In California, blends are both a blessing and a curse. The state is blessed to be able to grow a wide variety of grapes, and there are no legal or bureaucratic restrictions on doing so.\r\n\r\nBut of course, just because you can do something doesn\u2019t mean you should. As such, California offers blended wines at every quality and price level. Some are life-changing and revelatory, while others wither and lack character.\r\n\r\nIn a land planted to its fair majority of hearty reds, from Cabernet Sauvignon to Zinfandel, the grapes are ripe, structured and primed for cellaring, in standalone or blended form. But when partnered with the right companions, they can strike a harmonious tone of lush fruit and bold tannins that can unfurl and evolve slowly over time.\r\n\r\nCalifornia also pays homage to a historic lineage of field blends. Many of the old vineyards used to source these bottlings were planted by Italian immigrants before Prohibition. They\u2019re often rooted in Zinfandel and Petite Sirah, but they also can contain other lesser-known varieties, like Carignan and Mondeuse.\r\n\r\nElsewhere, Bordeaux-style or Cabernet Sauvignon-based blends are the standard. Many regions are rich in ripe Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes, though Rh\u00f4ne and Mediterranean-inspired blends abound, too.\r\n\r\nIf diversity is what you seek in your cellar, California\u2019s top red blends are for you. \u2014Virginie Boone\r\n\r\n\r\nNapa Valley Blends\r\nIn 1974, a Midwest-born construction entrepreneur and his German winemaker sent a lightning bolt through the Napa Valley with the first vintage of a red blend they came to call Insignia. It was made from Cabernet Sauvignon grown in the Stags Leap District, with 6% Merlot.\r\n\r\nJoseph Phelps Vineyards\u2019 Insignia has become one of Napa Valley\u2019s standard bearers and an inspiration to producers of fine blends everywhere. From the beginning, Phelps was making a statement.\r\n\r\n\u201cThe proprietary name was selected to represent the finest lots available for each vintage, and to emphasize the importance of blending over varietal designation as a determinate of quality,\u201d said Phelps at University of California, Berkeley, in 1996. (He passed away in 2015.)\r\n\r\nAt the time Phelps launched Insignia, many of the region\u2019s wineries were focused on varietal wines. This lauded blend was a good way to educate American consumers and encourage them to move away from sweet, high-octane wines like Ripple.\r\n\r\nPhelps was inspired by Bordeaux\u2019s marquee blended wines like Ch\u00e2teaux Latour, Mouton-Rothschild and Haut-Brion. However, he didn\u2019t own any grapes of his own at the time, so he had to be flexible. His winemaker, Walter Schug, just tried to make the best wine he could every year from the best grapes they could buy.\r\n\r\nSome 40 years later, Ashley Hepworth, Joseph Phelps\u2019 current winemaker, has a lot more with which to work. The winery owns several estate vineyards, where she\u2019s able to pull the best lots each year. Insignia became a 100% estate-grown wine in 2004.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\u201cBlending is the craft of winemaking, for sure,\u201d says Hepworth. \u201cInsignia is a work in progress throughout the year.\u201d\r\n\r\nHepworth keeps the varieties separate after harvest, when she chooses between Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot, though not all five are represented in every vintage. She starts blending the following March, not really thinking about the wine\u2019s ultimate composition until the end.\r\n\r\n\u201cIt is important to let the vintage speak, but I\u2019m a little draconian about what goes into Insignia,\u201d says Hepworth. \u201cIf a wine is not O.K. on its own, it\u2019s not going to be O.K. in the blend.\u201d\r\n\r\nThe Napa Valley is now as famous for its Bordeaux-style blends as for signature single-vineyard Cabernet Sauvignons.\r\n\r\nOpus One is Robert Mondavi\u2019s contribution to the genre, originally in partnership with Baron Philippe de Rothschild. Inglenook released the first Rubicon in 1978, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Then came other proprietary reds from producers like Pahlmeyer, Beaulieu Vineyard, Cain, Dominus, Ramey, Dalla Valle and Alpha Omega.\r\n\r\n\u201cNapa is amazing for the diversity of terroir in a small region with 123 soil variations,\u201d says Jean Hoefliger, winemaker for Alpha Omega. \u201cIn addition to that diversity, we have different varieties.\r\n\r\n\u201cWhen you do a Bordeaux blend with that many components to pick from, you have to add complexity and depth. If you do a Cabernet, it is a very masculine-framed variety. If you can add to that a feminine Merlot, a soul-searcher Cab Franc and superhero like Petit Verdot, you can fill the wine\u2019s gaps and add layers of complexity. Blends are an expression of the greatness of Napa Valley.\u201d \u2014V.B.\r\n\r\nAlpha Omega 2013 Proprietary Red (Napa Valley); $100, 98 points. This blends 61% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot and 7% Cabernet Franc into a seamless expression of black pepper, garrigue, clove and pencil. Old world in style and in full command of its power, it offers generously layered, intensely robust tannin and concentration that flirts with richness. Half barrel-fermented and half stainless-steel, it shows promise for cellaring; enjoy best 2023\u20132038. Cellar Selection.\u00a0\u2014V.B.\r\n\r\nLarkmead 2015 Salon (Napa Valley); $200, 98 points. A blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Cabernet Franc, this is a tremendous wine, offering grippy red-currant, tobacco and graphite components around a full-bodied core of weight and breadth. Powerful yet elegant, it retains and celebrates much of the Cab Franc character in its unabashed embrace of dried herb, clove and violet. Enjoy 2025\u20132030.\u00a0\u2014V.B.\r\n\r\nAnderson Conn Valley 2015 Aurum (Napa Valley); $395, 97 points. Aurum, Latin for gold, is the first release of this high-level, small-production wine\u2014a blend of 83% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Petit Verdot, 7% Cabernet Franc and 1% Merlot. Spicy clove, black pepper and cigar box highlight a grippy, structured and expansive palate of blackberry and cherry. It's eager for more time in the cellar; enjoy 2025\u20132035. Cellar Selection.\u00a0\u2014V.B.\r\n\r\nJoseph Phelps 2014 Insignia Estate Grown Red (Napa Valley); $250, 96 points. This fine vintage of Insignia combines 87% Cabernet Sauvignon with 9% Petit Verdot, 2% Malbec and 2% Cabernet Franc. Soft, supple and seamless, it offers rich but balanced cassis and milk chocolate flavors, with supportive and complementary oak. It should do well in the cellar and will be best from 2024\u20132034. Cellar Selection.\u00a0\u2014V.B.\r\n\r\nShafer 2015 TD-9 (Napa Valley); $60, 94 points. This is a new offering from the producer, sparked by winemaker Elias Fernandez's desire to make a Merlot-based blend, rather than a varietal Merlot. It is an estate-grown blend of 56% Merlot, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon and 16% Malbec. Rich and concentrated, it's delightfully robust and vibrant, offering a mix of blackberry, blueberry and caramel chocolate flavors that finish in soft, integrated oak. Editors\u2019 Choice.\u00a0\u2014V.B.\r\n\r\n\r\nPaso Robles Blends\r\nPaso Robles has been home to Zinfandel vines for more than a century, and Cabernet Sauvignon since the mid-1900s. But it was traditional Rh\u00f4ne-style red blends that gained the region critical acclaim and launched it onto the international stage.\r\n\r\nThe story started in 1975, when Gary Eberle planted the Central Coast\u2019s first Syrah vineyard at Estrella River Winery. The resulting \u201cEstrella clone\u201d is now planted across the U.S.\r\n\r\nThe plot thickened around 1990, when Robert Haas teamed with the Perrin family of Ch\u00e2teau de Beaucastel to create the Rh\u00f4ne-focused Tablas Creek Vineyard brand. With cuttings imported from Ch\u00e2teauneuf-du-Pape, their prominent nursery spread the gospel of those grapes near and far.\r\n\r\nBy the early 2000s, Rh\u00f4ne-style red blends were all the rage. They were typically based on Grenache or Syrah, often with a hearty dose of Mourv\u00e8dre and featuring dollops of Counoise, Cinsault and other lesser-known Rh\u00f4ne varieties. Since then, Rh\u00f4ne plantings have seen \u201cdramatic growth,\u201d according to Christopher Taranto, communications director of the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance.\r\n\r\nRh\u00f4ne-style red blends gained Paso Robles critical acclaim and launched the region onto the international stage.\r\n\r\n\r\n\u201cOver the past 10 years, we have seen many new brands that focus on the Rh\u00f4ne varieties get established and earn many accolades,\u201d says Taranto.\r\n\r\nThat includes winemakers from the Old World. \u201cIt reminded me of the South of France, where I grew up,\u201d says Guillaume Fabre, owner/winemaker at Clos Sol\u00e8ne.\r\n\r\nLike fellow Frenchman Stephan Asseo of L\u2019Aventure, who Fabre interned with, Fabre left his family\u2019s wine business back home to stake his claim in Paso Robles, where the weather, rolling hills and soil are perfect for these grapes.\r\n\r\n\u201cThese wines are super alive and fresh due to the limestone and the shale,\u201d he says.\r\n\r\nThey\u2019re different than the Rh\u00f4ne, of course. \u201cWith the sunshine, we have the ability to get the sugars higher, so the wines tend to be a bit bigger, more fruit-driven,\u201d says Kevin Jussila, owner and winemaker of Kukkula Vineyard. He grows about 50 acres of almost entirely Rh\u00f4ne varieties.\r\n\r\n\u201cThe distinction today is that there is a bit of dialing back,\u201d he says. \u201cI want that richness, but I want to feel some restraint in what we\u2019re doing.\u201d\r\n\r\n\u200bWhen Anthony Yount became winemaker at Denner Vineyards in 2009, he inherited the Ditch Digger, a Grenache-based blend modeled on traditional red Ch\u00e2teauneuf-du-Pape.\r\n\r\n\u201cIt\u2019s rooted in tradition, but game for a little New World flair,\u201d says Yount.\r\n\r\nTo him, the red blend speaks directly to place. \u201cRed blends are a better interpretation of the vineyard than a single varietal,\u201d says Yount. \u201cYou get rid of varietal typicity and, instead, just say, \u2018This is our vineyard.\u2019 That\u2019s a cool representation.\u201d \u2014Matt Kettmann\u00a0\r\n\r\nEpoch 2014 Ingenuity (Paso Robles Willow Creek District); $70, 95 points. Viscous and dark in the glass, this wine's unctuous nose shows black currant, violet and a hint of hot asphalt. The blend of 50% Syrah, 25% Grenache, 18% Mourv\u00e8dre and 7% Petite Sirah is tight on the palate, where a tarry texture carries flavors of concentrated black currant, fresh blackberry and wild chaparral herbs. Drink 2019\u20132029. Cellar Selection.\u00a0\u2014M.K.\r\n\r\nClos Sol\u00e8ne 2015 Harmonie (Paso Robles); $85, 94 points. Candied rose petals, pomegranate, hibiscus, ripe red melons and a touch of baking spice show on the nose of this blend of 60% Grenache, 26% Mourv\u00e8dre and 14% Syrah. The palate is fresh and lively, with bright red fruit and carnation florality, made more complex and elegant by the dried herbs, pepper, juniper and charred beef finish.\u00a0\u2014M.K.\r\n\r\nKukkula 2015 Aatto (Adelaida District); $40, 93 points. Here\u2019s a wine that puts Counoise in the driver\u2019s seat to great effect. Bolstered by 36% Mourv\u00e8dre and 19% Grenache, the wine starts with candied cherry, tangy cranberry, red flowers, white pepper and potpourri on the nose. Exotic spices, familiar herbs and bright red fruit shine on the lively palate. Editors\u2019 Choice.\u00a0\u2014M.K.\r\n\r\nDenner 2015 Ditch Digger (Paso Robles Willow Creek District); $70, 93 points. Black currant, warm chocolate and sultry spices meet with loamy soil aromas on the nose of this blend of 55% Grenache, 20% Mourv\u00e8dre, 10% Syrah, 5% Counoise, 5% Cinsault and 5% Tannat. It's still a very young wine, but the palate offers elderberry, pepper and dried herbs. It's the mouth-coating texture that's most compelling; though very firm now, it will hold this wine for years. Drink 2020\u20132030. Cellar Selection.\u00a0\u2014M.K.\r\n\r\nTablas Creek 2015 Esprit de Tablas (Adelaida District); $55, 92 points. Elegance is prominent on this flagship blend of 49% Mourv\u00e8dre, 25% Grenache, 21% Syrah and 5% Counoise, starting with dried red flowers, dark red berries, char, wood spice and pepper dust on the nose. Red plums rise on the palate, lifted by fresh herbs, proving light on its feet yet redolent with compelling flavors and tons of body.\u00a0\u2014M.K.\r\n\r\n\r\nNorthern California Blends\r\nThe open secret about red blends from Northern California\u2019s far-flung vineyards is Zinfandel. Even if you don\u2019t see its name on the bottle, the variety likely takes a leading role in any blend from Mendocino County, the Sierra Foothills or Central Valley.\r\n\r\nThree of the five top-rated red blends recommended to the left are based primarily from Zinfandel, which uses its jammy, berrylike fruitiness to enrich the aromas and fatten the flavors.\r\n\r\nIt\u2019s usually coupled with Petite Sirah or Syrah to add dark spices, deep color and supple tannins. Ironically, Zinfandel and Syrah as varietal wines have lackluster sales growth, while people flock to anonymous blends made from them.\r\n\r\nZinfandel often takes a leading role in red blends from Mendocino County, the Sierra Foothills or Central Valley.\r\n\r\nIn 2000, a small group of Mendocino wineries conceived of a way to craft red blends that feature Zinfandel and other heritage red varieties of the area. The wineries used the same distinctive bottles and labels across their diverse brands to create a cohesive lineup.\r\n\r\nThey coined the collection Coro Mendocino. Coro means \u201cchorus\u201d in Latin, and the idea was to make harmonious blends of several varietal voices traditional to Mendocino.\r\n\r\nThe Brutocao 2014 Coro Mendocino is a great example of the eight Coro bottlings offered. This complex, structured wine contains a majority share of Zinfandel, with additional amounts of Syrah, Carignan and dashes of Barbera and Petite Sirah.\r\n\r\nWhile not a Coro wine, the Atrea 2016 Old Soul Red also comes from Mendocino and similarly exemplifies the region\u2019s blending mastery. It layers Zinfandel with Petite Sirah, Malbec and Syrah for a firmly concentrated and tannic wine that should age nicely for another few years.\r\n\r\nBut Northern California isn\u2019t all Zin country. In warm, mountainous wine regions like El Dorado or Dunnigan Hills, other Mediterranean grape varieties thrive.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nBoeger\u2019s deep and delicious Miglior\u00e9, which means \u201cbest\u201d in Italian, comes from the Boeger family\u2019s estate vineyards in El Dorado County that reach 3,500 feet above sea level. It focuses on the northern Italian grape variety Refosco, with support from Carignan, Aglianico and Charbono.\r\n\r\nThe bold but easy-drinking 2015 Super Tinto, from Tinto Rey, speaks Spanish with a French accent. The base of the blend is the traditional Spanish grape Tempranillo, with French-inspired additions of 24% Petit Verdot and 13% Tannat, as well as 9% of the Spanish grape Graciano.\r\n\r\nIt represents a whole school of California red blends that stretch the definition of this fast-growing and incredibly diverse category of wine. \u2014Jim Gordon\u00a0\r\n\r\nBrutocao 2014 Coro Mendo\u00adcino Red Blend (Mendocino County); $40, 92 points. A light floral note in the aroma joins up with layered and ripe fruit flavors that are handsomely accented by cedar, cocoa and balsam, for a complex and lasting impression on the palate. Full body and firm tannins provide good structure to balance the rich flavors in this Zinfandel-based, traditional Northern California blend.\u00a0\u2014J.G.\r\n\r\nTinto Rey 2015 Super Tinto Estate Bottled (Dunnigan Hills); $22, 90 points. This wine is big and bold yet still easy to drink. It has oodles of black fruit aromas, dense fruit flavors and generous dashes of spicy, smoky oak. The texture is firm enough to offer balance, yet is silky enough to remain enjoyable. Editors\u2019 Choice.\u00a0\u2014J.G.\r\n\r\nAtrea 2016 Old Soul Red (Mendocino County); $25, 90 points. Bold in flavor and stiff in structure, this full-bodied wine is laced with strong tannins and will need rich, fatty food to pair with. Still, it reveals nicely concentrated blueberry and blackberry flavors, subdued oak accents and a well-concentrated and layered composition.\u00a0\u2014J.G.\r\n\r\nBoeger 2015 Miglior\u00e9 (El Dorado); $30, 90 points. A blend of Italian grape varieties, this wine has deep, delicious berry aromas that lead to mouthcoating blackberry flavors and a moderately tannic texture that supports the ripe fruitiness very well.\u00a0\u2014J.G.\r\n\r\nCedarville 2015 The Rules of Fair Play (Fair Play); $36, 90 points. An enticing toasty spicy oak aroma leads to good, ripe blackberry and black-cherry flavors that are layered and concentrated. This full-bodied wine is made from 62% Zinfandel and 38% Petite Sirah. It shows a lot of oak character but does it well and backs it up with ample rich fruit notes and a moderately tannic texture.\u00a0\u2014J.G.