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JULY 2009: Cass Wine Club Blending Party

tastingcass.jpgIn an effort to continue my wine education through fun and engaging classes and events, we made sure our summer vacation would not conflict with the Cass Winery club member wine blending. We missed it last year and did not want to be left out again. Only 42 people get the opportunity to use their palates to become the master blenders behind a special, limited-release wine. Not only is it free to the attendees, you have to drink a lot of wine in the effort to win the competition. And believe me, it may have been a friendly contest, but every table wanted their blend to be declared the winner.

Everyone arrived bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to take on this challenge. We were split into 8 tables (some of 6 people, some of 4), which each had barrel samples of the wines we were to blend. This year's bottling was going to be a Rhone blend, so every table was given 2 bottles each of the Cass 2008 vintage Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre, along with one bottle of Petite Sirah (which is neither light-bodied nor syrah). After trying all the wines on their own to determine their individual attributes, we then set about trying to come up with a blend that was better than its parts. The only restriction was we couldn't use more than 25% Petite Sirah in the final blend, as it's too deeply-colored and strongly-flavored and thus would overwhelm the other varietals and make the process worthless.

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What quickly became apparent – besides the fact that we all sucked at math – was that finding just the right balance – where something was happening on your palate from the first sip to the final swallow – was much harder than you'd think. And we only had one version of each varietal. Many wineries use varied methods to showcase the different characteristics from each section of their vineyard and clones found therein. So, they're not only blending Syrah, Grenache, etc., but multiple permutations of each of those grapes from many different barrels into one solid experience. The options are mind-boggling and palate-fatiguing just to think about.

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Since we had three couples, we split up along marital lines with each duo making a blend using the base wine they liked the most as the largest percentage. It was a fun, yet messy business. All three of our initial passes were vastly different, but the Syrah-based one was the obvious winner. With some additional tweaking for brighter aromatics and a riper attack, we felt confident ours was going to be named the best. Of course, so did the other 7 tables. Steve (the winery owner) and Lood (the winemaker) placed the numbered bottles – we were table #2 – into plain, paper bags, mixed them up and labeled them A-H. Then the real tasting began.

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We made notes, kept some cups of our competition back to compare to our own blend and tried to find our wine...while judging which version we wanted to receive in our shipment in the fall of 2010. By this time, after two hours of tasting – with a lovely cheese plate to help cleanse the palate – the room was quite loud and opinions were strong. What amazed me the most was how completely different each wine was from the others. Unlike the previous year, there wasn't a major consensus, but one wine did lead the pack. It was from Table #4. I would have been more disappointed if the wine wasn't so good. Apparently, we came in second and after hearing the percentages in their blend, we realized how close we actually were to winning. Their finish was better on the palate and thus in the contest.

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Much thanks to Steve, Ted, Lood, Christi, Jacob and the rest of the Cass crew for making this such a fun and "educational" event. We can't wait to see how the wine ends up tasting after it's true final blending and time in the bottle.

Expect us next year...

For more information: Cass Winery

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