Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Bella Misto Masters at Work at Raffaldini!

I consider myself a pretty good cook. A pinch of this, a dash of that…sauté, broil, bake, and voila! – a new meal is presented. I am soothed by the symphony of flavors harmonizing in a broth, I love inviting herbs to dance on tender morsels. In short, I’m hooked on cooking.

With that in mind, you can certainly understand why I was drawn to the wine blending event at Raffaldini Vineyards, in the Yadkin Valley, NC, held a few weeks ago in their barrel room. This annual event is created to help the winemakers determine the right blend for their Bella Misto wine. We couldn't wait to get those beakers working.

The event began with a set of instructions shared by Jay Raffaldini himself. A former New Yorker and Wall Street aficionado, his approach to wine making is pleasantly spontaneous. Of course it doesn’t hurt that his reputation for making exceptional wine means he made the right decision replacing paper shares for vinification.

We listened intently, hands poised on our glasses and coats pulled up around our necks to keep out the slight chill in the air. He explained that we would first catalog a series of 5 wines to be used in the blending, carefully noting every element of color, texture, nose, flavor, structure and tannins. After our “tastes” were recorded, we divided into teams and began our foray into the world of wine-blending.

Here’s a few things you need to know so you can understand how complicated this can be. First, the wines we were tasting would still sit in their bottles for a few more weeks. The aging process was not yet complete and the wine could change either slightly or drastically over that short a period of time. Based on the grape and structure, we had to decide, if it went one way or another, what might be its best attributes to showcase when blending.

Two, alcohol and tannins behave quite wildly when mixed in your mouth. It’s not necessarily a grape thing as much as a biological result of our tongues, our sense of smell, and our personal choices. Quite simply, it ain’t like addin’ a little more salt to the gravy.

Thirdly, measuring out one small quantity into a beaker with a radius the size of my husband’s thumb is an exercise in making sure your reader glasses are sitting just right on your nose. Don’t want to spill any of this juice! And finally, the biggest roadblock is that we only had about 40 minutes to experiment with our blends. Keeping track of each percentage, keeping a bit of each blend to compare and still have enough left to vote on is tough, especially since you want to gulp down every sip of the stuff!!

At our table, beside my trusty co-grape mixer, Carmen, and our husbands, was a foursome who had pedigree. And they looked like they were ready to eat us for lunch. They were in attendance last year and their blend was instrumental in making the 2008 Bella Misto. We were in awe but feeling our competitive natures surface as we shook their hands and commented on the fact that some of us were wine club members. Hey, hokey, we know. But we had to show off somehow!!

Seriousness abounded. At least we tried to create some levity, but with all of us looking like mad scientists at a frat party, we concentrated on the task at hand. When the blending was complete, we had determined, out of 4 combinations, that we had one worth sharing! Named ANDIAMO in a frenzy to find a title we liked, our blend consisted of 20% of the luscious Merlot, 25% of the grassy and pungent Cabernet Franc, 40% of the Cabernet, a generous wine with a hint of cinnamon on top of it’s familiar, earthy tang, and 15% Petit Verdot, a powerhouse of tannins and soil added to ground our flavors. We opted NOT to blend with the Montepulciano for several reasons. It is not a customary blending wine, it tasted perfectly balanced all on its own so there was nothing we needed to tone down or bring out, and we wanted to be the rebels; there we go again.

When the confusion was over, and we had voted at our table, even the noble’s had to vote for our wine. And we literally pushed a taste onto Jay who exclaimed that this was most likely going to be very close to the blend they would choose! How’s that for the ameteurs! Here’s juice in your eye…a gift from table 6.

If you’re interested in this event, check out Raffaldini’s web site and sign up for next year’s blending. And when you buy a bottle of the Bella Misto this year, check out the label and see how close our percentages came to winning out. We think the Networking Chicks from Charlotte did okay.

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