WTF are red blends? Really!
A guide that will make you the master of red blend wines
What the fuck are red blends? You might have guessed it and we would assume that 99.999% of you are correct that red blends are a mixture of different grapes made into one delicious wine. That 0.001% who thought it was something else, not sure where your heads are at. For a lot of winemakers making a red blend is their ultimate expression of art, combining the different grapes they have access to, to make something extraordinary. Blending different wines together allows winemakers to bring out positive characteristics, counter some negative characteristics, or give it a little extra that a winemaker believes will make the experience overall more enjoyable. For example, a winemaker using Syrah as a base might add in a little Grenache or even Viognier to smooth out the tannins.
Red blends are really hot right now. We hear it from distributors and retailers all the time "people really like red blends." Newsflash, most of the red wines you are drinking are red blends. In the old world regions regulate very heavily what grapes can be used in the wines originating from said region, in some cases right down to the percentages permitted in blends. This means that single varietal wines from old world regions are the exception and not the rule, so when buying old world wines its worth reading up on what the region allows. Or if you are just into blends, then old world wines are where you will find your favorites.
Over in the new world things can sometimes get a little tricky. Most winemakers will happily tell you their wine is a blend because you are probably looking for it, and you can get into the nitty-gritty if you are curious about what the makeup is. A lot of new world red blends are inspired by the old world, but because there are fewer rules you can also get some pretty wild combinations as well. You also may be drinking more blended wines than you think. A lot of new world wine regulations allow for some blending in what can be called a single varietal wine. California for example allows any wine that contains 75% or more of a varietal to be labeled as a single varietal. So that Napa Cab you love so much may only be three-quarters cab with a little Merlot and Cab Franc thrown in.
Notable Red blends, if you are curious to try them
Bordeaux wines and inspired blends
Bordeaux is considered by many to be the Magical Kingdom of wine. Their wines are exceptional and serve as the basis for a lot of wines we drink today. These wines consist of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit-Verdot and sometimes a little Malbec and Carmenere. The blends can be a little varied but the major distinguishing factor is whether it comes from the right or left bank.
- Left Bank - Predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon, with some Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Heavier, more tannic wines. Great for aging so collectors should take note.
- Right Bank - Predominantly Merlot with some Cabernet Franc and a little Cabernet Sauvignon.
These wines are also copied the world over with many new world wineries inspired by the Bordeaux region and producing Bordeaux style blends that encompass different mixes of the traditional Bordeaux grapes.
Rhone style blends, the legendary GSM
Rhone wines are another example of the French knack for making exceptional wines through blending different varieties together. There are 19 different grapes allowed in Rhone red wines and the most famous sub region in the Rhone valley is Chateauneuf du Pape which permits 13 varieties. Most wineries focus on the legendary GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre) combination that makes for a rich, gamy, decadent, mother of a wine.
GSM blends are not just popular in the Rhone valley, but have sparked the imagination of winemakers around the world looking to bring something just as explosive to the glasses of the people around them. You will find some very interesting Rhone inspired blends from Oregon and Washington that are as juicy and delicious as they come.
Petit-Sirah and Zinfandel, what we call the AMERICAN blend
Something that does not really get a lot of credit is the usage of Zinfandel and Petite-Sirah together in American red wines. Though the concentration of the wines can differ wildly, and the wines are often used alongside other more prominent and well known varietals such as Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, when you put Petite-Sirah and Zinfandel together in a red blend it creates a massive American fruit bomb in your mouth. Its full bodied, rich, proud, and bad ass.
Other blends to look out for that we just don't have time to mention
Chianti - Though sometimes these wines are 100% Sangiovese, the use of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon adds some beautiful body and fruit flavors to this wine. Perfect with pizza and pasta.
Super Tuscan Red - What happens when you hold people back with too much regulation? They fight you for it, go and create their own wines with their own rules, and end up creating something so awesome they can easily sell it for $100 a bottle. Lots of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon alongside the Sangiovese you usually get in typical Tuscan wines, these are a full bodied red lovers dream.
Priorat - A tiny region within Catalonia in Spain, these wines are not for the feint hearted or lighter wallets. Priorat wines bring together the Spanish varieties of Grenache and Carignan together with Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Merlot to prove that you CAN have everything you ever dreamed of wrapped up all at once in one bottle. It just cost money.