Miles from Sideways would be happy to hear that red blend wines have surpassed Merlot sales in recent years. I’m happy to hear that red blend wines, which have been around for centuries, are increasing in popularity.
Many have scoffed at my wine adventures over the years, naively imagining a “pinky up” lifestyle of overpriced crushed grapes from the darkest underground corners of Tuscany. This, of course, isn’t the case…of wine.
After wine tasting up and down the west coast, my palate expanded, and I began to appreciate the alchemy of different varietals found in red blends. Red wine blends are the third best-selling varietal behind Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, according to Nielsen.
What Is a Red Wine Blend?
A red wine blend is any wine not made from a single specific grape variety. The single varietals are usually crushed and fermented before the blending takes place.
For example, Merlot, Pinot Noir, and the king of red wines, Cabernet Sauvignon, are all red wines made from a single grape.
Why Are Red Wine Blends Made?
Vintners blend wine made from different grape varietals to add more complexity to the flavor and texture to the palate.
Red wine blends are also extremely cost-effective, so in addition to coming up with something unlike anything else on the market, vintners are also pinching pinots, I mean, pennies.
Adding a small percentage of other grapes to an otherwise single varietal allows winemakers to design a wine. With that in mind, many, if not most, red wines have and will always be blends.
More Grape Varieties Diversify Risk
Increasing diversity within the grape varieties could reduce the risks posed by harsh weather as each varietal requires differing amounts of sunlight, moisture, and varying temperatures.
Very little sunlight and heavy rains can impact the ripeness of a grape, excessive heat accelerates grape development, causing the ripening to begin too early along with higher sugar contents, and frost can destroy entire grapevines.
Growing enough grape varietals ensures that there will be something to produce even if Mother Nature wipes out one crop.
In addition, the grower is reducing logistical challenges come harvest by diversifying their crops, rendering the production of red blends a win-win for the farmer and us consumers.
Red Wine Blends Are Required by Regulation
There are varying regulations in place in wine regions across the globe.
In many of these regions, the law requires that a wine be comprised of specific grape varieties to render it a blend.
If the wine does not follow these specifications, it can be labeled generically as “table wine.” Think Carlo Rossi Paisano 4 liter glass jug on the shelves of your local drugstore.
California, the producer of almost 90% of the United States’ wine, which makes it the fourth largest wine producer in the world, requires a wine to include only 75% of the grape variety on its label.
And there’s where single varietals become a bit convoluted. This essentially means that the delicious Pinot Noir you had at your favorite restaurant last weekend probably included 25% of another or several varietals.
What Makes a Red Wine Blend?
A red blend is precisely what it sounds like: a red wine that has been blended with another, if not several others, rather than being made from a single grape, like Syrah.
I experienced my first red wine blend in the form of a Santa Barbara County GSM, an acronym for Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre.
This complex and popular red wine blend found in warm climate regions is known for its marriage of fruit-forward Grenache grapes and the spicy, earthy notes of Syrah and Mourvèdre.
The classic varieties in a Bordeaux red blend, which you’ve probably heard of, are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec.
Carmenère, a forgotten grape that migrated to Chile from France during the 19th century, makes the occasional but rare appearance.
Additionally, many don’t think of red blends when they think of Chianti, but this Italian classic red blend is usually at least 80% Sangiovese and 20% Colorino, Canaiolo Nero, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Merlot.
Why are Red Blends so Popular?
The increasing popularity of red wine blends begins with the price point. Because they’re fairly frugal to produce, they’re a budget-friendly beverage on the shelves at your preferred wine outlet.
Furthermore, their flavor profile includes an added and welcomed complexity that a wine lover doesn’t always find in a single varietal.
In addition, the winemaker has the creative freedom to create synergy from the most pleasing aspects of two to four grape varietals into a final product.
Consistency is also worth noting. Consumers know what to expect when they buy a bottle of Apothic Red Blend at the market.
It’s not like going to the same coffee shop to have a different barista make your double espresso no-foam latté, only to be disappointed that it doesn’t taste like the one you had yesterday made by your favorite barista. That Apothic Red Blend is going to taste the same every single time you uncork a bottle.
What Is a Sweet Red Wine Blend?
While the level of sweetness can vary from wine to wine, a sweet red wine blend contains a more concentrated amount of what is known as residual sugar.
Residual sugars are the natural grape sugars left over in a wine after fermentation. Think Stella Rosa Red or Cupcake Red Velvet.
Winemaking Processes that Also Give a Wine its Sweetness:
- Stop fermentation before fortification
- This is done through a combination of cooler temperatures and adding sulfites.
- Stop fermentation with fortification
- This is done by adding high-proof alcohol before all of the sugars are consumed by the yeast.
- Add sugar after fermentation
- This is done by adding grape concentrate.
What Temperature Should I Serve Red Blends?
The ideal serving temperature for most red wines is between 60 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
This puts that “room temperature” myth to bed when one considers that room temperature usually sits somewhere around 70 degrees.
There’s no need to invest in a thermometer to ensure you’re serving your red wine blends at a cool 65 degrees.
However, to experience the best possible version of the fruits and aromatics that the wine offers, it’s best to serve slightly cooler than the room in which you’re enjoying it.
If the red blend is on the sweeter side, it’ll probably taste better served at an even chillier 45 – 55 degrees.
Should I Let a Red Blend Wine Breathe? If So, How Long?
Decanting is the practice of gradually pouring wine from one container to another without disturbing its sediment. Using a decanter is not necessary to allow a wine to “breathe.”
Still, most red wines can benefit from some degree of breathing.
Uncorking and letting it sit for 15-20 minutes before consuming ought to do the trick, though it’s really a matter of personal preference.
Some wines were created for aging, so it is ideal to allow those to breathe longer than their “drink now” counterparts found in most grocery stores.
For example, a young, highly tannic wine, like a Rhône-style red blend, which usually consists of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Carignan, and Cinsault, will need to breathe for at least an hour to soften those tannins and be enjoyed to its fullest potential.
Should It Be Stored Or Put In a Cellar?
Most wines aren’t meant to age and won’t gain anything from additional cellaring.
However, this doesn’t imply that a red blend wine will go bad if not drunk within weeks.
Red wine bought at the supermarket then stored in a wine refrigerator for months up to a couple of years will probably taste similar to how it would taste if opened today.
Old World wines, like Nebbiolo, Tempranillo, and Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as dry red blends, are wines that can benefit by up to 20 years of aging.
How Many Calories Are In a Red Wine Blend?
While there are some nuances among varietals and wine profiles, the standard pour at a restaurant is about 5oz, resulting in an average of 125 calories per glass.