Serious Grape: Winter Red Wine Blends

On Fridays, Deb Harkness of Good Wine Under $20 drops by with Serious Grape. This week, red wines for the chilly weather.

With much of the country in a deep freeze, it seemed like the perfect time to talk about red blends.

Here in the United States, we are used to seeing wines with a single, particular grape listed proudly on the label, such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot. Some think these single-grape bottlings indicate higher quality, and feel that if you have to blend your juice, then there's something wrong with it.

Not true. Red blends have been made for centuries all over the world, most notably in Bordeaux, France, where the famous red wines are traditionally blended from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and other permitted red grapes. Many red blends represent excellent value, as well.

If you're looking for a hearty red to warm up your cold winter nights, give one listed after the jump a try. All of these wines will pair perfectly with soups, stews, roasts, and pasta dishes—in other words, with the foods we're eating right now.

2006 Blackstone Winery Sonoma Reserve Rubric: (find this wine for $18-$20) I’m not sure there is a grape that’s NOT in here! Blended from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petite Verdot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Petite Sirah, and Tannat, in this case you can really smell and taste the Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc in the herbal lead pencil shaving notes. There are plums and blackberries, too, along with fine tannins and a slightly drying aftertaste. This is the red blend to go with roasts or meaty stews.

2005 Clif Bar Family Winery The Climber: (find this wine for around $18) A soft red blend made with Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Syrah, and Merlot. You can really smell and taste the Zinfandel in the briary, blackberry fruit. There are cedar-spice notes and a nice lift of hers, as well. Surprisingly light on its feet for a wine that comes in at an impressive 14.3% alcohol by volume, with soft and approachable tannins.

N.V. Forgeron Cellars Walldeaux Smithie: (find this wine for $14-$22) This blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Zinfandel, and Cabernet Franc has herbal and plum aromas, which are echoed in the flavors that smooth out and pick up touches of blackberry, tar, and leather. This would be especially good with macaroni and cheese or stew.

2005 Lot 205 No. 1 Red: (find this wine for $9-$11) Made by Cartlidge & Browne, this is a good red for the price (under $10), with plum, spice, and blackberry aromas and flavors. A perfect pizza and pasta wine, made with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petite Sirah.

2007 Sebeka Cape Blend: (find this wine for $7-$11) Shiraz and the South African favorite Pinotage go into this blend. Red and black berry fruit in the aromas and flavors, and there is a big hit of vanillin oak and some spice as you sip. The aftertaste picks up some mocha notes from the Pinotage. A perfect match for chili or burgers.

2005 Veramonte Primus: (find this wine for $13-$26) This exceptionally good value wine was blended from Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Carmenere. There were heady aromas and flavors of plum, blackberry, spice, and plum blossom wrapped up in a satiny texture with a spicy aftertaste. This well-balanced wine is drinking beautifully now, and will continue to shine into the winter of 2009-2010 if you want to set some aside.