Great Wines for 2020, Part IV

Bargain blends. | Lou Phillips

The last in this four-part series will be a looking at 2019’s biggest wine trend: blends. The numbers back this up because this was the fastest growing segment in California wines. Blend requests were and are ubiquitous, heard by wine professionals everywhere from five-star restaurants to the bargain aisles of supermarkets. Yep, blends are the newest, latest and greatest.

Blend requests were and are ubiquitous, heard by wine professionals everywhere from five-star restaurants to the bargain aisles of supermarkets.

Or, are they? We will get to that, but first let’s examine the what and why of these crowd pleasers. The what is winemakers putting appropriate percentages of different grapes together that complement each other to create a whole greater than the sum of its parts. This particularly makes sense in regions with widely varying climates from year to year; in especially cool years, winemakers will add more of an early ripening grape such as Merlot to balance a degree of under-ripeness in Cabernet Sauvignon. In addition, for wineries that depend mostly on purchased grapes, blending gives them more flexible buying options.

Read the first three parts 

Many people point to fan favorites such as The Prisoner, usually a combination of five bold red grapes, as the start of the red-blend craze. From a commercial standpoint this idea holds some water because this Davis Phinney creation was titled Red Blend with the grapes listed on the label. In the bigger picture, The Prisoner was another version of what winemakers have been doing for several hundred years at least.

Looking back at the Merlot/Cabernet example cited earlier, we know Bordeaux was built on blends. Modern Red Bordeaux usually has two or three grapes in it with Cabernet Franc being the third option. In past centuries, Malbec was often the lion’s share, with large percentages of Carménère and Petit Verdot as well.

In Southern Rhone, 13 grapes are allowed in red wines and vintners there often change the percentages of year to year depending on which benefitted most in that year’s climate.

The same can be said for legacy regions in Italy and Spain, although with more consistent weather lately and modern winemaking techniques, certain grapes are consistently dominant in said blends.

With California’s many regions having steadier climates and the ease of transporting the fruit large distances, winemakers there have a cornucopia of available grape varieties from which to create tasty blends. In addition, depending on what appellation (specified area) they choose to put on the label, they can put significant percentages of other varieties even in wines that are represented as single varietal.

By the way, all of this applies to white wines, as well. In addition, as the accompanying pictures demonstrate, the quality and price of blends varies greatly.

So, whether your taste and budget lean toward Apothic or Insignia, blends are delicious options.