One strategy for calibrating your palate is to taste wines made from the same varietal grape and decide on styles you like. This is best done blind, where a co-conspirator buys the wines and another puts them in numbered brown paper bags, opens the wines and hides the corks so the tasters aren’t given hints as to what they are sampling.
This is fun with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Tempranillo, Zinfandel and other reds. The whites can include Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Chenin Blanc, as four of the most distinctive white varietals.
But what about blends? The most classic are Bordeaux blends, where the vignerons make their magic with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot (the blends depend upon the terroir and the stylistic goal of those involved in making the wine). Rhone blends can have Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and even a white grape or two added to the mix to try and provide a consistent house style. What about rogue blends, seemingly odd combinations that, surprising, taste very good?
Which gets to the bottom line: notes from tasting some blends over the past nine months and looking for interesting combinations. The following includes wines set aside in the cellar to see how they would evolve. The vintages are from 2010 to 2018 and Rhone blends, Bordeaux blends, field blends and interesting approaches from different wine regions.
As always, the goal is to continue exploring and find more wines that you like, with wine writers offering a very rough road map for your consideration, with wines listed in order of price, from lowest to highest.
- Central Coast Calif. Bordeaux Blend 2016 Donati Family Vineyard Claret Paicines $16. Mid-dark garnet; mint, cassis, red and black fruit nose, hint of wood; mid-body; balanced; softening tannins; good Cabernet fruit on the palate; long smooth finish. Fine style, good value. w/beef. 16.5-17 UC Davis scale; 91-92 other scales.
- Calif. red blend 2016 Bogle Vineyards Phantom $16. Petite Sirah (52%), Zin (48%). Mid-dark garnet; ripe grape (14.5 alc.), blackberry jam, oak (American), smokey nose; mid-big body; tight tannins; long hot chewy finish. Pizza, pasta, BBQ wine. 16/90
- $16 Napa County red blend 2017 Sparrow Hawk Reserve Red Wine (Syrah, Merlot, Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon). Mid-garnet; red fruit, peppery, plum nose; mid-body; round; balanced; like an easy-drinking field blend. w/appetizers, parties. 15.5/89
- Napa Valley Bordeaux blend 2017 Taken Wine Co. Taken $18. Sharp mid-dark garnet; black fruit, currants, cassis and mint nose; mid-body; balanced; mid-acids/tannins; long berry and wood slightly hot (14.3 alc.) finish. Good dinner wine, w/beef. 16-16.5/90-91
- California red wine blend 2013 Whitehall Lane Tre Leoni Napa Valley ($21 on sale of red blends in 2016). Mid-dark garnet; berry, mint, cedar and smokey nose; mid-body; tight tannins; fruity; a little hard and hot (14.2 alc.). w/meatloaf. 15.5/89
- Lodi Red blend 2018 Macchia Graciano $23. Darkest purple; ripe grape (15.4 alc.), prune and redwood nose; mid-big body; grapey; thick; long semi-chewy finish. BBQ, pizza, pasta, rib wine. 15/88
- Lodi, California Rioja-like blend 2017 Bokisch Vineyards Tizona La Colada, $29. 50-50 Tempranillo and Graciano. Mid-dark garnet; new world peppery, raspberry, bramble nose; mid-body; balanced; softening tannins; some style; opens with air; long semi-chewy fruity finish; slightly hot (14.5 alc.). w/pasta. 16/90
- Paso Robles, Calif., Bordeaux blend 2014 Halter Ranch Ancestor ($29 in 2016). 60% Cabernet, 32 Malbec, 18 Petit Verdot. Dark purple; ripe grape, herbaceous, cassis nose; mid-body to big; grapey; long chewy hot (14.8 alc.) berry finish. w/BBQ, ribs. 16/90
- Napa Bordeaux blend 2014 Beaulieu Vineyard Tapestry Reserve ($36 in 2018). Mid-dark garnet; Napa nose, mint, berries, cassis, light oak; mid-body; balanced; mid-tannins; semi-tight fruity finish, hint of wood. w/left over pasta. 16-16.5/90-91
- California blend 2016 Markus Wine Co. Lodi, CA Sol $35. 70% Petite Sirah, 10 Syrah, 10 Petit Verdot, 10 Carignane; 14.6 alcohol. Mid-dark garnet; blackberry, saline, mineral nose; mid-body; balanced; good tannins and fruit; long berry and jam finish. w/BBQ. 16/90
- 2012 Robert Mondavi Winery BDX (Bordeaux blend; $40 in 2017). Mid-brick, amber edges; cassis, berry, red fruit, wood and Napa Cabernet nose; mid-body; balanced; good depth of fruit; long rich semi-chewy finish. w/beef with Richelieu sauce. 17-17.5/92-93
- Calif. Zinfandel blend 2017 Prisoner Wine Company The Prisoner, $42. Dark purple, fading edges; ripe grapes, berry, prune, herbaceous, woody nose; mid-big body; mid-plus tannins; long hot (15.2 alc.) chewy, berry finish. w/BBQ. 16/90
- Yountville, Calif. Red Blend, 2010 Tamber Bey Cabernet Sauvignon Deux Chevaux Vineyard ($42 in 2013). Mid-dark garnet, brick edges; mint, cedar, cassis, cocoa, leather nose (similar to earlier notes); mid-big body; mid-plus tannins; long semi-chewy hot (14.9 alc.) finish. w/tri tip. 16.5/91
- $14 red blend Valle de Uco, Argentina, 2016 Clos de los Siete (54% Malbec, 18 Merlot, 12 Cabernet Sauvignon, 12 Syrah, 3 Petit Verdot, 1 Cab Franc). Mid-dark garnet, pink edges; ripe grape, peppery, black fruit, cedar nose; mid-big body/tannins; good flavor; long semi-chewy finish. BBQ, ribs wine. By Michel Rolland. 16/90
- Colchagua, Chile red blend 2015 Veramonte Primus The Blend $15. (40% Cabernet Sauvignon; 25 Merlot; 24 Carmenere; 8 Petit Verdot; 3 Cab Franc). Mid-garnet, pink edges; herbaceous, berry, mint nose; mid-body; balanced fruit; long cherry, wood, slightly hot (14.0 alc.) finish. Good value, with BBQ, grill, burgers. 15.5/89
- Valle de Guadalupe, Baja Calif., Mexico 2013 Bodegas Marilena Maliguena red blend (66.5% Petit Verdot, 33.5% Cabernet Sauvignon), $35. Dark garnet; plum, wood, strawberry, hints of violet; mid-body; round, ripe (13.8 alc.); softening tannins and acids; long fruity finish. w/beef. 16/90
- Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California, Mexico, 2017 Trasiego Mezcla Mediterránea red wine blend (35% Montepulciano, 30 Aglianico, 25 Merlot, 10 Sangiovese), $35. Dark purple; ripe grape, prune, peppery nose (14.4 alc.); slight rubber boot (mercaptan/sulfur) background; mid-big body; long fruity finish. BBQ, burger, pizza, rib wine. 15-15.5/88-89
- Baja California, Mexico, Rhone blend, 2008 Adobe Guadalupe Kerubiel ($55 in 2017 at winery). 44% Syrah, 26% each Cinsault and Mourvedre, 3% Grenache, 1% Viognier. Pale brick, amber edges; red fruit, raspberry, tobacco and wood nose; mid-body; balanced; softening tannins; old fruit and wood finish. w/beef. 16-16.5/90-91
- $15 Spanish blend 2017 Crapula Jumilla Cr Gold 5. 50% Monastrell, 50% Syrah. Mid-garnet/purple; peppery, bramble, waxy nose; mid-big body; chewy, tart; thick grapey finish; decent flavor. BBQ, pizza, pasta wine. 15.5/89
- $30 Tuscany blend 2017 Campo di Sasso Insoglio del Cinghiale Toscana IGT. Mid-purple; peppery, bramble, blackberry nose; mid-body; balanced; good fruit; woody and bramble finish; a little short and hot (14.5 alc.). w/sausage pasta. 15.5/89