation complete. Bulk aged in steel. D254 yeast.

Setting the stage

A recommended approach for blending is to assess each wine, make a note of the characteristics of each, and determine which wine would bring to the other and what it might be lacking. I’ve read a few different articles and feedback from winemaking groups that you should make tiny incremental adjustments of one or two percent until the blend is just right. We decided ahead of time that our group wasn’t likely to distinguish that difference and wanted to make bolder adjustments and refine if needed. I think the next time we do a blending, we’ll be ready for the first approach.

We marked and arranged plastic wine cups into rows of pre-determined blends for each taster with the 100% varietal on opposite ends of the row. We set up the rows as follows:

100% Cab

90/10 Cab/Malbec

75/25 Cab/Malbec

50/50 Cab/Malbec

25/75 Cab/Malbec

10/90 Cab/Malbec

100% Malbec

Let the tasting begin!

We wanted to stick with descriptors we could determine and collectively recognize as a group. Everyone tasted at the same time, and we went around our socially distanced circle and weighed in. We all sampled the Cab first, and it described it as very robust, with a long-lasting mouthfeel and high tannins. For a 10-month old wine, it’s ready to be bottled in a couple of months and will thrill its drinkers. We described the Malbec as “juicy” with lots of fruit flavor, a bit thinner, and young tasting with a hint of a green apple or astringent taste. We expect to bottle it happily in a couple of months, but suspect it will be much better in a year or two.

To a person, we agreed that the Cab was the star of the show. Interestingly, while we loved the Cab Sav as is, when we started to discuss what might make it better, we all arrived at the same conclusion. We anticipated that a bit of Malbec would add a bit of brightness to the Cab and round out the tannin mouthfeel.

After determining that we were leaning towards a Cab heavy blend, we tried the 50/50 blend. Universally, we agreed the astringent taste of the Malbec overpowered the Cab, and that blend was not better than either varietal on its own. It was also interesting to see that everyone picked up on the green apple or “young” taste of the Malbec.

We then tried the 90/10 Cab/Malbec blend and could distinguish a bit of the Malbec, but the addition did not make a substantial difference. We wanted to add a bit more fruit flavor and drop the tannins, so we agreed that this mixture wasn’t quite right. However, it was clear that we were heading in the right direction.

Lastly, well, almost lastly, we tried the 75/25 Cab/Malbec, and it was enjoyable. “Approachable” seemed like the perfect wine tasting descriptor. It was easy to drink and left a happy memory on your tongue. I prefer hoppy beers and tannin heavy wines but appreciate less dramatic flavor profiles.

We did try the more Malbec-y leaning blends, but for better or worse, we had made our minds up after the 50/50 blend that the sweet spot was going to be Cabernet Sauvignon heavy.

Next Steps

We bottled six gallons of our new “Calbec” blend and will let the wines mellow together for the next two months. Before bottling day, we may repeat and see how the stand-alone wines are maturing, particularly the young-tasting Malbec. We are also going to do a blind taste test with our wives on bottling day to see if there is a clear winner from an unbiased and willing audience.

Next year, I think we will be more intentional with our blends versus the pre-set blend levels. It was very telling that each of us collectively picked up the changes and agreed on the direction we wanted to go with the blend. If we were to incrementally move from the 100% Cab to the Cab blend by adding the Malbec, we’d end up where we needed to be. It was very enlightening to be critical of the wines and think of it in terms of each descriptor or profile as being on a scale.

There are certainly worse hobbies! I am not sure there is a right way or a wrong way, but the experience was certainly fun and a perfect reason to get the group together, taste our wine, and plan for our Fall pressing.

Chris Pallatto is an amateur winemaker and part of the Tight Knit wine group in Chester, CT, and a supporting member of the infamous DeFazio group in Prospect, CT.


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A White Wine Drinker’s First Shot at Tasting Red Wines

A White Wine Drinker’s First Shot at Tasting Red Wines

Christina has given me a few bottles of wine to stretch my tasting abilities and educate my nose and taste buds. Here’s how it went! My go-to’s have always been a sweet white or rosé, I haven’t really ventured out with reds mostly because the first red I had was gross and I figured all red wines were like that. I was definitely wrong! Note, I am a beginner at tasting red wines so these are very amateur notes.

The first wine Christina gave me to try was a 2018 Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon.

Ashley: I smell cherry the most, with kind of a plumy smell, and maybe prune; but cherry was the first thing I smelled.

Christina: Great! Next time think about what kind of cherry – Black cherry? Red cherry? Ripe cherry?

Ashley: It has a nice deep purple toned color to it and has no floaters.

Christina: Good, the browner the tinge of the wine the older the wine is.

Ashley: There’s no carbonation or fizz – I’m used to the wines I drink having bubbles or a little fizz to them.

Christina: Good! Fizz really only happens if the wine wasn’t taken care of or if it is a sparkling wine.

Ashley: It makes my mouth pucker at first but doesn’t leave my tongue dry for long, it goes away quickly.

Christina: If you salivate that means the wine is high in acid, if it dries out your mouth that means tannins are present. Sometimes people use the word “pucker” referring to both. Next time try to think about what is causing that feeling? Is it the salivation in your mouth like if you just tasted a bitter lemon, or is it the drying out of your mouth/chalky feeling in your mouth?

Ashley: Alcohol is pretty high!

Christina: Glad you picked up on this! Most Cabernets from Sonoma and Napa California are higher in alcohol.

Ashley: Kind of tastes like a Cigar.

Christina: That usually has to do with barrel aging or growing region; you find this characteristic a lot in red wines from Chile and Argentina. If you find it in a CA wine it’s usually due to barrel aging in a heavy toasted barrel.

Ashley: I pick up black pepper but it’s not strong.

Christina: I’m glad you thought about the type of pepper. That’s great. Try to be as specific as you can be.

Ashley: It’s easy to swallow but gives a hot feeling in my chest, kind of like if you drank something hot with cinnamon.

Christina: That is an indicator of high alcohol. Good job picking up on that!

Ashley: Kind of a charred taste, like eating the black burnt part of a marshmallow or pizza crust.

Christina: This has to do with the aging process of this wine. It sounds to me like it was a little “tight” and could have been laid down for a few more years so the balance of fruit and earth could shine through. Great specific description of what you tasted.

Ashley: It’s not something I would drink on a regular but it wasn’t terrible.

Christina: Great, you are figuring out what you like. Think about what type of food you would have this with and if it would change your perception of the wine.

Next was a 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon 169.

Ashley: This one gave a rush of burning through my nose upon first sip and swallo2. It reminds me of the sensation you get when you burp through your nose

Christina: This means it’s got a decent amount of alcohol in it.

Ashley: I definitely taste black pepper with this one; it’s very smooth, smoky and earthy. Kind of when you eat a vegetable right out of the garden without washing it and it has like dirt on it haha!

Christina: Haha those are good descriptors!

Ashley: It doesn’t seem to be too high in tannins, after a few sips my tongue started to dry out, but right off the bat I didn’t feel much dryness.

Christina: This means the tannins were balanced, soft, and supple.  That’s a good thing for red wines.

Ashley: I also got black cherry and plum in this one, though it is dry it kind of gave me the impression that it was going to be slightly sweet, because it smells like it but it definitely was not sweet.

Christina: This happens a lot with dry red wines; you get sweet notes on the nose but not on the palate. Good job picking up on the fruit aromas!

Ashley: Overall this is the first red wine I didn’t hate and would actually drink again! I definitely see myself enjoying it with a steak for dinner.

Christina: Wow that’s great!

The last wine I tried was a 2018 Chilean Malbec.

Ashley: Very earthy, I got that same dirt taste from the cab but it’s way more prominent with this one.

Christina: Good descriptors!

Ashley: It’s also very dry, significantly drier and higher in tannins than the cab 169. It dried my tongue out on the first sip and kind of made my throat feel dry too.

Christina: Perfect! Now you know the difference between medium/balanced tannins and high tannin wines.

Ashley: I do pick up on a black pepper, and get some licorice, some bitter blackberry as well. But the dirt taste is what my mouth captures first and sticks throughout the whole experience.

Christina: Okay good observations and descriptors!

Ashley: I wasn’t a fan of this one because the dirt taste was all I could focus on.

Christina: Good! You know now that you don’t like high tannin earthy wines.


The Cab 169 from Suisun Valley, CA definitely left an impression on me and I am going to explore with other wines from the similar region and see what else I can take a liking to! Overall this was a fun experience and I look forward to experimenting and broadening my wine horizons. A big thanks to Christina for being an awesome teacher, it’s looking like I’ll be a pro at tasting and winemaking in no time!

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