Red Blends: 7 Outstanding Wines You Should Try, According to Rich Report
With a focus on blending varieties across traditions, West Coast winemakers are creating wines that go far beyond generic reds.
A category of wine bottles vaguely referred to as “red blends” has been flying off supermarket shelves for quite some time now, despite the fact that there are many bottles on the shelves. There are no shortages of these unrelated-grape mashups, loosely based on Dave Phinney's edgy Zinfandel-based blend, The Prisoner, which was created more than 20 years ago.
Phinney broke new ground by mixing other grapes into a Zin (Cab, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Charbono) at a time when most winemakers focused on mono-varietal wines, resulting in a wine that went viral before it was even a thing. Despite starting in 2000 with 385 innovative cases, the number has risen to 165,000 in 2017.
Phinney’s vision isn’t shared by all of today’s imitators. There are a lot of supermarket red blends that lack any distinctive flavor and have no obvious reason why the disparate grapes were combined. Perhaps these wines were leftovers from making other wines or the cheapest grapes on the bulk market were used to make them. Also, they tend to be very sweet.
There's no doubt that blending at the craft level is a fundamental part of most winemaking. And there's very good traditional precedent for it: Champagne grapes blended with Champagne grapes, Bordeaux grapes blended with Bordeaux grapes.
A group of winemakers on the West Coast, however, want to challenge those rules for good reason, blending traditions intentionally to produce a wine of high quality well beyond the lower market. The right winemaker can make even grapes that don't seem to go well together create a wine that's greater than its parts when they are combined. A mélange of grapes has been used by innovators in California and Washington to create wines you would never mistake for mass market blends.
L’Aventure 2018 Estate Cuvée Willow Creek District, Paso Robles
A remarkable vintage of Stephan Asseo's signature blend of 45 percent Syrah, 40 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, and 15 percent Petit Verdot, a winemaker previously based in Bordeaux who moved to Paso in part to break Old World rules, earned a perfect 100-point score from critic Jeb Dunnuck.
In the nose, which is more reminiscent of Cabernet than Syrah, we find dark-fruited liqueur perfumed with violet flowers, anise and other warm spices as well as dark chocolate and crushed rock, a sexy, complex mixture. Black currants, blackberries, mulberries, and a touch of red plum spill into a rich, smooth, perfectly balanced blend of freshness and opulence, through an incredible finish, all of which combine in rich succession on the palate. This is one of those wines with silky textures that belies its ageability, but good luck trying to resist it for a long time in your cellar.
DeLille Cellars 2017 Doyenne Red Yakima Valley
The perfect marriage between Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon makes this blend from Washington's iconic DeLille Cellars difficult to identify in blind tasting. On the occasion of his wedding, the wine was created by the founder of the winery, Chris Upchurch. There are blueberries, black plums, cassis, blackberries and florals taking both sides of the profile, while tobacco, tobacco, flint and forest dominate the profile. A Rhône-Bordeaux mashup bursting with bright flavors of red berries, plums, and currants. An elegant version of a Rhône-Bordeaux blend.
Buty 2016 Rockgarden Estate Rediviva of the Stones Walla Walla Valley
Known for pioneering cross-traditional blending in the northwest corner of the United States, this winery showcases the vibrancy and minerality of the Rocks District, located on the Oregon side of Walla Walla Valley on the Oregon side. There is a beautiful succession of aromas in this 2016 Buty Rediviva that will please Syrah lovers: blueberry, bacon fat, pepper, pipe tobacco, black olive and warm spice. Blueberries, red plums, black raspberry, orange peel, and crushed herbs counterbalance a silken texture and savory crushed herbs on the palate.
Jonata 2018 Todos Red Ballard Canyon, Santa Ynez Valley
It is estimated that 45 percent of the Syrah, 21 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 14 percent Petit Verdot, 9 percent Petite Sirah, 5 percent Merlot, and 6 percent “miscellaneous” are used in this inky, delicious kitchen sink vineyard blend from Jonata. Having roughed out the recipe, winemaker Matt Dees says it consists of 50 percent Syrah, 30 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, and 20 percent chaos. If the last is true, this is chaos that ends harmoniously. Under purple flowers, blueberries, and dark plums, you will find gorgeous sweet-savory aromas. Crushed rock, a little smoke, tobacco leaf, and leather are layered together in a beautiful way. A berry liqueur with exotically spiced flavors followed by a savory finish infused with hints of espresso, leads to a sweet and savory finish, as a result of Dees' description of the energy and structure in this wine as being a 10-variable ensemble.
Paraduxx 2018 Rector Creek Vineyard Block 4 Red Napa Valley
This uncommon blend of Petit Verdot and Zinfandel is 75 percent Petit Verdot and 25 percent Zinfandel from Duckhorn's Napa Valley brand devoted to varietal blending. Under blackberry aromas, there are florals, exotic spices and crushed herbs from the Petit Verdot-driven nose: vanilla, cardamom, bay, loam, and graphite. It offers juicy red and black fruit flavors, with a touch of wild blueberry, cassis, and red plums, and a hint of briary blackberry, all delivered with compelling energy and balanced with savory notes. This blend combines Petit Verdot's complexity with Zinfandel's fruit-driven appeal.
Saviah Cellars 2018 Hunt & Gather Red Walla Walla Valley
From The Rocks District, Saviah's vibrant Bordeaux-Rhône blend is another jewel. With time in the glass, Syrah's wilder side emerges: blueberry accompanied by wild game. The nose opens with blackberry, cassis, forest notes, and clove, but as the wine matures, its wilder side emerges: blueberry and wild game. A beautiful silky structure surrounds intense fruit, layered with tobacco leaf, black olive, and red plum, accompanied by blackberry and cassis.
Chester Kidder 2018 Red Columbia Valley
There is no cookie-cutter red in this Bordeaux-Rhône blend made by Gilles Nicault, the winemaker of Washington's Long Shadows collection. This wine is deeply aromatic, spicy and earthy on the nose, with notes of cassis and damp loam, with violets and mint emerging on the palate. Its palate is filled with sweet spice and blue fruit, paired with dark mulberry and sweet spice.