I just had the *best* adventure today, and I have to share.
Today was the Consensus Wine Blending party out at Keswick Vineyards, which is one of my favorite wineries in Virginia. Every winter, they invite the wine club members to come out to the winery with a goal of creating a special blend using selected wines from the current vintage in barrels (in this case 2011). This year, they held 4 sessions, so that's about 240-250 wine club members who were involved. Today, there were about 60 people, divided into 10 tables of 6 people.
At my table were me, my coworker, Danielle (a.k.a my +1), and 2 other couples. As far as backgrounds/perspectives go, there were 2 engineers, 2 psychologists, a schoolteacher, and a former chef. None of us had done anything like this in the past. We were all rookies at the Consensus table. We were also at the back of the cellar, so we called out table/group "The Back Of The Bus". Yes, we were the troublemakers.
We arrived to find 4 bottles of wine on our table: Merlot, Syrah, Norton, and Touriga. (Fortunately, we are all red wine fans. This could have been a disaster otherwise.) We had about 2 hours to create a blend of any/all of the four wines. The only restrictions were limitations of no more than 60% Merlot and/or 60% Norton (probably because the 2011 harvest was terrible for those varietals). We could use as much Syrah or Touriga as we wanted.
We started out tasting each wine individually, looking for the characteristics each could bring to the table. Then we did a straight-up 25% of each to see what would happen when we started mixing. When we got to our 4th version, the table was dead silent when we tasted it. That was a sign that we were really, really close. When we did talk, it was less of "what faults we're finding" and more of "what food would we serve with this". Yep, a good sign. We did 2 more experiments, tweaking around the edges (2% more here, 3% less here). Surprisingly, each tweak was dramatically different, and we weren't getting any better. Two of us did ask if we could pull one of the viognier bottles out of our allocation and start adding that in - it needed a little something, and we thought the viognier might be right - but we were shot down. (Boo!) We went back to the #4 recipe.
Now that we decided, we needed to make a full bottle of the resulting blend. This became a challenge for 2 reasons. First was the math. While it was a clean number of ml when we were making it in a beaker, it wasn't a "clean" percentage breakdown when we scaled upward. Second was -- well -- we ran out of Syrah. We had to start scarfing leftover Syrah from other tables.
Our final blend: Syrah (62.18%), Norton (17.09%), Merlot (10.38%), Touriga (10.38%).
In a beaker, this was 90ml Syrah, 25ml Norton, and 15ml ea Touriga and Merlot. Pretty easy-peasy. However, in a 750ml bottle, this was 466.6ml Syrah, 128.7ml Norton, and 77.7ml ea Touriga and Merlot. Yes, we had pipettes and we actually geeked it out to those exact measures. (For the ultra geeks, yes this is actually 750.4ml. But who's counting...)
After lunch was the tasting. There were 11 bottles in the running, one of which was a "ringer" done by the winemaker. Each person scored the wines blind, using a simple 20 point scale (3 for color, 7 for nose, 10 for taste). The winner was determined as the highest average score.
We placed 3rd! Our average score was 14.3. The winner's average was 14.7. So it was really close. Not bad for a table full of novices! The 1st and 2nd place teams all had members who had been to the blending parties before. All in all - I think we did pretty darned well!
After announcing the winners, the winemaker came over to chat briefly. Part of the conversation went:
Winemaker: 10.38%, eh? (The expression of his face when he was announcing our blend numbers had been a bit shocked and a bit incredulous.)
Me: Yep. We're a bunch of geeks, and that's how the maths worked out.
WM: Thank God I'm not trying to replicate those blend numbers! *shakes his head*
Yep - engineers rule!