Wine columnist Paul Gregutt says, blends can sop up any mix of excess grapes; there is no one-size-fits-all recipe. The combination of a catchy name, a memorable label and big flavor at a modest price is going to have the best chance of moving significant case quantities.
A FEW WEEKS back (remember summer!?!) I wrote about the exceptional values in white wines among the current releases from Washington wineries. Now that the leaves have turned, and our thoughts turn with them to considerations of deep reds and hearty foods, I’d like to do a quick tour of some of the value blends that you will find on your retailer’s shelves.
Though this year’s harvest looks to be a bit short in terms of tonnage, due to the late spring and cool summer weather, there has been something of a grape glut for the past few years. And many wineries have seen back vintages of their higher-priced wines stockpiling in warehouses. Most have dropped prices, but that isn’t always enough. So they turn to the next best option, which is making proprietary blends.
These blends can sop up any mix of excess grapes; there is no one-size-fits-all recipe. The combination of a catchy name, a memorable label and big flavor at a modest price is going to have the best chance of moving significant case quantities.
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There are certain important price points for wines stocked on supermarket shelves, where the competition is thickest. Hovering around $9 or $10 are the leading California brands: Menage à Trois, Apothic and Cupcake Red Velvet. Quite honestly, I’ve tasted them in blind flights against comparably priced Washington wines, and the Washington blends were more substantial, more complex and more authentic. By that I mean they avoided duplicating the common flavors of cheap California blends; specifically, sweet, simple fruit and a big streak of vanilla.
Washington blends, especially in the $12 to $15 range, generally show more depth and polish. There are deeper fruit flavors of black cherry and cassis, along with earthy (not veggie!) nuances that recall a more European style. Among the everyday red wines of France, Spain and Italy, for example, flavors of leaf and rock and earth and fungus abound.
Here are some recommended red blends (some labeled varietally) to try, ranked in preferential order. Note that vintages may change unexpectedly. The prices quoted are full retail and may be a little higher than the actual selling price.
Olsen Estates 2008 Red Wine; $15. A red Rhône-style blend based on syrah, all estate-grown. Deep black fruits, thick streaks of composty loam, veins of coffee and licorice, and penetrating, fully ripe tannins.
Seven Hills 2008 Planing Mill Red; $16. Firm and tartly wound, with cassis and black cherry at the core of a young, stiffly tannic, cabernet-based blend.
O• S 2007 Red; $18. A nice follow-up to the 2006 Red, which was a featured pick a year ago. Merlot, cabernet, cab franc and a splash of petit verdot make for an edgy wine with good grip and substantial tannins.
Saviah Cellars 2009 The Jack Cabernet Sauvignon; $15. Forward and fruity with black cherry hard-candy flavors. It adds just the barest hint of earth and fungus, giving it some welcome depth and detail.
Saviah Cellars 2009 The Jack; $15. A merlot-based red blend, aged in American oak. Strawberries and plums dance into a detailed wine with fine-grained tannins and a pleasing herbal streak.
Boomtown 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon; $15. Solid fruit anchors this value offering. A fairly tannic wine, it’s loaded with herbal highlights along with licorice, clove, vanilla and tobacco.
Milbrandt Vineyards 2008 Traditions Merlot; $15. This has assertive vanilla and tobacco flavors, but also shows substantial berry and cherry fruit at the heart of the wine.