If you were to walk into a local supermarket and conduct an informal inventory of the types of wines sold, one of the first thing that should be apparent is the presence of a considerable number of red blends from a variety of producers spanning a broad range of price points. Over the last decade the growth of this wine category has soared. From Apothic, Ménage à Trois and The Prisoner to more expensive examples such as Joseph Phelps’ Insignia and Ridge’s Lytton Springs, red blends have grown in popularity eclipsing sales of red wine varieties such as Pinot Noir and Merlot and rivaling the king: Cabernet Sauvignon. Creating blends from multiple grape varieties is nothing new—all you have to do is take a look at most of the wines coming from Bordeaux, Chianti or Rioja.
The reason that winemakers create blends is multifold. Blends are often produced to make adjustment due to weather variations from vintage to vintage, or to craft a certain style of wine that is either representative of the winery or designed to be marketed to a particular consumer category. Creating a blend is a combination of art and science. In doing so, winemakers recognize the characteristics of the grapes to be used and combine the wines in just the right proportions to produce the desired effect. For some wineries this desired effect is to produce a flavor and palate profile that will epitomize the hard work that occurred in the vineyard and the care that was taken during the vinification process.
For others, mainly those that produce extreme value wines, this blending process is used to get the most use out of lower quality grapes, which are machine harvested in bulk from huge agro-farms. In these cases, grape varieties that have robust flavor profiles, such as Zinfandel, Petite Syrah, Petite Verdot, Alicante Bouschet are preferred. The winemaker will also make generous use of a broad variety of additives (none of which you will find on the label) producing a wine that tends to knock you over the head with big fruit, higher alcohol content, perceptible sweetness and not much else. These wines are made by the railroad car tank load and the formula is tweaked from year to year to keep the flavor consistent. There is a reason that they can sell for five bucks a bottle. These wines won’t kill you, any more that processed cheese products will, but using this analogy, there is a huge difference between a family farm-produced, carefully aged Munster and a square of the ochre colored, ‘American cheese’. Some of these wines can actually be quite serviceable, but interesting? Not so much. Enough of my, “do a little homework and spend a little more,” rant.
The good news is that there are some great finds to be had in the red blend category, both domestic and imported—these vary in a broad range of price categories. Red blends pair nicely with red meat dishes and typically hit that middle of the road sweet spot for wine drinkers, so they are a solid choice for social occasions and relaxing on the couch after a hard, (or not so hard day, here in Saddlebrooke). When shopping for red blends here are a few suggestions:
$ Bogle Vineyards Essential Red (CA) and 14 Hands ‘Hot to Trot’ Red Blend (WA)
$$ Clos de los Siete (Argentina) and Argiano Non Confunditur (Italy)
$$$ DeLille Cellars ‘D2’ (WA)
$$$$ Justin ‘Justification’ red blend (CA) and B. Leighton ‘Gratitude’ red blend (WA)
In the “Mark your Calendar” category, the Arizona Wine Growers Association will hold its annual Grand Wine Festival on Saturday, November 16, at Kierland Commons in Scottsdale. This event will feature 30 Arizona wineries showcasing their best products. This is my favorite Arizona wine festival as it is held in conjunction with the AZ Central wine competition. Highly regarded wines, usually produced in limited quantities, are available to taste and purchase. If you plan on attending keep an eye out for me and I’ll point you to a few of my favorites. For more information, visit: https://www.saaca.org/awgagrandtastingfestival.html.
Tom Oetinger holds an advanced certification in wine & spirits from the WSET in London, England. He is available to assist you with your wine events or answer your wine questions at email@example.com.