Wine Making

Six fresh California red blends that challenge the cloying, heavy wine stereotype

If you’ve heard people talking about “red blends” lately, it’s likely they’re referring to a particular type of wine: an inky, dark, richly scented cuvee at an affordable price, usually under $ 15. $ the bottle. Nowadays, the term most often refers to a wine designed for a mass palate, which generally means that it contains a not insignificant amount of residual sugar.

Mega-hit wines like Prisoner, 19 Crimes and Apothic – each a sort of kitchen sink concoction of varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Merlot and more – popularized the category. . These great wines have conditioned a whole new group of drinkers to walk into a wine store and say, “Where are the red blends, please?” “

Despite the specific connotation the expression has taken on, however, red blends are a wine-making tradition as old as time, and these industrial cuvées are sad representations of the larger category. If you’ve ever had a red Bordeaux, Côtes du Rhône or Châteauneuf du Pape, you’ve had a red blend. Any red wine that is not a varietal wine, that is to say composed of a single varietal, such as Pinot Noir or Sangiovese, is a red blend. And there are much better red blends to drink than the heavy, sweet examples you’ll find in big box stores.

California winemakers are getting particularly creative now. Many combine varietals that aren’t usually seen together, which makes the case for some unorthodox couples. Far from the mainstream versions, many of today’s more exciting red blends are extremely delicate – light on color, texture, and alcohol. In fact, wine growers here are experimenting more and more with the blending of red and white wines, creating “red” blends that can resemble pink.

Here, I’ve highlighted six of my favorite California red blends right now. They vary in weight, and I’ve categorized them roughly in order of lightest to strongest. All of them are perfect for this time of year – as warming and satisfying as a pumpkin and spice latte, but far less cloying. So whip up a salad with the last breath of summer tomatoes or whip up a bowl of squash soup and immerse yourself in these beauties.

As I recently reminded my readers, all reds – those six included – can taste better with a slight thrill.

Tessier Soul Love, a blend of Riesling, Trousseau and Mondeuse.

Esther Mobley / The Chronicle

Tessier Soul Love California NV ($ 26, 12.8%): This wine from Bay Area winemaker Kristie Tacey comes in as a light red, although it’s actually half made up of Riesling, a white wine. It has the peach and honeysuckle flavors of Riesling, and the remaining half – Trousseau and Mondeuse, two red grape varieties most closely associated with the alpine growing regions of France – adds a bit of bite and a pleasant dread. As soon as you smell it for the first time, soaking up its aromas of apricot and cherry pie, you will know: it is a very fun wine. (Available at Flatiron and San Francisco Wine Trading Co.)

Broc's Amore Blendo, a blend of Barbera, Primitivo and Sauvignon Blanc.

Broc’s Amore Blendo, a blend of Barbera, Primitivo and Sauvignon Blanc.

Esther Mobley / The Chronicle

Broc Amore Blendo Mendocino County 2020 ($ 30, 12%): Broc’s Love red seems to be everywhere these days, and for good reason: it’s exuberant and drinkable at an affordable price. This other cuvée, Amore Blendo, is a great alternative to the Love red which is a little lighter – and, yes, a little more funky. The blend of Barbera, Primitivo and Sauvignon Blanc tastes like blood orange peel, red cherries and even hints of sour Warheads candy. Let the wine open for a few minutes in your glass after pouring it; although tightly rolled up at first, it opens up as it gets to know you. (Available at Broc.)

The red wine Flora & Fauna from Idlewild, a blend of Dolcetto, Barbera and Nebbiolo.

The red wine Flora & Fauna from Idlewild, a blend of Dolcetto, Barbera and Nebbiolo.

Esther Mobley / The Chronicle

Idlewild Flora & Fauna 2019 red wine ($ 24, 12.9%): Still one of the best quality-price ratios of Californian wines with Italian accents, the red Flora & Fauna from Idlewild blends Dolcetto, Barbera and Nebbiolo, three grape varieties that grow in the northern Italian region of Piedmont. Dusty tannins frame the strawberry and salami flavors, ending with a bit of that rustic astringency that Piedmont wines often convey. It’s a young wine with bite, with enough acidity to withstand a rich meal. (Available from Bottle Barn and Idlewild.)

Land of Saints GSM, a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre from Santa Barbara County.

Land of Saints GSM, a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre from Santa Barbara County.

Esther Mobley / The Chronicle

Land of the Saints GSM Santa Barbara County 2019 ($ 22, 14.3%): Here is a red blend from a proven recipe: Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre, three grape varieties known to harmonize so well that they have become a widely used acronym, GSM. Grenache dominates here, imbuing the wine with notes of vanilla and strawberry buttercream. It is silkier and more immediately rewarding than many of the other wines on this list, which is generous with its charms. (Available at Flatiron and Solano cellars.)

Rojo Grande by Whitcraft, a 50-50 blend of Syrah and Lagrein.

Rojo Grande by Whitcraft, a 50-50 blend of Syrah and Lagrein.

Esther Mobley / The Chronicle

Whitcraft Rojo Grande County of San Luis Obispo 2017 ($ 30, 12.83): The obscure Lagrein grape makes up half of this blend. Rarely seen in California, Lagrein is originally from the Alto Adige region in the far north of Italy. Whitcraft Winery, located in downtown Santa Barbara, bought Lagrein grapes from a Paso Robles vineyard for years, but winemaker Drake Whitcraft stopped buying the fruit after 2018, believing Lagrein was just a little too tannic for his taste. Despite its aggressively tannic nature, it has managed to produce beautiful wines that are downright in the medium-bodied camp, blending Lagrein and Syrah. This penultimate vintage of Rojo Grande is floral and plum, with a refreshing bitterness and a touch of acidity that runs through the palate. (Available at K&L, Flatiron and Whitcraft.)

Alma de Cattleya red wine, a blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

Alma de Cattleya red wine, a blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

Esther Mobley / The Chronicle

2019 Alma de Cattleya Sonoma County Red Wine ($ 27, 14.1%): It is the great wine of the bunch. By combining Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, winemaker Bibiana González Rave has created a tangy, spicy and peppery wine, full of flavors of black fruits such as blackberry. Its soft texture and woody accents make it perfect with grilled meats. (Available at Bottle Barn, Wine.com, Vintage Wine Merchants, and Alma de Cattleya.)

Esther Mobley is the San Francisco Chronicle’s wine critic. E-mail: emobley@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @Esther_mobley



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