Wine blends – embrace the mystery
September 10th, 2012
06:30 PM ET
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Ray Isle (@islewine on Twitter) is Food & Wine's executive wine editor. We trust his every cork pop and decant – and the man can sniff out a bargain to boot. Take it away, Ray.

It’s easy, with wine, to drown in the details. Most of us want to know what grape a wine is made from - Cabernet Sauvignon, say - and where it’s from. Knowing the vintage doesn’t hurt either. And before buying a wine, people usually would just as soon have some idea of whether it’s any good.

But beyond that, there’s a hyperabundance of information that is fascinating to the few (wine writers, for example) and mind-numbing for almost everyone else. Trying saying “You know, it's kind of amazing, but the grapes for this Central Coast Syrah were grown on a combination of decomposed granite and sandy loam soils!” to someone you're on a first date with. You’ll definitely be watching TV later, alone.

But how much do you really need to know? Here are a few good reds that simply leave out some of the information we usually expect, skipping the vintage, shrugging at origin, blowing off what grapes are inside. It’s a rather devil-may-care approach, but that’s kind of refreshing when it comes to wine.

Fess Parker Frontier Red Lot #122 ($14)
It’s red, and if you turn the bottle around you’ll find that it’s a kitchen sink of varieties - Syrah, Grenache, Petite Sirah, Mourvedre, Cinsault, Carignane - but winemaker Blair Fox isn’t telling what vintages went into the 122nd edition of this brambly, berry-rich Central Coast blend.

Alexandre Sirech Les Deux Terroirs Red ($14)
Not only does this earthy, structured blend of Merlot and Syrah from France not have a stated vintage, the label is even coy about where in France the grapes were grown. (Though I’d bet good money it’s Bordeaux for the Merlot and the Rhône for the Syrah.)

Sherman & Hooker’s Shebang Red! Cuvee IV ($15)
Early versions of this nonvintage Zinfandel-based red came in an old-school jug with a loop handle. Proprietor Morgan Twain-Peterson has abandoned that format, much to my dismay, but the wine is still impressive for the price: big, dark, spicy and delicious.

2010 Bonny Doon Contra ($16)
Bonny Doon’s irrepressible proprietor Randall Grahm has made a career out of defying expectations, so the fact that he neglects to mention exactly which red grape varieties are in this bright, peppery “old-vine field blend” should come as no surprise. It’s a great late-summer BBQ pour, no matter what.

2009 Frenchie Napoleon ($30)
What grapes are in it? Well, Cabernet, Syrah, Sangiovese, Zinfandel, Merlot and Cabernet Franc - though you’d never know that from the label. What is certain, though, is that this sleek, full-bodied California red has a rather ornate picture of a French bulldog posing as Napoleon on it, and $1 from every bottle produced goes to the ASPCA.

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soundoff (7 Responses)
  1. David

    If I was presented with 2 bottles of wine with one being labeled as a certain varietal and one labeled as a proprietary "blend", I will pick the blend every time. Why? The blend has been tasted and adjusted so that it TASTES GOOD. Most wine laws will allow blending to some extent (with most wines rarely being 100% of any given varietal) but a good winemaker will blend so that the end product is better than the sum of its parts.

    September 10, 2012 at 11:10 pm |
  2. Deadlift

    I looooove red wine so much, i will try any variety. One of the liquor stores close by has a "sale rack" of random mixes and some of them are only like 8 dollars! But they're always interesting at the least and fun to try when I can't make up my mind.

    September 10, 2012 at 10:25 pm |
    • Dover

      Its too bad that trailers have limited storage, otherwise you could stock up!

      September 12, 2012 at 5:06 am |
  3. jonathan

    I appreciate wine because there is so much variety.
    Sick of Zin? Try Malbec.
    Tired of Merlot? A bottle of Rioja may do?

    When first encountering the monolith that is wine knowledge most are overwhelmed and really most cannot appreciate the layers of smell, taste, texture without experimenting for a while. Good wine drinking is not a quick fix like a cold brew during yard work. You cannot just drink good wine without "chewing". I have opened wine, not been impressed, let it sit for a few days, to discover a change in my palette or the wine itself.

    Please just know that not all taste buds are created equal, when flaming people for appreciating things in a detailed manner.

    I love a good burger w/ a couple bottles of High Life, but know the world has so much more to offer at the right time.

    September 10, 2012 at 10:17 pm |
  4. Lila

    Funny I was just looking at the Alexandre Sirech wine last week and decided not to buy it because I don't like Syrah. I was wondering about these types of wines and what they taste like. There seems to be many coming on the market. Maybe I'll pick some up and give it a try.

    September 10, 2012 at 9:50 pm |
  5. Galaxy Prime

    This article is blatantly discrimatory against a segment of our population that proudly supports the wine producing industry – the winos in the back alleys of America. Somebody once said that the only difference between a wine connoisseur and a wino is the brown paper bag – this article shamelessly fails to mention this sentiment and should therefore apologize to the less affluent wine lovers that would buy the more expensive exclusive wines if they could afford it.

    September 10, 2012 at 9:31 pm |
    • me

      Are you a wino?

      September 10, 2012 at 10:03 pm |
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