Red wine blends are having a red hot moment.
After years of being passed over for single-variety wines such as cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir, a new wave of blended red wines made in a crowd-pleaser style - and priced at a budget-friendly $9 to $12 per bottle - is winning favor with consumers.
"They're drinking the red blends," says Doug Bell, national wine and beer buyer for Whole Foods Market. The wines tend to be "kind of plush, very fruity, very smooth," and attract consumers who want to try red wines but aren't looking for the traditional single-grape varieties.
Wines made from more than one red grape aren't new, of course. The classic Bordeaux blends from France generally are made from a blend of six grapes, with the predominant grapes being cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot.
Even single-variety wines aren't necessarily pure. By law, they can contain up to 25 percent of a grape different from what's listed on the label.
Blends making news in the United States often incorporate the New World grape zinfandel. Also popular is Syrah, which hails from France but has become more associated with the New World, especially Australia.
Red blends started getting trendy about two years ago, with brands such as Menage a Trois, made from three red grapes.
Some popular blends at Whole Foods include Frey Agriculturist, a California wine that is a blend of carignan, merlot and syrah, and Innovac!on Shiraz Cabernet from Argentina along with Innovac!on Tempranillo-Malbec.
Roy Cecchetti, cofounder of Cecchetti Wine Co., also based in Sonoma County, expects the red blend wine category to continue to grow over the next 18 to 24 months.
He's launched a blend called Exitus (Latin for departure) that retails for $25. The 2010 blend combines three grapes from California - Central Coast syrah, petite sirah from the Mendocino Coast and merlot from Lake County.
Cecchetti theorizes that red blends are attractive to consumers as a new option.
"Most all red varietals have been overexposed," he says. "Red blends give the consumer the opportunity of trying something completely different based on the varying flavor profiles of the red blends that are currently available."
Another recent entry in the category is Echelon Red Blend, part of the California series of wines from Sonoma County based Echelon Vineyards. The 2010 vintage is primarily a blend of cabernet sauvignon and merlot with a few other red grapes that winemaker Kurt Lorenzi calls the "secret sauce."
Echelon's red blend, which has a suggested retail price of $13.99, is on the drier end of the spectrum and its makeup depends on Lorenzi.
"Cabernet sauvignon's important, but we're not wed to varieties," he says. "We're going to put out a great red blend."