They seem to be everywhere these days: red wines whose labels bear a fanciful name instead of the name of a grape variety.
Red blends are a hot category, with sales up more than 10 percent vs. a year ago. Red blends accounted for 40 percent of all new wines introduced over the past two years, according to Beverage Media Group.
A lot of traditional European wines, red and white, have always been blends. Some examples from France would be Bordeaux or Chateauneuf-du-Pape. But in this country, varietally labeled wines — wines labeled as cabernet sauvignon or chardonnay, for example — became the norm by the 1970s. The varietal name was seen as a mark of quality, compared with generic California blends labeled as burgundy, chablis and the like.
The labeling landscape started to shift as U.S. wine consumers became more sophisticated. Wineries introduced Bordeaux-style blends, sometimes called “Meritage,” featuring cabernet sauvignon mixed with grapes such as merlot, cabernet franc and malbec. Rhone-style blends — usually some mixture of grenache and syrah and perhaps small amounts of other grapes — followed.
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But the new blends don’t follow the traditional recipes. A little of everything gets thrown into the vat. Zinfandel might be blended with malbec, syrah with cabernet franc. It allows the producer to use up odds and ends that don’t go into other wines. Such blends also provide a home for grape varieties that aren’t selling very well, like syrah and merlot.
In many cases, the blends are targeted at millennial consumers. Research shows they don’t care about seeing a grape variety on the label and are more likely to experiment.
Although the red blends I’m recommending are dry or very nearly dry, some of the most successful and visible red blends are sweet. That presents a problem for consumers, because there’s often no indication on the label. Apothic Red, Menage a Trois and Cupcake Red Velvet are three of the most popular sweetish reds, but there are plenty of others.
Beverage Media Group singles out zinfandel as being a popular foundation for easy-to-drink red blends, dry or otherwise. A good example at a bargain price is the 2013 Bogle Essential Red ($13), whose zinfandel component is evident in its lively berry fruit and notes of tobacco and spice. The 2013 Clayhouse Adobe Red ($14), a blend of mostly petite sirah and zin from Paso Robles, is quite fruity, with berry, spice and nice freshness. Zin also figures in more serious — and pricier — blends like the 2012 Francis Ford Coppola Director’s Cut Cinema ($39), which is based on cab and zin and offers lively red berry, a hint of tobacco and medium tannins.
Paso Robles is a source for a number of red blends, like the full-bodied 2012 Ancient Peaks Renegade ($24), a mix of mostly syrah and malbec, or the easy-to-drink 2013 Chronic Cellars Sofa King Bueno ($20), which is mostly petite sirah and syrah.
PICK OF THE WEEK
Falcone Family 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon ($35) This Paso Robles cab has good intensity, but it’s also easy to drink. It displays lively cherry fruit, anise, a whisper of eucalyptus and fine tannins. Try it with grilled tri-tip.