The Art of Blending.
The Paso Robles’ climate is perfect for bold and rich red wines like Cabernet Sauvignon. In fact, Paso Robles has been home to Zinfandel vines for more than a century, and Cabernet Sauvignon since the mid-1900s.
But what truly sets this region apart is the art of blending—specifically, traditional Rhône-style red blends that gained the region critical acclaim and launched it onto the international stage.
With over 60 different varietals in Paso Robles (and almost as many micro climates) there are plenty of opportunities to partner single varietals, with the right companions, to create amazing and unique flavors.
How Are Wine Blends Created?
If you’ve ever stood in front of a wine shelf, pondering all those beautifully labeled bottles, you’ve likely come across the term “blend.” But what does it really mean, especially when we’re talking about the world-class wines from Paso Robles?
Blending has evolved quite a bit over the centuries. In ancient times winemakers used to make what’s called a “field blend.” They’d pick different varieties of grapes and mix them all together right from the get-go. Port is one of the few wines still made this way today.
Fast forward to modern times, and the process has gotten a bit more refined. These days, winemakers usually ferment each grape variety separately, tucking them away in barrels or tanks for some quality time. Why the change? Well, fermenting them individually helps to preserve the unique flavors and characteristics of each grape type.
Once the initial winemaking steps are complete, it’s blending time. This is where it gets tricky. Sniffing out the perfect blend is a no-go at this stage, thanks to some pretty intense yeast aromas in the air. So winemakers lean heavily on their sense of taste and the feel of the wine to craft a blend that’s more than the sum of its parts.
The Art of Wine Blending
Using multiple grape varietals allows winemakers to fine-tune characteristics and create intricate symphonies of flavor, with each grape offering its distinct attributes.
Wine blending is an age-old winemaking method that has been practiced for hundreds of years. Simply put, blending is like a culinary recipe but for wine. It’s the process of mixing different grape varieties together to create a wine that’s better than the sum of its parts. Using multiple grape varietals allows winemakers to fine-tune characteristics and create intricate symphonies of flavor, with each grape offering its distinct attributes.
It takes several years (if not a lifetime) to master the art of blending. Great winemakers often use a combination of technical analysis and tasting. Some blends go through an iterative process of 50 or more tries until the perfect “recipe” is created. Blends are often a better interpretation of the vineyard than a single varietal. You get rid of the typical characteristics of a single varietal and a winemaker can create something totally unique
In Paso Robles, this art form has been perfected over years of experimentation and tradition. With the region’s diverse soil and favorable climate, the grapes have unique characteristics that make them excellent candidates for blending. Of course, blend recipes can only be used once. Each year the weather creates a new set of conditions that changes the way grapes ripen and make wine.
When you look at wine blends in the market today, do you notice any common themes? Cabernet is commonly blended with Merlot. If Syrah is blended, it’s with Grenache and Mourvèdre.
You’ll notice you’ll hardly ever find a blend of Cabernet and Pinot Noir. Ever wondered why these two popular grape varieties don’t often share the same bottle?
There are two reasons for this. Historically, wine-producing regions like France have spent centuries developing their own signature blends, which serve as today’s benchmarks for wine enthusiasts. These classic combinations have stood the test of time for good reason: they just work well together.
Secondly and equally important is the role of climate. There’s a saying in the wine world: “What grows together, goes together.” Grapes that thrive in similar climate conditions generally make for good blending partners. This is likely why Cabernet and Pinot Noir seldom make it into the same blend—they simply prefer different growing conditions. Cabernet thrives in warmer climates, while Pinot Noir tends to favor cooler, more temperate regions. When grapes grow in different climatic conditions, blending them can lead to a clash of characteristics, making the wine feel disjointed or awkward.
Each grape is selected for the flavors and structure it adds. Rhône blends usually offer a symphony of rich fruit notes like blackberry and cherry, coupled with earthy undertones and often a hint of spice.
When it comes to wine blends that leave an impression, Rhône blends hold a special place, especially in Paso Robles. So what exactly are Rhône blends?
Originating from France’s Rhône Valley, these blends are typically made from grape varieties like Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre (which is why they are often referred to as GSM blends). However, you may find other Paso Robles varieties blended, including Counoise, Tannat, and Petite Sirah.
Each grape is selected for the flavors and structure it adds. Rhône blends usually offer a symphony of rich fruit notes like blackberry and cherry, coupled with earthy undertones and often a hint of spice. These wines are versatile and complex, making them great companions for various foods.
Syrah brings black fruit flavors of olive and plum and meatiness or chocolate-like flavors. Mourvèdre delivers blueberry notes with peppery or floral overtones and ample tannin and acidity. Grenache is all about red fruit flavors of raspberry and orange peel notes with a boisterous juicy palate.
How Paso Robles Became Known for Rhône Blends
In the late ’80s, Paso Robles saw a shift towards these blends, thanks in part to Robert Haas and Tablas Creek Winery. They not only imported Rhône grape varieties, Haas started a vine nursery and shared the vines with wineries all over the United States. Many of the top Rhône variety vineyards in the US got propagated initially here in Paso Robles.
Today, Rhône blends from Paso Robles are flourishing, characterized by their fuller, more fruit-driven profiles thanks to the sunny climate and unique soil conditions. Rhône blends have found a second home in Paso Robles, becoming an essential part of the region.
Food Pairing with Paso Robles Rhône Blends
Given all the robust tannin, acidity, and bold fruit in GSM blends, you’ll want to pair these wines with foods that have equal intensity. Barbecue is a great pairing option, as well as roasted meats. Or, for those looking to pair plant-based, make a barbecue or teriyaki lion’s mane mushroom steak.
Where to Taste Rhône Blends
- Bovino – Our Pick: Joludi Wines GSM
- Cass Winery – Our Pick: 2020 Rockin’ One Red
- Tablas Creek – Our Pick: 2019 Esprit de Tablas
- Eberle – Our Pick: Cotes-du-Robles Rouge
- Onx Wines – Our Pick: Mad Crush
- Robert Hall Winery – Our Pick: Cavern Select GMS
- Seven Oxen – Our Pick: Cassidy
- Still Waters Vineyard – Our Pick: Expressions 2019
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Bordeaux blends offer rich, deep flavors of dark fruits like plum and black currant, often layered with notes of tobacco, leather, or even a hint of vanilla.
Now, let’s talk about Bordeaux blends, another fan-favorite that you’ll find sprinkled across Paso Robles. If Rhône blends are the lively, spice-loving extroverts, then Bordeaux blends are the sophisticated, well-mannered intellectuals of the wine world. These blends originally hail from the Bordeaux region of France and usually feature a mix of grape varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc, among others.
Flavor-wise, Bordeaux blends offer rich, deep flavors of dark fruits like plum and black currant, often layered with notes of tobacco, leather, or even a hint of vanilla. These wines are like a warm, comforting hug in a glass.
Food Pairing with Bordeaux Blends
So, what types of food pair well with these complex and flavorful wines? Given their rich, layered flavors, Bordeaux blends tend to pair beautifully with equally hearty and rich foods.
Grilled Steak: The tannins in the wine cut through the fattiness of the steak, creating a balance that’s downright divine.
Roast Lamb: The herbaceous notes in the wine, especially if Cabernet Franc is in the mix, can complement the gaminess of lamb superbly.
Mushroom Risotto: The earthy flavors of mushrooms resonate with the complex layers in the Bordeaux blend, making each bite and sip a harmonious experience.
Aged Cheese: If you’re a cheese lover, try some aged cheddar or Gouda. The complexity and richness of the cheese stand up well to the wine’s layered flavors.
Where to taste Bordeaux blends in Paso Robles
Paso Robles holds a special place, particularly when it comes to red wine blends. From the complex and elegant Bordeaux blends to the lively and fruit-forward Rhône blends, this region offers a rich tapestry of flavors and experiences. Each blend tells a story, influenced not just by the grapes but also by the unique climate and soils of Paso Robles.
Blending isn’t just about mixing grapes; it’s an art form that brings out the best in each variety. Winemakers in Paso Robles have perfected this craft, offering blends that are more than the sum of their parts. The results are wines that can accompany a variety of foods and moods, perfect for every palate.
So, why not take a little adventure and explore the art of blending firsthand? Paso Robles is more than ready to share its treasures with you. Whether you’re a seasoned wine lover or just getting started, there’s something here for everyone to discover and appreciate. Cheers to finding your perfect blend in Paso Robles!
Other Interesting Wine Blends to Discover
Italy’s Super Tuscan Blend
This blend has many variants, but most feature a combination of Sangiovese, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and/or Cabernet Franc. Sangiovese adds boisterous red fruit and brilliant acidity to this blend, as well as the ability to age gracefully.
Washington’s CMS Blend:
The blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah (three of Washington’s most important reds) produces a wine with lush fruit flavors and a smooth finish.\
Greece’s Rapsani Blend:
Rare grapes growing on the high elevation slopes below Mount Olympus include Xinomavro, Krasoto, and Stravroto. Xinomavro offers raspberry and sun-dried tomato flavors with high tannin and acidity. Krasoto brings rounder, softer, plummy fruit and a smooth finish. Stravroto is thought to add color.
Portugal’s Douro Tinto Blend:
A red blend that typically features Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, and Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo). Wines are black, floral and chocolatey from Touriga Nacional, and gain acidity and complex savory notes with the addition of Tinta Roriz.