A bonanza of bargain-priced blends

Years ago, a California winemaker came to Miami touting his latest creation — a complex, expensive wine made by blending four or five well-known red grapes.

For fun, he invited journalists to try to duplicate it from bottles of its constituent wines. The winning blender: a gossip columnist who confessed she knew little about wine.

We wine geeks were humiliated, of course, and put it down to blind luck. The lesson that day was how much a wine could be changed by the addition of just a percent or so of wine from a different grape.

The other lesson: It must be great fun to be a winemaker.

Wine blending has gone on for centuries, usually using one wine to compensate for the weaknesses of another — adding, say, a muscular, tannic wine to a wimpy one to create a well-balanced whole.

Here are tasting notes on blends I’ve sampled recently:

• Nonvintage Barefoot Cellars Impressions: Modesto, Calif.; grenache, shiraz, malbec and tempranillo; deep red hue, very fruity, aromas and flavors of blueberry pie, spice and milk chocolate, rich, sweet and soft; $7.

• 2012 Alamos Red Blend: Mendoza, Argentina; malbec, bonarda, tempranillo and syrah; dark hue, aromas and flavors of black cherries and black pepper, rich, hearty and slightly sweet; $13.

• Nonvintage Bella Sera Red Blend, Italy: merlot, syrah, bonarda, lambrusco, sangiovese, montepulciano and other grapes; soft and slightly sweet, with aromas and flavors of black raspberries and mocha; very fruity; $8.

On California’s Central Coast, Bridlewood Estate Winery takes the unusual step of combining three reds with a white-wine grape, viognier, noted for its aromas and flavors of peaches and vanilla and its seeming sweetness even when it’s dry:

• 2011 Bridlewood Central Coast Blend 175: cabernet sauvignon, syrah, petite sirah, viognier; dark hue, hint of oak, crisp and fruity, with flavors of black raspberries and black coffee; $15.

In California’s Sonoma Valley, Adler Fels Winery has created a “National Parks Wine Collection,” with $2 per bottle donated to America’s parks system:

• Nonvintage Adler Fels “Yosemite” Artisan White Wine: viognier, moscato, symphony, semillon and sauvignon blanc; intensely fruity with aromas and flavors of ripe peaches and oranges and a hint of minerals; $16.

• Nonvintage Adler Fels “Yosemite” Artisan Red Wine: zinfandel, syrah, merlot and petite sirah; intensely fruity, with aromas and flavors of black cherries and spice; $16.

Biltmore Wines, based at the North Carolina estate created in the 1800s by George Vanderbilt, is creating blends not only of different grapes, but in some cases of grapes from both California and North Carolina. Such wines must be labeled “nonvintage” by law, though the winery says they’re both from grapes harvested in 2011:

• Nonvintage Biltmore Century White: muscat canelli, riesling, gewurztraminer and malvsia; floral aromas, quite sweet flavors of mangoes and citrus, crisp; $16.

• Nonvintage Biltmore Century Red: sangiovese, merlot and zinfandel; hint of oak, flavors of black plums and spice, very lightly sweet, full body; $16.

Fred Tasker writes about wine for the McClatchy News Service. He can be reached at

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