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The super Tuscan. That richly expressive Port. That unnerving and must-have Champagne. These are all wines you love, and justifiably so, as they’re among the more popular categories.
But there's a secret technique—and art—that ties those aforementioned styles and regions together: blending. It's where red wine producers really have a chance to show their talents. The blending of different grape varieties is both a science and an art, but centuries of experimentation have yielded some iconic blends, such as syrah with grenache and merlot with cabernet sauvignon. The science is in testing grapes to see how they complement each other based on aromas and flavors that result from local climate and terroir. The art is in knowing when to push the boundaries of traditional blending science, expanding the limits of the great wine frontier to craft a wine that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Winemakers couldn’t have made it to this point in the blending game without a lot of trial and error. You might be surprised to learn that most of that blending technique comes down to structural rather than flavorful components. Megan Baccitich, the winemaker for Judy Jordan’s new Geodesy Wine venture, worked for Paul Hobbs for a long time before joining Geodesy. Baccitich says that Hobbs taught her to “pick textures based on the [various vineyard] blocks for blending.”
Some vintners will even go so far as to plant new varieties in older vineyards in hopes of obtaining a better blend. Mark Lyon, the former longtime winemaker for Sebastiani Vineyards, explains that in 1994, in the winery’s iconic Cherryblock Vineyard, “we wanted to diversify and have blending options,” so they “planted Merlot next to the old blocks of Cabernet Sauvignon.”
The good news for you? All the hard work is done, including the choice of which red blend to seek out. Here’s a list of wines for the savvy red blend drinker available for trial—and free of error.
Best Overall: Lavau Rasteau 2017
Region: France, Rhone, Rasteau | ABV: 14% | Tasting Notes: Raspberry, Blueberry, Plum, Chocolate.
This bottle from Lavau is France’s Rhône Valley in top form: a heady marriage of grenache and syrah, two local favorites. The small town of Rasteau has become a highly sought-out tract of winemaking real estate by Châteauneuf-du-Pape producers aiming to reproduce the popular Rhône blend flavor beloved around the world. Lavau also gets a leg up from legendary wine consultant Stéphane Derenoncourt, who’s had a hand advising vineyards from France to California to the Middle East. This 2017 Rasteau is rich, velvety, and aromatic—and to sweeten the deal, it’s an astounding value wine. There’s a lot to love.
Best Under $20: Famille Perrin Vinsobres Les Cornuds 2017
Region: France, Rhone, Vinsobres | ABV: 13.5% | Tasting Notes: Cherry, Currant, Raspberry, Stone.
Nestled along France’s Southern Rhône Valley, The Perrin family’s history of winemaking goes back five generations—only decent longevity by French standards. This bottle of Les Cornuds is a blend of half grenache and half syrah, two varieties that thrive in the region. And the 2017 vintage benefited from a record-high dry year with a small grape crop, but intense, elegant flavors.
Best Value: Bodegas Muga Reserva 2016
Region: Spain, Rioja | ABV: 14% | Tasting Notes: Blackberry, Cherry, Smoke, Currant.
The flagship grape in this blend is the Iberian favorite tempranillo and clocks in at over two-thirds percentage in this cuvée. Bodegas Muga is one of the jewels of Spain’s north coast and the reason why is evident here in its 2016 Reserva. With a mixture of red fruit and dark fruit aromas, this wine is a natural pair with specialty meats. It’s a high-quality red, but since Bodegas Muga produced an impressive supply, it’s also an excellent value wine.
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Best California: 2017 Paraduxx Proprietary Red
Region: California, Napa Valley | ABV: 14.9% | Tasting Notes: Red plum, Cherry, Sandalwood, Black tea.
What’s a proper Napa Valley red blend that doesn’t feature a large percentage of its famous cabernet sauvignon? This doozy from Paraduxx, under the banner of the Duckhorn Vineyards portfolio, is about as Napa as a red blend can get. It’s almost half cabernet, but also includes petit verdot, zinfandel, and even a little bit of tempranillo. Overall fruity with creamy tannins.
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Runner-up Best California: 2014 Jonata Fenix Ballard Canyon, Santa Barbara, Central Coast, California
Region: California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara, Ballard Canyon | ABV: 14.5% | Tasting Notes: Plum, Blackberry, Cherry, Cocoa.
Napa Valley gets a lot of recognition for its wines, but California’s a big state, and representing California’s Central Coast is this 2014 Fenix red blend from Jonata. Winemaker Matt Dees is something of a wunderkind in the field with specialties in understanding soil science and tannin structure. This blend is a fine example of his handy work: merlot-heavy with parts cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, and petit.
Best Italian: Frescobaldi Tenuta Perano Chianti Classico 2016
Region: Italy, Tuscany, Chianti | ABV: 13.5% | Tasting Notes: Black cherry, Violet, Blackberry, Balsamic.
In Tuscany, there’s one particular family that has been making knock-out red blends for 700 years. That family is none other than the Frescobaldi family, and their 2016 Tenuta Perano is what’s on the menu. It’s another masterwork from an Italian institution, boasting soft tannins and savory aromas—something that belongs in a museum but is available to drink.
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Best South African: Beeslaar Pinotage 2018
Region: South Africa, Stellenbosch | ABV: 14.5% | Tasting Notes: Cherry, Plum, Vanilla, Crème brûlée.
Winemaker Abrie Beeslaar used to lend his expertise to Kanonkop, another winery in the highly regarded Stellenbosch region, but now runs his own label in the same South African landscape. Pinotage, an inky cousin of pinot noir spliced with cinsault, has been around since the 1920s, but most growers didn’t know how to turn it into great wine until the 21st century. This particular 2018 bottle from Beeslaar is the latest in an upward-trending profile for the pinotage, a distinctly South African wine.
Best Portugal: Herdade Do Esporao Reserva Red 2016
Region: Portugal, Alentejo DOC | ABV: 15% | Tasting Notes: Blueberry, Blackberry, Black cherry, Clove.
With 750 years of wine production under its belt, the Herdade Do Esporao estate in Portugal is more than just a great winery; it’s also a dynamo tourist destination. And if you’re lucky enough to find yourself taking selfies among its historic vineyards, its 2016 Reserva Red bottle is the one to seek. It’s alive with varietals distinctive of the Iberian peninsula, such as Alicante Bouschet, Aragonez, Trincadeira, and a splash of Cabernet Sauvignon; aged in both French and American oak barrels, and full of dark fruit and spice undertones.
Best French: Ogier Gigondas Dentellis 2017
Region: France, Rhone, Gigondas | ABV: 14% | Tasting Notes: Raspberry, Pepper, Blackberry, Cherry.
Once again, France’s southern Rhone region makes an appearance on this list, and maybe it’s because of their distinctive French grape blends. This 2017 bottle comes from Ogier, a winery in the business since 1859, and features southern Rhône favorites such as syrah, grenache, and mourvédre. Smooth, full-bodied, and aged twelve months in oak barrels, this wine does France proud.
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Jonathan Cristaldi has written about wine and spirits for more than a decade. He regularly tastes wines from around the globe and personally tasted every wine in this roundup. Cristaldi was named a "Wine Prophet" by Time Out New York for his witty and often avant-garde approach to wine education.
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