Call me suspicious, but I start to worry when information seems to be missing. If I see “meat-filled ravioli” on a restaurant’s menu I wonder: What is “meat”? Is it beef? Is it chicken? Did it moo, cluck or maybe whinny in a previous life? It’s a mystery food; hmmmm.
Likewise, when I see “red blend” on a wine label I wonder: “Blend of what?” A blend of grapes, hopefully, but why don’t the vintners tell me which grapes they’ve blended and in what proportions? Do they think I won’t know the difference? Are they blending leftover juice after they make their big-name wine? It’s a mystery wine; hmmmm again.
If you don’t know which grapes went into a wine — or at least what the main grapes were — then you can’t know what the wine’s going to taste like. Simple! I’ve bought a few “red blends” to investigate and have found a wide range of tastes lurking behind their mysterious labels. I’ll try to describe some for you, to help you break the code.
Let me say upfront, though, that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with making wine from blended grapes. Chateauneuf-du-Pape, possibly one of the greatest red wines in the world, was traditionally a blend of 13 grape varieties. These days, fewer and fewer vintners use all 13, but you’ll still find several of the classic Rhone grapes — particularly Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Cinsault — in Chateauneuf-du-Pape.
Bordeaux reds, similarly, allow six grape varieties — although French vintners mainly stick to four: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Bordeaux also allows Malbec and Carménère grapes and, although rarely used in France nowadays, I’m noticing lots of Malbec in North American “Bordeaux blends.” Makes me wonder if North American vintners aren’t just trying to ride the wave of Argentine Malbec’s popularity but, like I said, I tend to be suspicious (and Argentine Malbec can taste like bacon).
So anyway, if you see “Bordeaux blend” on a bottle of California wine you have a hint at what you’re getting, but without proportions you still can’t predict the taste. And what’s really starting to irk me is when I go to research the grape proportions in a French Bordeaux, and read it’s a “Bordeaux blend.” What?? A Bordeaux with 80 percent Cabernet will taste completely different from one having 80 percent Merlot. Cabernet is more tannic and flavorful, while Merlot is softer and traditionally used to dilute a too-strong Cab. Proportions also indicate how long a Bordeaux will age and when it’ll be ready to drink. The words “Bordeaux blend” are worse than useless, IMHO, but I digress….
I started my “red blend” sleuthing with Apothic Red, Winemaker’s Blend 2011 (Apothic Winery, Modesto, CA, 13 percent ABV). It was dark purple, almost Welch’s grape juice colored, with lots of dark fruit flavors — like black raspberry and grape, with an undertone of, yes, prune juice. The finish was very dry, almost chalky, with tannins coming from the dark-skinned grapes (Zinfandel, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot).
This blend disappointed me, though, because it seemed too homogenized. The Merlot over-diluted the three more powerful grapes. Now, it certainly wasn’t as neutral as straight Merlot can be, but I felt this wine was trying to be all things, so achieving none. Apothic Red could be an everyday wine to drink by itself; it would be overwhelmed by most foods. (13 percent ABV; widely available in grocery stores; $10-20, depending.)
Apothic’s limited edition 2012 “Dark” blend, however, was much more striking. The Halloween-themed label made me suspect silliness, but this was a real flavor bomb of black cherry and blueberry with noticeable flavor layers, tannins and backbone. The color was midnight dark and the fruit aromas leapt out of the glass. Apothic Dark blends Petite Syrah, Teroldego and Cabernet Sauvignon, and skips the Merlot. It’s largely sold out for this year, so watch for this treat next Halloween. (14 percent ABV; widely available; $12-15.)
Goats do Roam 2012 Fairview Red is a “Rhone blend” wine, which refers back to those 13 grape varieties I mentioned earlier. Of course “Rhone blend” could be just as meaningless as “Bordeaux blend,” but this wine scores points for listing grapes and percentages on the back label. Specifically, it has Syrah (46 percent), Grenache, Moruvedre, Cinsault and Durif (3 percent) and tastes like a decent wine from southern France.
Goats do Roam Fairview Red hails from the Coastal Region of South Africa, which is successfully growing Rhone-style grapes. I was initially scared of the deep-purply Welch’s color, but the aroma of mixed dark fruits (blackberry and black current) was interesting and the flavors were well balanced — a bit tannic but very drinkable without decanting. This wine is completely unobjectionable — by which I mean you could serve it to an aficionado or a box-wine fanatic and they both should like it. You wouldn’t mistake it for a Chateauneuf-du-Pape, but it’s entirely enjoyable and at a price ($10-$15, depending) that won’t break the bank. It’ll go well with turkey and ham; not so well with steak and lamb. Chees balls, yes. Spinach dip in the Hawaiian-bread bowl, yes. Dark chocolate cupcakes, yes! (14 percent ABV; widely available.)
The Abominable Snowman Lives?
I’m suspicious about this critter, too, but maybe you can solve the mystery on Dec.14 by joining in the Inaugural LoDa “Crawl to Christmas 2013” with Great Divide Brewing Company and its award-winning Yeti beers. This is a six-bar Yeti Crawl starting at the OK Bicycle Shop on Dauphin Street at 5 p.m. and proceeding to Draft Picks (featuring Oatmeal Yeti, 6 p.m.), The Haberdasher (Espresso Yeti, 7 p.m.), The Blind Mule (Yeti Imperial Stout, 8 p.m.), Alchemy Tavern (Chocolate Yeti, 9p.m.) and collapsing happily at the LoDa Bier Garten (Oak-Aged Yeti, 10 p.m.).
Yeti stalkers should meet at the OK Bicycle Shop no later than 5 p.m. to receive a map, rules and other goodies for their Yeti adventure! (For more information, visit Budweiser-Busch Distributing’s page on Facebook.) Anyone spotting an actual Yeti, however, should call me. Hmmmmm.