WWBG: Red Wine Blends, Part One


Editor’s Note: This column is sponsored by Georgetown Square Wine and Beer (10400 Old Georgetown Road).

A new market of red wine has emerged in the past few years. Almost out of nowhere, California red wine blends became one of the hottest wine categories.

With brands like Apothic Red and Ménage a Trois, wine consumers love the smooth, easy drinking and slightly sweet taste of these red wines. Almost all of the big wineries have come out with a red blend in the past few years — St. Francis, Bogle, Fetzer, Cupcake and Barefoot just to name a few.

But red wine blends have been around for decades. Wines from France’s famed Bordeaux and Cote du Rhone regions are all blends. Winemakers in Bordeaux can use up to seven different grapes for the blend. Rhone wines can use numerous grapes in the blend with certain percentages of each grape.

High-end California wine such as Opus One and Verite are top-notch red blends. A small group of California winemakers started the Meritage Association in 1988. The group’s goal was to make a Bordeaux-style blend with the same guidelines and laws used in France.

Meritage was a big craze in the 90’s, but soon took a big decline. The group charges a licensing fee to winemakers that want to use the Meritage label and has strict guidelines on other winemaking procedures.

These laws and guidelines created by the Meritage Association made it easy for winemakers to simply make their own red blends using whatever grape they desired. In the U.S., the governing body of winemaking is The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. As you may have guessed, the ATF doesn’t have very strict winemaking guidelines, certainly not as strict as France or other European countries do. These loose regulations about where grapes can come from give winemakers complete freedom to use any grape they can get their hands on.

Though most inexpensive California blends are Zinfandel based, new red blends come out everyday with grapes you have never seen in a California wine. With good winemaking techniques, winemakers have catered perfectly to the American palate and made this category of wine here to stay.

Be sure to check out Part Two next week. I will list some of my favorite non-French and non-Meritage blends from all over the world with price ranges that should fit any budget.

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