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Why you should drink wine blends, and 10 varieties to try

People love purity. They trust it; they think of it as "better" or even "the best." Proclaiming something to be 100 percent this or that is a tactic used by brands to convey quality. We are conditioned to assume as much because we have been taught from a young age to be suspicious of fillers and imitations. (If a drink contains "10 percent real fruit juice," what makes up the other 90 percent?)

But blends — say, 20 percent one grape, 80 percent another — are everywhere in the wine world. Some regions are defined by their blends — and often they are better than the bottles that boast "100 percent" of a grape variety. Some of the best wines in the world are made from blends.

Horse people know that hot-blooded thoroughbreds can be spirited, to put it kindly, or skittish, to say it another way. Purebred dogs can also be a little high-strung. Doesn't everybody who loves dogs love a good ol' friendly mutt? Wait, can you even say "mutt" anymore, or is it offensive to dogs? Just to be safe — scratch that. Let's call them dogs of mixed breeds.

It is that wonderful melange that gives those dogs their appeal. Perhaps one breed mellows out the tendencies of another. Maybe one breed injects a little energy, or loyalty, or gives added focus to a dog that might have been a little distracted if he were a purebred.

The same ideas apply to wine blending. The introduction of one grape variety to another can make a certain characteristic more pronounced, or correct a shortcoming. It all comes down to that word that gets lobbed around so often in wine circles: balance. Is everything working together? Is the wine better than the parts of it would have been on their own? If so, that's a good blend. That's a good wine, period.

I recently wrote about pricey, proprietary red Bordeaux blends from California, and mostly Napa Valley. This week, it's all about more affordable red blends. This doesn't mean you have to stop drinking your beloved 100 percenters. It just means that you don't have to be suspicious of blends. At least not wine blends. In the fruit juice realm, you're on your own.

California favorites

.2013 Hey Mambo Sultry Red ($12): With fruit from Clarksburg and Paso Robles, this wine is made of tempranillo, syrah, merlot, zinfandel, petite sirah and barbera, offering dark, jammy fruit, vanilla and nutmeg. At this price, it's worth every dollar.

2013 Kendall-Jackson Avant ($17): "California" is this bottle's origin, with grapes from five counties — half merlot, 22 percent syrah and smaller amounts of cabernet sauvignon, malbec, petite sirah, carignan and "other." I promise you, those are grapes. This wine has plum, raspberry, licorice and a hint of spice.

2013 Francis Ford Coppola Vendetta ($25): With a 66/34 split between Mendocino and Monterey counties, and a 66/34 split between cabernet sauvignon and malbec, this wine also wears a black paper bag as a label. Tricks aside, it's tasty and full of raspberry, black pepper, anise and cherry.

,2014 Tenshen ($25): This Santa Barbara County wine brings some Rhone varieties into a blend that includes syrah, grenache, mourvedre, petite sirah and merlot. Full of black cherry and blackberry, it's also spicy and floral. I would happily pay more than the asking price for it.

2012 Tom Gore Field Blend ($40): From Sonoma's Alexander Valley, this rustic blend is 35 percent petit verdot, 33 percent malbec and 21 percent merlot with small amounts of cabernet sauvignon and tempranillo. Concentrated plum, blackberry and leather reveal themselves in layers.

Other notables: 2013 Steelhead Vineyards Red, $15; 2012 Manteo, $18; 2012 Cirque du Vin, $19; 2012 Paraduxx Proprietary Red Wine, $48; and 2010 Cenyth Sonoma County Red Wine, $60.

Why you should drink wine blends, and 10 varieties to try 05/23/16 [Last modified: Monday, May 23, 2016 5:41pm]
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