Red blends — red wines made with more than one grape — are often misunderstood in the United States. We tend to think of them as somehow inferior to varietal wines — those made with just one grape — because they need more than one grape because the quality of the first grape isn’t very good.
In fact, nothing is further from the truth. Some of the world’s greatest wines are red blends, like French Bordeauxs and Rhones and some of the best Napa Valley cabernet sauvignons. And many California wines that say they are varietals may well have more than one grape in them. That’s because federal law allows producers to include up to 25 percent of another grape or grapes without changing the name of the wine or saying so on the label. Which means that your $12 bottle of pinot noir may be only 75 percent pinot, and one-quarter something else (often syrah).
So, as the weather turns cooler, give red blends another look. You’ll be surprised at what you find, as these wines demonstrate. All of these wines are available at Central Market:
• Peirano Red Shorts Red ($13): This California wine is made with four grapes, including one that is white. Look for lots of fresh red fruit, low alcohol, and the quality and value that Peirano is known for. Serve this with hamburgers or any other end-of-the-season backyard cookout.
• Goudichaud Graves de Vayre ($15): The best red Bordeaux can cost thousands of dollars a bottle, which means value is often in short supply. Fortunately, the Goudichaud (made of merlot and cabernet) offers a good look at how dark and complex red Bordeaux can be. This is a wine for those who like to pair wine with cheese.
• Spann Recovery Red ($15, pictured): Betsy and Peter Spann are former Casa Linda residents who moved to Sonoma to make wine, where they focus on blends. The Recovery Red has six grapes, and tastes of red berries. It’s a beef wine, but not especially heavy.
With Your Wine
New Orleans-style red beans
What better way to enjoy fall’s cooler weather than with this Crescent City favorite? Serve it with plenty of white rice, some coleslaw or potato salad, and the red blend of your choice. Red beans are, of course, kidney beans, but New Orleans brands like Camellia that say “red beans” seem to provide the best results.
Serves six to eight, takes 3 to 4 hours
1 lb dry red beans
8 c water
1 ham bone or 2-3 pork neck bones or 1 lb smoked sausage, cut in 3/4-inch pieces
2 onions, chopped
1 bell pepper chopped
1/2 rib celery, chopped
2 Tbsp garlic, chopped
2 bay leaves
Red pepper, black pepper and salt to taste
1. Put everything but the salt into a heavy pot, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer, partially cover, and cook until the beans start to get tender, 1 to 2 hours depending on the beans. Check the beans periodically; add more water if necessary.
2. When the beans start to get tender, add salt. Carefully remove the ham bone or neck bones, carefully remove the meat, and put the meat back in the pot.
3. When the beans are done, in another hour or so, mash some of the beans against the side of the pot to make the mixture creamier and thicker.
Ask the Wine Guy
Q. Why are there white grapes in red wine blends?
This is a common practice in France, where the white juice makes the red wines lighter in taste and mouth feel.
Email your question to the Wine Guy at firstname.lastname@example.org.