Cocktail Hour: In red blends, winemakers become artists

A great chef uses all the tools and flavors available to him to make the greatest meals. Why wouldn't we allow a winemaker to do the same?

There are hundreds of grape varieties available to use in the wine world. More and more wines are being released with a beautiful blend of different grapes. Top sellers include Menage Trois, Apothic Red and 14 Hands from Washington.

But blends are not a new phenomenon. Some of the greatest wines in the world are actually blended wines. Great Bordeaux is always a blend of red wine grapes. You won't see the grape varieties on the label — but all Bordeaux is blended. The grapes that can (by law) be used in Bordeaux are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec.

If you think about it, a winemaker needs to blend grapes to really bring his artistry to the forefront. Using only one grape variety limits the flavors and depths of character a winemaker can create in his wines. Blends allow the winemaker to add or subtract flavors to find his unique flavor profile.

Each grape has its own color, flavors, structure, and other qualities. A good winemaker, for example, learns that Malbec can add color and backbone to a wine, while Cabernet Sauvignon gives the wine its tannic characteristics that allow it to age well and also gives body in the mouth feel.


Typically, if you find one winemaker whose wines you like, you will like them from year to year — because the taste buds don't change that much and the winemaker will create a wine he likes each year. Below see a few of my favorite blended reds that are consistently good and fit my taste buds year to year!

Most of these wines are from small producers, where the owner winemaker is involved in production from beginning to end. Mass-market wines like the aforementioned Ménage Trois or Apothic are nice, but they are mass market and are meant to appeal to our baser instincts of wine — merely okay and jammy up front with no real character or depth. If someone is making two million cases a year, it is impossible to create a great wine, because it is impossible to oversee all aspects of the grapes from the field to the production floor.

Hedges Family Estate C.M.S., from Washington, is a great example of a family-owned winery that uses all the tools in its vineyard to create a great wine. It is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah — hence the C.M.S. I love Washington wines because they are usually more approachable and go great with food. They are usually made to drink now. Very fruit-forward, with a deep, dark ruby color. C.M.S is well-balanced and goes great with everything from steak to a thick hamburger. At About $15 a bottle, it is a perfect medium-priced wine.

• A beautiful blend from California is Cline Cashmere. Cline is still a family-owned winery in California that specializes in Rhone style wines. Their wines are usually silky and smooth, just as the name suggests. It is a blend of the lesser-known grape varieties Mourvedre, Syrah, Grenache, and Petite Sirah. You will be stunned by the smoothness and the jammy flavors emanating from this wine. It is truly one-of-a-kind and is perfect to drink by itself or with a lighter fare.

• If we're talking red blends, I have to mention at least one Bordeaux. Try Chateau Mirambeau, a classic Bordeaux with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. It has a touch of smokiness and earthiness. The family has been making wine for more than 50 years and definitely knows what they're doing.

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