Red blends have been around since the origins of winemaking. From casual table wines to prominent bottles like the original wine blend Bordeaux, winemakers have been blending wines for centuries. But red blend wines, in particular, have increased in popularity over the year for their complexity and great variability.
In fact, red blend wines are now the second most popular red wine in the U.S. after Cabernet Sauvignon and continue to dominate its own sector of wine markets across the globe, according to the Silicon Valley Bank State of the U.S. Wine Industry 2023 report.
But with so many bottles to choose from and somewhat ambiguous labels, red blends can be tricky to navigate. Thankfully, we’ve got you covered. Here’s everything you need to know about red blend wines. Plus, a rundown of the best smooth-sipping bottles to spearhead your tasting journey.
What Is a Red Blend Wine?
The term “red blend” refers to red wine made from more than one grape varietal. Red blends are produced around the world and vary tremendously based on what types of grapes are used and where they are grown.
Common grape combinations used to make red blend wine include Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot, Merlot-Malbec and Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedré (typically shortened as G-S-M). Others involve more complex formulas. For instance, Bordeaux-style red blends are traditionally made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot, but can also incorporate Malbec, Carménère and Petit Verdot.
“It can mean a lot of different things,” says Jim Gordon, Wine Enthusiast’s senior tasting editor. And with various possible combinations, understanding red blend wine labels can be tricky.
Generally, red blends are either labeled based on where they come from, like Bordeaux, or simply labeled as a red blend. This labeling, more often than not, helps differentiate between Old World and New World blends, according to Gordon.
New World red blends are the bottles you’ll find in the “red blend” section of a grocery store or wine shop. They tend to carry labels like G-S-M, red blend or red wine. This is to bypass naming wines by grape variety but can be rather ambiguous to the layperson.
On the other hand, Old World red blends like Chianti Classico and Rioja, are labeled by where they come from. “Those are all red blends because they’re not labeled by a single grape variety,” says Gordon. “But nobody really ever calls them red blends.” Chateau Margaux, Côtes du Rhône and Super Tuscans are other examples of Old World blends that fall into this category.
So yes, something like Chianti (made predominately from Sangiovese, plus a small amount of other black grapes) is indeed often a red blend wine. But you’ll likely not find a bottle of Chianti in the red blend section of a grocery store.
Additionally, many major growing regions have rules in place for what constitutes a blend based on the ratio of grapes present. For instance, California law requires that single-varietal wines be made with at least 75% of the named grape type. This means that a bottle labeled Cabernet Sauvignon must be made with at least 75% of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. But the bottle can very well contain 10% Merlot grapes which technically makes it a blend, even if it isn’t labeled as such.
Ready to start exploring the varying flavor profiles of red blend wine? Here, the Wine Enthusiast Tasting Department share their bottle picks from all around the world.
The 8 Best Red Blends
Top California Rhône-Style Blend: Margerum 2018 M5 Reserve Red (Santa Barbara County)
96 Points Wine Enthusiast
Doug Margerum and winemaker Michael Miroballi are hitting their stride on this annual blend, which in this vintage includes 47% Grenache, 40% Syrah, 9% Mourvèdre, 2% Counoise and 2% Cinsault from eight vineyards. Rich aromas of backed boysenberry, purple flower, turned earth and star anise lead into a palate that slides from lavender to elderberry with ease, as white pepper and dried thyme elevate the complexity. —M.K.
Runner Up: Stolpman 2021 G-S-M (Ballard Canyon)
94 Points Wine Enthusiast
Rugged aromas of wild boysenberry, dark plum and brown spice make for an intense nose on this blend of 55% Grenache, 30% Mourvèdre and 15% Syrah. The palate is hearty, offering roasted berry, marjoram and curry-leaf flavors, as tension rises on the finish. —Matt Kettman
Top Spanish Red Blend For $30: Miguel Torres 2019 Familia Torres Secret Del Priorat Red (Priorat)
92 Points Wine Enthusiast
Dark garnet to the eye, this wine offers aromas of blackberry, raspberry and vanilla. A network of delicate tannins supports flavors of pomegranate, raspberry, menthol and cocoa powder. Notes of candied orange peel and violet arrive on the finish. —Mike DeSimone
Top French Red Under $20: Château Eugénie 2020 Tsar Pierre le Grand (Cahors)
93 Points Wine Enthusiast
The wine, named after Peter the Great the 18th century Russian emperor, has solid tannins to go alongside the black fruits. Still young, of course, it has a fine richness and power. Drink from 2026. —Roger Voss
Top Traditional Tuscan Blend: Frescobaldi 2019 Tenuta Perano (Chianti Classico)
93 Points Wine Enthusiast
Graphite, leather, blue flower and wild berry aromas waft out of the glass. Elegant and delicious, the fresh, supple palate doles out ripe black plum, cassis, mint and licorice alongside fine-grained tannins. Drink through 2027. —Kerin O’Keefe
Top Spanish Red Blend Over $50: Mas Igneus 2019 M Red (Priorat)
93 Points Wine Enthusiast
This deep violet colored wine has a bouquet of black currant, cocoa powder and coffee bean. It is savory on the palate, with flavors of blackberry, black cherry, braised fennel, roasted tomato and bittersweet chocolate. Deep-set tannins are uplifted by a bright fruit note that persists into the drawn-out finish. —M.D.
Best Austrian Red Blend: Gut Oggau 2020 Joschuari (Rot) Red (Austria)
93 Points Wine Enthusiast
This flows like satin, with a slightly firm feel to the pomegranate, plum and chalky shavings that add a mineral feel. A tangy floral edge emerges on the midpalate and hangs on to the acidity that streaks through so gracefully, giving this the spine together with fine-grained tannins that melt on the palate. Beautiful now, so no need to cellar unless you want tertiary notes. —Aleks Zecevic
Best Middle Eastern Red Blend: Ana Beirut 2018 Grande Réserve Mount Lebanon Red (Bekaa Valley)
91 Points Wine Enthusiast
Inky garnet in the glass, this wine has aromas of raspberry, cassis and roasted nuts that are joined on the palate by flavors of black cherry, blackberry, aniseed, roasted fennel bulb and juniper berry. Deep-set tannins recede into a violet scented finish. —M.D.
What Makes a Good Red Blend Wine?
Red blends can take on a wild array of colors, aromas, flavors, structures and ageability. Therefore, when it comes to what makes a good red blend wine, there’s no simple answer.
“It’s really hard to say because they’re so different from place to place,” says Gordon. For example, a Chianti Classico made predominately from Sangiovese grapes grown in Italy will taste nothing like a typical California blend of Syrah, Merlot and Zinfandel.
Generally, a good red blend will be made from quality grapes in a combination that balances the five most important components of wine—sweetness, acidity, tannin, alcohol and body.
For the curious drinker, red blends can also provide a means to move beyond predictable bottles and explore a product that is not simply the sum of its parts.
“Blending is a good way to get more complexity into a wine,” says Gordon. “They’re often smoother in texture and more interesting when you taste them.”
Gordon believes that red blends are also a great way to experience a certain region’s terroir. “You get nuances in a red blend that you can’t get in a single-varietal,” he says. “When you have a blend, it mutes the character of the individual varieties so you get an overall sense of what wine for that place tastes like.”
How Are Red Blends Made?
The grapes used to make a red blend wine are grown, harvested and fermented separately. This is different from field blends, which are made from a mélange of different grapes grown side-by-side in the vineyard and are co-fermented together.
After fermentation, the resulting single-varietal wines are combined to create red blend wine. To learn more about how red blends are made, check out our article on the why, when and how of blending.
Is Red Blend Wine Sweet?
The sweetness of a red blend wine depends on the grapes and sugars either leftover from fermentation or added during the process. Check out our definitive guide to sweet wines to learn more about the role of sugar in wines.
Do You Chill Red Blend Wine?
The ideal serving temperature for red blends is similar to other red wines—just below room temperature (55°F–65°F). For more guidance, check out our guide on the do’s and don’ts of chilling wine.
How Do You Pair Red Blend Wines?
Red blends tend to be bold on the palate, though some are more full-bodied than others. For this reason, red blends can be difficult to pair. But as a good rule of thumb, red blends tend to go well with rich meat dishes like our Easy Oven Baby Backed Ribs or vegetarian meals like Pizza Napoletana.
Another approach is to pair red blends with traditional dishes from the region which they come from. “If you’re having a Super Tuscan or Chianti, you can have Bistecca Fiorentina,” suggests Gordon. “Or if you’re having a red Bordeaux, something like a grilled lamb chop is hard to beat.”
Pairing a red blend wine with regional dishes is a way to elevate its terroir, as well as enhance a culture’s flavors in a way that can transport you to another place.
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