My Valentine’s Day wine recommendations over the years have most often focused on sparkling wines, especially rosé champagne. But a couple of years ago I noted a very different sort of wine that seemed to be nudging out the bubbles for Valentine celebrations. That would be red blends.
When these wines began to pop up here and there earlier this century, I thought it was a curious phenomenon and a passing fancy. I was wrong.
Lots of people have told me in recent weeks that one or another of the “smooth” reds, which is their take on the red blends, would be their Valentine’s Day choice. Nationwide, wines specifically labeled as red blends, or which imply as much on the label, compose a category that is booming. These wines often have the words “Red Blend” or some proprietary name such as “Red Velvet” where you would find “Cabernet Sauvignon” or “Merlot” on a varietal labels.
Some red blends are downright sweet – and usually say so on the label – but most are only a little sweet or “smooth.” In fact, readers tell me they don’t detect obvious sugar at all in most of these blends. They like them because they feel they’re getting the health benefits of red wine without having to put up with the bitterness of many reds, such as French Bordeaux.
That seems to be a reasonable wine drinkers’ quest.
Bordeaux reds are among Old World red blends that are labeled by place of origin names. The same goes for Côtes du Rhône and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. These are traditional red blends and they can seem bitter, especially without extended bottle aging.
Today’s red blend category is not traditional. Most examples I’ve bought at grocery stores during the past month are made mostly of zinfandel, syrah, merlot or malbec. Others have been based on grapes from southern Italy such as nero d’avola. The wines don’t slap you with bitter tannins, and the bit of extra sugar does round out the berry flavors. Rather than tart fresh blackberry, you get blackberry jam flavor, or raspberry jam. Some give you a dollop of vanilla and caramel from oak influence.
These wines pair well with chocolate bars or dessert preparations, which makes them even more popular for Valentine’s Day. They are also inexpensive, usually $8 to $15.
Broadly distributed domestic producers to look for include Apothic (one labeled simply as Red and another very intense blend called Inferno), Cupcake (Red Velvet), 14 Hands (Hot to Trot and Stampede) and Ménage à Trois (California Red Wine, Silk Soft Red Blend and Midnight Dark Red Blend.)
Similar profiles are offered by Old World wines. In fact some garnacha-based blends from Spain ($8 to $16) are very smooth. Perhaps with less sugar, but still smooth and deeply satisfying, was the Famiglia Pasqua Veneto Passimento Rosso 2014 ($20) I tasted the other day. It’s an Italian blend of merlot and indigenous varieties that has a long finish. The label also reminds of Romeo and Juliet, perfect for Valentine’s Day. Look for this red blend in specialty shops.
This story originally appeared on PilotOnline.com.