by Markus Stolz

Wine
blends

byMarkus Stolz
March 27, 2012, 10 Comments

I am thrilled to have Konstantinos Lazarakis MW on board again with a guest post. His past articles on elloinos were highly educational and gave in depth information on a variety of topics concerning Greek wine. In today’s posting, he asks some intriguing questions that invite a discussion on a more general subject:

During Oinorama 2012, the biggest wine trade fair in Greece, WSPC and I were invited to host a series of seminars for exhibitors and guests, featuring a variety of topics. All seminars were sold out and a number of people already asked to repeat these tastings. I personally presented two of those: one for “natural wines” in Greece, which deserves a different post, and one on “inter-national blends”.

The idea behind the second seminar was this: we selected three pairs of Greek wines. The first pair was a Vidiano 2011 from the Douloufakis winery in Crete and a Sauvignon Blanc 2011 from Avantis Estate in Evia. The second pair consisted of a Santorini Assyrtiko 2011 from Domaine Sigalas and a Malagousia 2010 from Domaine Gerovassiliou in Macedonia, while the last pair was totally Macedonian: Xinomavro Old Vines Amintaio 2007 from Alpha Estate and Tempranillo 2007 from Pavlidis Estate.

Each pair of wines was presented to the participants in five variations: Two of these were the “original, pure” wines, while the other three were 75/25, 50/50 and 25/75 blends of the two varietals that made up each pair. The tasting order within each pair was different and all wines, even the pure ones, were decanted.

Participants tasted all five wines within each flight and asked to pick their least favourite wine. After voting, the wine with the most votes was eliminated and people re-tasted the four remaining wines. This was repeated until one wine was left. The winners were the 75/25 Vidiano/Sauvignon Blanc, the 75/25 Malagousia/Santorini and the 50/50 Xinomavro/Tempranillo. It is interesting to note that all “winners” were blends and the “pure” wines were ranked either third, fourth or fifth.

In the closing remarks, I asked participants whether they would be happy to eat every day in a restaurant where all foods were served raw. Most said no. Would they be happy to drink straight spirits as well as cocktails prepared from skilful mixologists? All answered yes. There are several alcoholic drinks that are masterpieces in their own right, but we do not blink an eye when bar tenders use them as ingredients in their recipes. Then, why not wine?

Wine consumers are traditionally obsessed with “purism”, that might seem extremely conservative to outsiders. Would you be willing to taste a “house pour”, carefully prepared by a skilled sommelier? Water blends have been around for a couple of decades now. Producers have been doing that for quite a long time, (just look on Australian cross-regional blending or the old Hermitagé Bordeaux discussion) but what about giving power to the other end of the distribution channel?

How many of us are ready to hear a Sommelier asking: “here is our wine list but may I suggest that you try one of my five trademark blends? For the dish you selected I highly recommend Red Blend No. 3, an elegant wine based on Volnay 1990 from Lafarge, a good portion of Sassicaia 1985 and a top note of Grange 1977″?

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  1. NicolasMarch 28, 2012, 1:28 am

    If Bordeaux can be considered as a reference, the norm would be blended wines. Great Bordeaux are usually an assembly of 2 or 3 varieties. I would expect the winemakers to figure out by themselves the ideal blend and fill their bottles out of it. These are the bottles that we should eventually find on the wine lists of our preferred restaurant, thanks to its sommelier.

    It’s a fact that where I live (quite conservative Belgium), French wines (from all regions) are still the obvious number 1 choice and single variety wines are still often considered as the simplistic creations of the new world wineries to cater for customers with a limited “wine culture” and price sensitive.

    This being said, the new world wine approach has initiated an evolution in French wine world, where single variety wines are more common and marketed as such. Interestingly, even some Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines can now be found as single variety wines.

    As a conclusion, I would just repeat my expectation to see winemakers make the best out of their grapes, be it a blend or not. Make us great wines, that’s all we ask ! And remember, one’s palate is not someone else’s palate.

    Now, wine cocktails made on the spot, that’s another question that I will leave to “avant-gardistes” amateurs.

  2. Yiannis PapadakisMarch 28, 2012, 11:08 am

    One parameter that differentiates wine from other alcoholic drinks is the fact that with wine the “sense of place” or “somwhereness” element is paramount. Of course nobody can forbid anyone to create wine cocktails (as a matter of fact I have done it a couple of times with the remains of various wine bottles), but I would not suggest calling this “wine”. There is a romantic dimension in the way we winelovers see wine that cannot be ignored.

  3. Stellios BoutarisMarch 28, 2012, 8:54 pm

    Well, I guess competition is getting even harder! Now we dont have to compete only with other wineries but with our customers,as well! On the other hand, it was us, wineries who started opening up restaurants…The way I see it is the more things happening for wine, the better for wine! Whatever can create a discussion over wine at a dinner table is welcomed! The more people are engaged into wine, the more and better wine will be drunk! Does a sommelier has the guts to go out and sell his own blend, good for him!

  4. Konstantinos Lazarakis MWMarch 29, 2012, 2:44 pm

    There is a huge part of what we often call as “wine culture” that is extremely simplistic in the way we view wine itself. A romantic dimension of wine is essential to some parts of the market, but not in others.

    The sense of place is a huge subject but I will only ask: Is that sense of place more important than quality itself? For me, the “data” of a wine is its smell and taste, everything else is “meta-data”, that can be both adding or taking away from the whole experience, depending on numerous reasons.

    Finally, I think that context has to play an important role on experiments like that. Would you be happy to taste a “house blend” in a local restaurant with the same ease you would in trying a “Ferran fav mix” in the late El Bulli?

  5. Steve SchranMarch 31, 2012, 7:26 pm

    Context, please, large and small.

    Large: Should I infer that part the purpose of this post, if not the initial exercise itself, is to address the marketing question: is it wise to blend non-Greek varietals into Greek varietal wines? That folks (unsurprisingly) like blends and also familiar flavors remains to me a weak argument for diluting, not purity, but identity.

    Small: Also, I am curious as to whether this tasting exercise was conducted blind? I am assuming that it must have been, as the tasters rejected two iconic Greek wines in the second flight. But given that, I am rather surprised. I would have thought that such a group would either have recognized the Sigalas and Gerovassiliou offerings outright or, if not the specific producers, at least the varieties and voted for “purity” on that account alone. Strange.

    Finally, let me offer a remark that I don’t intend to be interpreted as cynical. And that is that it really isn’t that hard at all to blend finished wines, such that the blend is perceived by many and most as an “improvement” on the constituents. As illustrated above (and theoretically grounded) averages are generally preferred to extremes. Thus, Assyrtiko has great structure, malgousia brings beautiful aromas and a lush mouth feel, splash some of each in a glass and abracadabra, a superior product! But is it?

    To me, it is an illusion that any real value would be added by your average sommelier/bartender/waiter/busboy mixing finished wines. It would provide an opportunity to pad drink markups, to be sure, but add real value? (OK, that was cynical.)

  6. Konstantinos Lazarakis MWApril 1, 2012, 3:10 pm

    Some comments on Steve’s points.
    – The tasting was of course blind.
    – The people participating in the seminar were visitors to a wine trade fair and most of them were my students, at my WSET school in Greece. So, we are talking about people that have been exposed to the great as well as funky wine styles of the world. People that have been willing to spend hundreds if not thousands of euros for their wine knowledge. So, not your average wine drinker.
    – We mixed Greek wines made from either Greek or non-Greek varietals. This is extremely common in Greece and actually there are many people that believe this option has a place in promoting and pushing Greek wines up a level. In fact, the Tempranillo-Xinomavro was so interesting that I would highly suggest Macedonian estates to try it out!
    – These comments make me think whether we, wine people, are over-infatuated with identity and character. We have, I have!, every right to place these values as the cornerstone of our system of oeno-axioms, but we always have to keep in mind that, no matter how we view things, this view might be applicable to only a part of the global wine industry. Quite possibly a small part of it.
    – I suggested a tool and people might dump it down just because of the possibilities of being misused, largely assuming that bad intentions will prevail. Although this is a valid way of seeing things, I would expect people to understand that it is not the only way of seeing things.
    – No trouble being cynical with Greeks. Let me remind you that cynicism is a Greek word.

  7. [...] Το κρασί είναι εκτός συναγωνισμού καθώς δυστυχώς δεν εισάγεται ακόμα στην Ελλάδα, τονίζω το ακόμα αφού θέλω να πιστεύω ότι η αντίστροφη μέτρηση για τον ερχομό του έχει ήδη ξεκινήσει. Έχω ξαναγράψει για το εκπληκτικό οινοποιείο Borovitza στο tasting 1970. Το κρασί δοκιμάστηκε στο σεμινάριο για τα ”φυσικά κρασιά” του Κωνσταντίνου Λαζαράκη MW και αποτελεί την πρώτη ”γροθιά” στο στομάχι. Μόλις 12.4% αλκοόλ με 24 μήνες βαρέλι που άντε να το βρεις…Απαλό κόκκινο με σχεδόν καφετί μηνίσκο. Αέρινη και ανθώδης μύτη με κόκκινο κεράσι, σμέουρα, νότες φυτικότητας και γλυκά μπαχαρικά. Σε στυλ Volnay στο στόμα, κομψό με μεταξένιες ταννίνες εξαιρετικής ποιότητας και φρέσκια οξύτητα. Από τον κλώνο Dijon 777. Ένα κρασί που σε κάνει να αναρωτιέσαι…Όσον αφορά τη δεύτερη ”γροθιά” θα αναλυθεί εκτενώς εκτός απροόπτου την επόμενη εβδομάδα και θα αφορά το ”πείραμα”Δια-χαρμανιώνελληνικών κρασιών και ποικιλιών. Μέχρι τότε μπορείτε να ενημερωθείτε και να προβληματιστείτε διαβάζοντας την ανάρτηση του κ.Λαζαράκη στο Wine blends: Skillful art or dilution of purity? [...]

  8. Steve SchranApril 6, 2012, 8:11 pm

    Konstantino, a belated follow up on the tasting. I am curious, assuming you spoke to the participants after the fact, how many were able to either identify the labels of the source wines in Flight 2, or at least were able to recognize the varietal (and appellation). Assuming there were some, what fraction of those preferred the “pure” vs. the blends.

    Thanks,

    Steve

  9. Konstantinos Lazarakis MWApril 9, 2012, 4:38 pm

    Steve,

    Some people tried to turn into a guessing game but I tried to make people just to taste the wines and get their preferences out.

    The second pair you suggest was an extremely interesting one, because Santorini was extremely pale and Malagousia was quite deep, with the blends showing colours between the twp extremes. One taster could re-arrange the glasses from deeper to paler and come up with the 100-75/25-50/50-25/75-100 line up. I do not think that anyone did however.

    The very few people that were able to identify the pure vs the blends had a clear preference for the pure examples.

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  2. [...] Το κρασί είναι εκτός συναγωνισμού καθώς δυστυχώς δεν εισάγεται ακόμα στην Ελλάδα, τονίζω το ακόμα αφού θέλω να πιστεύω ότι η αντίστροφη μέτρηση για τον ερχομό του έχει ήδη ξεκινήσει. Έχω ξαναγράψει για το εκπληκτικό οινοποιείο Borovitza στο tasting 1970. Το κρασί δοκιμάστηκε στο σεμινάριο για τα ”φυσικά κρασιά” του Κωνσταντίνου Λαζαράκη MW και αποτελεί την πρώτη ”γροθιά” στο στομάχι. Μόλις 12.4% αλκοόλ με 24 μήνες βαρέλι που άντε να το βρεις…Απαλό κόκκινο με σχεδόν καφετί μηνίσκο. Αέρινη και ανθώδης μύτη με κόκκινο κεράσι, σμέουρα, νότες φυτικότητας και γλυκά μπαχαρικά. Σε στυλ Volnay στο στόμα, κομψό με μεταξένιες ταννίνες εξαιρετικής ποιότητας και φρέσκια οξύτητα. Από τον κλώνο Dijon 777. Ένα κρασί που σε κάνει να αναρωτιέσαι…Όσον αφορά τη δεύτερη ”γροθιά” θα αναλυθεί εκτενώς εκτός απροόπτου την επόμενη εβδομάδα και θα αφορά το ”πείραμα” Δια-χαρμανιών ελληνικών κρασιών και ποικιλιών. Μέχρι τότε μπορείτε να ενημερωθείτε και να προβληματιστείτε διαβάζοντας την ανάρτηση του κ.Λαζαράκη στο Wine blends: Skillful art or dilution of purity? [...]