Today we are faced with an ever expanding selection of wine we might know little about: Red Blends. We know little about them because it’s sometimes hard to know what’s in one. They are in some respects unfortunate victims of their own success. Their proliferation makes them hard to define, and sometimes hard to compare. Though there is however one thing that holds much of this group together; sweet fruit.
 
To one extent or another almost all of the wines tasted today seemed to be aiming for an easy drinking, lush and sweetly fruited style. Each choosing their own path of course; and so we begin with a palette of 15 grapes today. We end with a range of styles that seem to have clear audiences. The Apex Cellars Catalyst and Ernie Els Big Easy for those looking for power based on structure for example, or the Troublemaker B6 for those just looking for power.
In a way it makes it challenging to compare. For starters the main grape is different in each of three, Grenache, Syrah, or Cabernet depending on the wine. Even more importantly, the people behind each wine seem to have divergent and clearly defined goals here. My lumping them together  is sheerly out of necessity. To some extent I always try and keep in mind intent when assessing a wine, but my biases probably come through and hopefully are well detailed in my notes. For the most part these big reach blends just fall outside of my consumption zone.
 
Still there was a lot to like here, and wines like this do as well with grilled meats as they will with stews and braises in the cooler months so you should be taking a look at them. Ultimately what they seem to want to offer is more power and richness than you’ll typically find at this $13 to $22 ish price point. You seem to sacrifice some definition and freshness in the mouth for that power, but there are plenty of people who really enjoy this style so expect to see new examples hitting the shelves monthly. Maybe next year I’ll be able to   have three separate red blend tastings at this price point based on dominant varietal, but until then it looks like I might be tasting kitchen sink style more often.
 
One final note. There was a ringer in this case of wines. A wine that is more than double the price of the other wines, but since it falls outside the parameters of the wines I am discussing, I’m not discussing it; I have not included the note below though it is on the following page. 



 
61% Shiraz, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Grenache, 4% Cinsault, 4% Mourvedre, 4% Viognier
 
Floral offering up both violets and honeysuckle along with a very immediate  apricot note, with the lift of viognier coming through quite strongly and adding a nice accent to mineral and herb inflected, smoky, grilled meat and jammy black fruit aromas.  Powerful and in a way quite fruity though neither sweet nor sticky in the mouth with solid underlying acids. This is a big wine but it remains transparent and lively in the mouth with layers of earthy black plummy and berry tinged fruit framed by a meaty, leathery aspect all supported by noticable but well judged oak spice and tannin. The finish is savory and a perhaps a touch rustic, though long with excellent persistence to the fruit and with the sweet note on the finale that a little viognier can add.  This is really a lovely wine that should appeal to a wide audience. Great steak wine. 91pts
 
 
56% Carmenere, 31% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Syrah
 
Black plums framed with pencil shavings and some fresh herbs and nettles dominate the nose though a nice undercurrent of strawberry-rhubarb compote adds depth and complexity here. Big, smooth and frankly a bit taut in the mouth, this combines richness with grace as it gently floats across the palate. This seems quite young and unevolved with it’s tight core of gentle oak framed black currant and black raspberry fruit that seem to struggle to get noticed today. A streak of vanilla appears on the backend and leads to a long, gently tannic finish that sees fine, fresh black cherry and wild blackberry fruit emerge on the finale. This needs time and is very fine but to a certain extent it’s a texture wine in the way that many of the super tuscans are. It’s a wine of refinement more than anything else.  91pts
 
 
60% Cabernet, 30% Merlot, 5% Malbec, 5% Syrah
 
A bit of sweet oak shares the nose with a nutty toastiness and some blackberry and black currant fruit that has a nice gentle sweet herbal top note. A bit soft in the mouth but more closed feeling that flabby, this has a lovely core of fruit, framed with chocolate there’s a nice pool of slightly dense blackberry fruit on the palate. The tannins are not abundant but they do help add some definition to this in the mouth and there's a subtle savory black olive and leather notes on the backend adding complexity. The finish is a bit dry and austere, adding a bit of gravitas in the mouth. Today this needs a rich steak to help absorb some of the weight but with time this might soften nicely.  88pts
 
 
Sangiovese, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon
 
Softly twiggy and tea like on the nose with gentle undercurrents of oak spice adding some support and sweetness to the red cherry and raspberry aromas. Fairly light bodied in the mouth, this blends good acidity and slightly austere yet modest tannins with a slightly herbal shaded core of red fruit. A touch indistinct perhaps, this gains definition on the backend where fine dry red and black fruit flavors begin to emerge along with a hint of licorice. Dry and a bit short on the finish, this nonetheless invites another sip. A bit understated and with just a shade of elegance to the bright cherry fruit on the finish. This would be lovely with simply grilled lamb chops. 88pts
 
 
50% Syrah, 20% Grenache, 10% Mourvedre, 10% Zinfandel, 10% Petite Sirah
 
Pencil shavings and wood spice, accompanied by a little heat, greet the nose followed by understated and earthy black fruits along with a sweet candied violet floral top note. This is big, black and a bit chewy in the mouth with fairly significant tannins covered by the rich fruit. not particularly my style of wine but I can see the appeal and have to admit to enjoying this for what it offers. There’s well integrated wood here, and while the acidity is not obvious there’s enough of it to keep this from imploding in the mouth allowing it to fill the mouth with rich, chewy , dark blueberry fruit that shows excellent persistence on the long slightly spicy and slightly hot finish. Big, bold but not aggressive, this is going to make many people happy. Serve it with BBQ beef ribs. 88pts
 
 
31% Cabernet Sauvignon , 28% Malbec, 27% Merlot, 14% Petit Verdot
 
Sweet and slightly gamy on the nose with hints of grilled lamb and bitter chocolate framing the core of violet tinged black cherry and black currant fruit that’s topped with a hint of mint and wood spice. Soft and broad on  entry, this lacks a touch of focus in the mouth though it does show attractive black currant and cedary oak flavors with a fine base of wood tannins adding a bit of mouthgrab. The violet tone returns on the back end and make a brief appearance on the finish which is otherwise dominated by the wood tannins, which clip the finish a bit. A bit soft but not sweet. 87pts

 
Petite Sirah, Barbera, Zinfandel
 
Woody and slightly herbal on the nose with  pencil lead, beef and faint black pepper aromas along with some low black cherry fruit. Big round and chewy in the mouth, this has a nicely chunky feel with rich black fruits and integrated wood spice in the mouth. theres a nice brambly accent to the black cherry fruit here along with a touch of pepper all highlighted by bright acidity which really drives the cherry fruit on the moderately long finish. A little bit on the fruity side but the solid acidity helps keep this from feeling too sweet. 87pts
 
 
 
Zinfandel 52% - Petite Sirah 46% - Mourvèdre 2%
 
Vanilla and blackberry jam greet the nose in a very direct way followed by hints of herb and carob along with sweet roasted plum fruit. This is soft and mouth coating with fine grained wood tannins that work their way into the crevasses of one’s mouth. A bit fat and fairly fruit with rich black cherry, black plum, and brown sugar flavors on the palate that give way to toasty, vanilla and cinnamon laced stewed cherry fruit on the moderately long and slightly peppery finish. 87pts
 
 
Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot
 
A nice sweet whiff of vanilla oak greets the nose followed by the leafy, herbal black currant fruit of the cabernets and creamy cafe au lait and coconut aromas. A bit sweet in the mouth, and while this has plenty of acidity the sweetness lends it a bit of a fat feel. There’s plenty of rich, and slightly chewy fruit on the palate all supported by supple tannins. The finish is a bit short though with a refreshing reveal of acidity on the finale. A bit of an odd wine, leafy and fresh on the nose then fruity and a bit sweet with plenty of red currant blackberry jam in the mouth, it’s made in a crowd pleasing fruit forward style. 86pts
 
 
Malbec, Bonarda, Tempranillo
 
Low herbal and a bit spicy on the nose with note of blueberries and raspberries competing for one’s attention with some vanilla and wood toast notes.  rather light and bright on entry, then this takes on a bit of weight on the mid-palate where it shows off chunky, plump but not heavy blueberry and blackberry flavors framed in rather obvious but fairly well balanced oak. This turns a bit dry and slightly austere on the finish, which helps to refresh the palate here as the fruit has sufficient staying power to eventually recover the tannins. It’s not fancy but this offers up nice fruit and good structure. I might try this with a slow cooked pork shoulder. 85pts
 
 
Cabernet Sauvignon,  Merlot, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah,  Syrah
 
Fruity and sweet on the nose with plenty of vanilla and dried ginger supporting  candied black cherry, candied black licorice and strawberry-rhubarb compote. Broad and low in the mouth, this has enough acidity to keep it lively in the mouth yet still lacks some energy as it delivers sweet oak infused flavors of cherry jam and candied black cherries on the palate. With drying tannin competing with sweetness on the modest finish this does not invite another sip. A bit rough around the edges. 83pts
 
 
Syrah, Zinfandel, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petite Sirah
 
Sweet and oaky on the nose and yet at the same time this offers up lovely notes of herb inflected raspberry fruit framed but note of bitter greens and tarragon and mint. A bit heavy in the mouth but smooth as felt without a hint of either tannin nor acid present in the mouth. A bit heavy but not chewy, this does deliver plenty of gently spiced black cherry, earthy plum and slightly meaty flavors with a hint of black olive on the palate. The finish is a bit short and does turn a bit chewy and extracted. I can see the appeal here,  it’s a remarkably smooth and easy drinking wine with an attractive flavor profile and reasonable complexity but it does lack some life in the mouth and particularly on the finish which has an underlying bitterness. 82pts