While the Barossa Valley is full of cellar doors, artisanal cheese makers and epicurious trails, one worthwhile and interactive experience is making your own blend at Penfolds Winery.
When traveling, I tend to enjoy immersive experiences where you learn by doing rather than simply looking. While Penfold’s tasting bar allows you to sample wines firsthand, the Make Your Own Blend Experience allows you to experience the same process winemakers do when creating a blended wine.
When I walk into Penfold’s, I’m greeted by the woman who will be leading the blend experience. I’m instructed to put on a lab coat, which I appreciate since red wine always somehow finds a way to jump out of my glass and onto my clothes. And that’s when I’m having a drink at a bar; I’m already nervous (and excited) to picture myself as a mad wine scientist.
Upstairs in the lab there is a long double-sided counter with numerous stations. Each station has a three types of wine — Shiraz, Mourvèdre and Grenache — a beaker for measuring, a sheet for taking notes and recording percentages and measurements, and an empty bottle for the finished product.
Our goal is to fill the beaker using the different types of wines, each time recording how much we put in of each wine. For my first attempt, I do a blend of 40% Grenache, 20% Shiraz and 40% Mourvèdre. While the Shiraz adds a spicy flavor and makes the wine more rich, the Grenache has intense aromatic qualities. Additionally, the Mourvèdre is a complex varietal with earthy characteristics.
“Typically, Grenache is the predominant grape in a blend,” our instructor explains. “As for Mourvèdre, you’ll rarely see it on its own. Don’t let rules dictate how you make your blend, though. Everyone’s taste buds are different.”
While I like the taste of my first attempt, I know I can do better. Typically I enjoy spicier, more complex wines, so I up the percentages of the Shiraz and Mourvèdre and lower the Grenache. Once I’ve poured, measured and mixed, I take a sip and ponder. While the Shiraz and Mourvèdre enhance the blend, the juicy yet wild herb characteristics of the Grenache are lacking. That’s the point of the experience, though; to learn how to blend and adjust for your palate and get to know the individual characteristics of each wine and how they affect the end product.
For my final try, I tweak the recipe just a touch, making the Shiraz the dominant varietal and upping the Grenache by just a bit. My end result is 52% Shiraz, 26% Mourvèdre and 22% Grenache, a blend that has notes of smokey berry, pepper, strawberry and even a hint of licorice.
Penfold’s Make Your Own Blend Experience costs $65 per person and can be done at their cellar door in South Australia’s Barossa Valley each day at 10:30am and 2pm. Reservations are required. You can contact the cellar door by clicking here for more information.
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