How to Find a Good Red Blend Wine

BY Dan Berger TIMEFebruary 14, 2022 PRINT

One of the most popular categories of wines in the last two years is the nearly ubiquitous blended red wine, which is so popular that it has become synonymous with everyday drinking for millions of Americans.

A couple of weeks ago, a stranger, hearing I was a wine writer, asked me what I thought of a particularly ordinary although expensive (to me) blended red. I say expensive because it’s about $17 a bottle, but I find it to be worth about $5.

And when a wine sells for three times what I suspect it should, I call it expensive. And my reaction to his question was, “Not very much.” I suspected he would agree, but instead he said he thought it was terrific stuff.

There wasn’t much for me to reply, but short of spending 20 minutes or so explaining my reasoning, I was left to simply apologize. I said that I hoped he continued to enjoy the wine that so many others also enjoyed, and that taste is in the mouth of the beholder.

I didn’t say that I found the wine to be detestable.

The episode rankled me. I’m normally not particularly pejorative in my comments about wines that I don’t favor, but his query took me off guard. And my gut reaction wasn’t especially agreeable.

For those interested in modest blended reds, here are a few issues that might help make buying decisions easier for some of these wines.

First, try to find out what grape varieties were used. That should help some. A good place to start is the use of sound blending grapes, starting with some of the best such as grenache (aromatics and texture), cinsault (rich fruit), syrah (dark, rich flavors), petite sirah (weight), and zinfandel (spiced fruit).

I’m not a big fan of cabernet or pinot noir in red wine blends; they don’t seem to play well with other varieties.

Chances are, however, that you won’t find out what grapes are in a particular blend, so the next best thing to know is how much alcohol is in it.

Moderation here counts. Ideal is 12.5 to 14 percent. The closer wine is to 15 percent alcohol, the less flavor any wine will deliver. Over 15 percent? Don’t light a match.

Higher-alcohol wines may well be soft and rich, which some people really like. But blended reds often are aimed at being served with meals, and 15 percent alcohol wines go with meals as well as pickled tomatillos go with ice cream.

After alcohol content comes the region. If the appellation on a bottle of wine is “California,” buyers know nothing of its origin except that it came from grapes grown in one of 58 counties. No help there. Wines that say they’re from smaller regions (like Livermore, Santa Barbara, Sierra Foothills) often are slightly pricier, but can be better values.

The vintage date on a wine also is helpful. It lets potential buyers know how long the stuff has been in the bottle. Seek vintages that are no older than 2017. A 2016 wine may be fine, but it’s already been five years.

Wines that have no vintage date can also be excellent choices if the wine is from a brand with fast turnover. Though some classic red wines age well, older is usually not better for modestly priced wines.

Blended red wines, as a category, range all over the place both in terms of style and quality, and prices can vary from very reasonable to outrageous. As a result, some everyday-wine buyers have re-discovered some values in varietals.

Wine of the Week

2020 Barefoot Merlot, California ($9): This very large brand has developed quite a following among people who appreciate inexpensive and tasty wines that they can afford on a daily basis. This specific varietal has always produced a lovely dry red, and here the flavors are close enough to authentic to call this a true bargain. It is often seen at around $7.

Epoch Times Photo
(Courtesy of Barefoot Wines)
Dan Berger
To find out more about Sonoma County resident Dan Berger and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at
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