A great afternoon learning about the art of the blend



Our first post of 2014! We’ve taken a well deserved break during the slow months to prepare for the spring releases and feel rested and ready. Rest assured though that we haven’t been just sitting around drinking hurricanes. The past few months have been put to good use in training for the First Annual Rodney Strong Battle of the Blends. Olfactory sit-ups, palate push-ups, and plenty of road and rope work was devoted to ensure our team was ready to take on all comers! Here, we describe the event in detail..

The Main Event

This past Saturday Rodney Strong held their first ever Battle of the Blends event at their beautiful estate in Healdsberg. 7 teams composed of Rodney Strong wine club members were pitted against each other to create the best blend out of 5 Bordeaux varietals presented. The event consisted of a brief overview of blending and the differences in the 5 varietals by winemaker Greg Morthole, the blend competition and a delicious lunch paired with some top notch Rodney Strong wines. Each team presented their best shot to the judges who then scored and tallied the winning wine.

The Varietals

As we sat down at our “work” table we found the tools we were to use to construct our masterpiece. A glass of each of the varietals, a beaker, spit cups, bread sticks, water, calculator, and a piper. In the middle, the final glass to present our wine to the judges. The varietals presented were 5 of the Bordeaux Six typically used in red blends:

2010 Cabernet Sauvignon (Brothers Ridge)
Normally the main ingredient of a Bordeaux style blend. Big, balanced, and opulent. The Rodney Strong Brothers Ridge was one of our favorite Cabs of the 2010 vintage.

2010 Merlot (Sonoma County)
In blends Merlot is used as a softener to balance out the power of the Cab. Adds color, silky texture and nuance to the blend as well as nice fruit aromas and flavors such as dark cherry, chocolate, black cherry and raspberry.

2010 Cabernet Franc (Brothers Ridge)
Has many of the same characteristics as Cabernet Sauvignon but with softer tannins. Silky mouth feel and strong hits of oak, cedar, and spice make this a great companion to add complexity to the blend.

2011 Malbec (Dry Creek)
Adds rich color and acidity to a blend. It’s floral notes on the nose adds complexity. In blends, Malbec softens the tannins of other varietals but also adds distinct jammy berry flavors.

2010 Petit Verdot (Brothers Ridge)
Adds strong tannins and intense spice flavors and aromas as well as rich colors. This is the most difficult of the bunch to get right. Must be used with care.

The Process

So how does one start to blend? By tasting of course! We immediately began sampling each of the varietals and making notes of their properties. Since our other two partners did not arrive until 10 mins prior to the turn in time, Mrs. Dvd and I were on our own to figure this all out ourselves.

Step 1: Evaluate

We sampled each wine individually and made notes. Already, I was also formulating rough percentages in my head as I went along.

Cabernet: As mentioned earlier this was the 2010 Brothers Ridge. A brilliant wine that quite honestly would have received the highest score all by itself.

Merlot: This Merlot was very soft and balanced with nice overtones of fruit. I was already thinking in the 10% range after my first taste.

Malbec: I love their Dry Creek Malbec. This was so good it could have been used as the base. However, when the Brothers Cab is handy this would have to play a supporting role. Had that great “pow!” finish and great fruit aromas and flavors as well as some delightful floral notes. The acidity was on par with a great Malbec. We knew this was going to play a big part in our blend.

Cabernet Franc: Soft tannins and big fruit with a silky mouth feel. Nice hits of oak that would be a nice add to our blend.

Petit Verdot: This was the most difficult one to judge. Great mouth feel and texture as well as some terrific spice on the finish but had very strong bitter green notes and way more earthy tones than I like. I tasted this one the most to try and see if it would be a plus or minus in our blend.

Step 2: Calculate

Now that we had all of our notes in order, it was time to make the tough decisions. The first question that needed answering was what kind of wine are we making here? A power blend such as the Joseph Phelps Insignia or Robert Craig Affinity or a kindler/gentler blend such as the Rodney Strong Symmetry. We decided “when in Rome” and went for a softer blend.

Our goal: big, food friendly, and age-able.

So how do we achieve this goal? We started with a big percentage of the Cab., added equal parts Merlot and Malbec to soften the big Cab and add complexity, aromatics, and a long finish then added a small amount of Cab Franc. Finally, after some agonizing, a pinch of Petit Verdot for the silk and spice characteristics.

Here’s how it broke down:

75% Cabernet Sauvignon
10% Merlot
10% Malbec
4% Cabernet Franc
1% Petit Verdot

We were tasked to make 200 ml for our turn in glass so it came down to some math and measuring to get the blend as we wanted it. As we headed down to our lunch we felt really good about our wine. It was really good and passed the “hey I’d buy this” test with flying colors.

The Verdict

We then went down to our lunch that featured a savory herbed chicken dish, braised short ribs, fingerling roasted potatoes, a tangy salad with soft cheese and a tasty sponge cake with fruit. The lunch was paired with their outstanding wines (Chard, Pinot, Cab). A great meal that allowed us to meet new friends and enjoy the atmosphere of their impressive barrel room.

Finally the verdict came down. The winners would each receive an engraved magnum of Symmetry and bragging rights until next year. Each team had to pick a name and ours was The Terroirists. The 3rd and 2nd place wines were announced and then the winning wine went to …

The Terroirists! Yes folks, DdV came to claim victory and did in fine fashion distancing the other entries by a large margin. Our little blend was a hit! The Judges loved the big fruit, subtle mouth feel, and balance of our wine and proclaimed it would easily do well in the cellar for 8-10 years. Exactly what we were shooting for.

Just for some comparison here’s our blend vs our three other favorites blends plus a blended Cabernet from O’Shaughnessy that we love:

2010 The Terroirist
75% Cabernet Sauvignon
10% Merlot
10% Malbec
4% Cabernet Franc
1% Petit Verdot

2010 Rodney Strong Symmetry
75% Cabernet Sauvignon
12% Malbec
10% Cabernet Franc
2% Merlot
1% Petit verdot 

2010 Robert Craig Affinity
84% Caberniet Sauvignon
8% Petit Verdot
4% Merlot
2% Cabernet Franc
2% Malbec

2010 Joseph Phelps Insignia
84% Cabernet Sauvignon
10% Petit Verdot
4% Merlot
2% Malbec

2010 O’Shaughnessy Howell Mountain Cabernet
88% Cabernet Sauvignon
5% Merlot
3% Malbec
2% Petit Verdot
2% St. Macaire


This was as much fun at a wine event as we’ve had these many years. To dig in and see what these brilliant wine makers have to work through to make their art was a wonderfully unique experience. This event is open to club and non-club members alike. Even though they are a very big winery, the folks at Rodney Strong have a level of hospitality that is reminiscent of very small wineries. They really do make you feel like family. Whether you attend events such as this or just pop in for some tasting, we can’t recommend a visit highly enough.

Of course we will be back next year to defend the title!

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