Of course, lots of red wines (and whites for that matter) are a blend of several grape types; Bordeaux and Chianti are two notorious examples of multi-varietal wines. But even ‘varietal’ wines from California, Washington, Chile or wherever frequently have other grapes in the mix. Usually included to ‘soften’ a wine (ie less tannic Merlot added to Cabernet) or to add complexity (just like adding a variety of spices to a sauce rather than one). But the category we are referring to here is something else; this new ‘red blend’ category is comprised of wines that are A) blends of non-traditional partners such as Zinfandel with Cabernet and Syrah for example, and B) usually a little (or a lot) sweet. This movement was fostered by a wine from Folie à Deux winery called ‘Ménage à Trois’ which is a blend of Zinfandel, Merlot and Cabernet with a touch of residual sweetness. Over a two-and-a-half year period, out of the blue, it became the best-selling premium red wine in America, catching its owners (and the wine trade in general) by surprise. It didn’t take long for the competition to jump on the trend and now there are scores—maybe a hundred—of new entrants to this young category.
That’s mostly good news, however there is one thing that could put the kibosh on this red-hot red movement: like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get. These wines can range from light and wimpy to rich and luxurious; from overtly sweet, to smooth and fruitladen, to dry and tannic. Sure, there is always a wide range styles within any given category, but even with wines as disparate as the Cabernet Sauvignon from Caymus vs the Cabernet from say Sutter Home, there is some inkling of commonality. And the appellation of Chianti is another example. The little Chiantis have some sort of resemblance to the ‘serious’ wines that cost much more (albeit you sometimes need to use your imagination).
However, most of these new red blends have lyrical names that indicate nothing: Ménage à Trois, Apothic, Red Velvet, Seven Daughters, Evolution, Winemaker’s Red, Amitage, Hot to Trot, Blend 75, Cherry on Top, Headshrinker, Shatter and Crush…to name a few. Wines like Apothic and Amitage are so different from each other we find it hard to believe they appeal to the same audience. They would both have fans (indeed Apothic is especially on fire these days), but different fans to be sure. The challenge for the good retailers and restaurateurs is to know what is what and which is which. And once you know, you can actually use the broadness of the category to sell your clients numerous bottlings so they can explore the range for themselves.
The secret to knowing: ask your oh-so-capable sales rep from Great Lakes Wine & Spirits to spell it out for you. Like you, we sell wine AND knowledge and we’ll be happy to help you make sure you have all the knowledge you want.