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Blending Makes Perfect

Ever wonder how Virginia wine makers come up with the combinations for their Bordeaux-style blends?  These blends may be recognizable to readers as Meritage blends, but these are indeed Bordeaux-style blends.  To be considered a Meritage (or Bordeaux blend), a wine must consist of a combination of any or all of these varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot.  No single varietal can make up more than 50% of the blend. Readers may recall that we attempted to blend a Cabernet Franc at Sunset Hills, but this time we decided to test our blending talents at Gray Ghost Vineyards.  Our challenge here was to produce a Bordeaux-style blend that would mimic Gray Ghost Vineyards’ award-winning Ranger Reserve.  Of course, this challenge required tasting, blending, and then more tasting; needless to say, we were eager to participate!

Our session was conducted by winemaker Al Kellert who began the session with a brief history of the Bordeaux varietals.  This was very informative, and I learned that Petit Verdot was the earliest of these varietals to be planted in France. This may have occurred in a time before the contemporary era (or BC for traditionalists).  Also, Al answered the question that many participants may have wanted to ask—why blend?  Wine makers blend for a number of reasons—one good reason may be to hide flaws of certain individual wines especially during poor vintages. However, another reason to blend is to create a “whole that is better than the parts”.  This last reason suggests an artistic component to the process, and it is one that Al Kellert embraces as a winemaker.  In fact, The Gray Ghost Reserve is the end result of at least 15 different blends that are tasted at different intervals in the aging process.  The winning combination is one that has met a predetermined goal—a blend of all five varietals that harmonizes the best qualities of each so that no one varietal dominates over the others.

Our task, then, was to create a blend that met the criteria for a Bordeaux-style wine.  We were not informed of previous blends used by Al to produce the Ranger Reserve, so participants were not pre-disposed to produce a blend that mirrored Al’s previous products.  We began with bottle samples of each Bordeaux varietal, and these samples produced from estate-grown fruit—even the Malbec.  After these individual samplings, we were then charged to create our own blends.  My own favorite of the single varietal samples was the 2008 Merlot with its fruit-driven profile; I decided that this one would be my “headliner.”  However, the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon provided backbone with its darker fruit characteristics, nice tannic structure and longer finish.  I ultimately decided that this one would be my co-star with the others acting as supporting cast members.  The supports added various degrees of smoke, spice, and berry fruits would complement the mix; so, armed with pipettes and a beaker I blended away!

So what did I create?  I must say that I was quite pleased with my end results.  I actually finished two blends, and both were dominated by the Merlot.  My first blend started with 30% Merlot with equal parts Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, but I opted to kick up the Merlot a notch to 40% in my second blend.  It was my second blend that I preferred. With this one, I also added in more Cabernet Sauvignon, decreased the Cabernet Franc a notch but added more Petit Verdot.  A relative splash of Malbec finished off my second blend.  As a result, I accomplished my goal, and I created a layered, fruit-driven yet complex blend that included dark fruit flavors, earthy/spicy aromas, and a generous finish.  And the color was dense to boot!

Of course, I was not alone at the blending table, and Paul was busy concocting his own vintner’s special.  I’ll let him describe his own process and results.  However, I will close by noting that I was very surprised at the quality of Al Kellert’s  Malbec.  In fact, more than one blender at our table featured the Malbec as the dominant varietal. This is a tough grape to grow in Virginia, and the Gray Ghost Vineyard has very few Malbec vines planted in it.  What little is produced each year is used in the Ranger Reserve, so an individual bottling would not be possible.  (There were requests to plant more Malbec, though!)

What were Paul’s blends?  How did we compare to the ultimate champion, Al Kellert?  I’ll let Paul provide those details.  In the meantime, plan a visit to Gray Ghost Vineyards, and mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.

Gray Ghost Barrel Tasting

Before our trip to Charlottesville we attended the barrel tasting at Gray Ghost Vineyards, in my opinion the most medaled winery in Virginia. Have you checked out the medals they’ve been winning lately?

At the barrel tasting, Al Kelert opened the barrel room and a few barrels to allow us to taste certain wines in their current state. We started with the 2009 Chardonnay. We noted apple and tropical fruit flavors. We can’t wait for this one to make it in the bottle.

We moved onto the reds and started with the 2009 Merlot. We noted lots of cherry, smoke, and smooth tannins. I’ll be getting a case of this one when it is released. We then moved on to the 2009 Cabernet Franc. Here we noted raspberry fruit and smooth tannins. Another one I’ll be adding to my case list.

Next up were the two 2008 Cabernet Sauvignons…one in French oak and one in American oak. The French oak presented bright berry fruit flavors on the nose and on the palate. We noticed smooth tannins. The American oak was a bit more tannic and presented blackberry fruit, and a spicy edge. Warren wrote down chewy tannins. We were then able to blend the two together. The blend consisted of 60% from the French oak barrel and 40% from the American oak barrel. This made an amazing blend. The two compliment each other. The blend softened the tannins and brought out the fruit. Warren noticed some smoke as well. We look forward to this one making it in the bottle in the future.

After the barrel tasting we had a regular tasting conducted by Amy. We were able to taste the most recent releases: the 2009 Riesling, the 2009 Vidal Blanc, and the 2009 Adieu. All of the wines were wonderful and made it difficult for us to pick a wine for lunch. We finally decided on the 2008 Chardonnay. It went well with our grilled chicken. We finished the day with the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon with a handful of chocolate kisses…SO GOOD! If you haven’t been to Gray Ghost lately, you need to plan to visit them soon. And if you do, tell them Virginia Wine Time sent you!

Cabernet and Chocolates

On Sunday we went to Gray Ghost for their annual Cabernet and Chocolates event. Warren’s sister, her husband, and their son were visiting from New Orleans. After a regular tasting we headed back to the tank room to enjoy some reds with lots of chocolate. It was a great way to spend Valentines Day. Here are a few pictures for the event.

Friday Night Pour

Friday nights are meant for pizza. And what better way to enjoy that pizza then with a bottle of the 2008 Gray Ghost Merlot. Big cherry and smooth tannins. You can’t go wrong with this one.

Holiday Open House

Last Sunday we went to Gray Ghost for their yearly Holiday Open House. We had a wonderful time tasting all the wines and enjoying all the nibbles. We also enjoyed all the decorations. We were lucky enough to visit on the day after the first major snow of the season. Looks like someone else was there on the same day!

Here are some pictures from the event.

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Elegant Evening at Gray Ghost Vineyards

We never miss the release party for the Gray Ghost Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon; this special wine is only produced from the best vintages, and this year’s release featured the 2006 harvest. As always, the Kellerts treated guests to a fabulous evening of wine, dinner, dessert, jazz and more wine!

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The 2006 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon is produced from free-run juice and aged in French oak for three years. The result is a rich, complex wine that presents black berries and dark cherries to the nose and mouth; I detected a layer of dark chocolate, too. Expect a lengthy finish, too! Already awarded 13 medals including a platinum and several golds, this limited production wine will sell out quickly!

And so what sacrificial creatures were served with this opulent wine? Prime rib served with horseradish sauce, pork tenderloin, and Chesapeake crab cakes. Roasted veggies were served on the side. All that was missing were complimentary cigars and smoking jackets! For dessert? Cheesecake partnered with the much-acclaimed Adieu.

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With strains of the jazz ensemble still playing, we made certain to purchase a bottle (or two) of the 2006 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon before we bid our own adieus to Gray Ghost Vineyards. If planning a visit to Gray Ghost Vineyards, be aware that the 2006 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon will not be available for tasting, but trust us—it’s excellent. Of course, while tasting at Gray Ghost Vineyard, do mention to the Kellerts that Virginia Wine Time sent you!

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