It's good to see that Americans are beginning to ignore one of the long-standing "rules" of California wine—that it has to be varietally specific: Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, etc.
Blends have been a no-no, particularly when it comes to value wines, but America is now more confident and comfortable with wine, and we no longer have to live down the days we swilled cheap "Hearty Burgundy" and generic jugs of "Chablis."
Millennials, the industry is learning, are open-minded about blends, and that changing mindset has lead to a new generation of value-oriented California red blends. Two of the best on the market right now are Bogle Essential Red California 2010 ($11) and Buena Vista The Count Founder's Red Sonoma County 2011 ($20.)
Both are predominantly Zinfandel blended with large percentages of Syrah and Cabernet.
The Count is the more serious of the two, offering toasty cherry and spicy herb flavors and good structure for the price. It was aged a year in a mix of American, Hungarian and French oak barrels. Essential Red is more of a quaffer, with tart cherry and jammy blackberry aromas and zesty flavors. It was aged 18 months in American and French oak.
Essential Red, like many of the blends in the category, was created by the team at Bogle specifically to appeal to millennials. It has a touch more residual sugar than most dry reds, enough to make it approachable but not taste sweet.
Yes, it's one of those "wines by design" so dreaded by the wine intelligentsia, but outside of New York, the wine shelves aren't exactly crammed with Sherry and the wines of the Jura. True, millennials are also known for prizing authenticity and a sense of place, but I'll save that discussion for another day.
Not all of these California blends are created equal. In fact, some are just awful, so you have to choose carefully. Because of the large crop in 2012, there was plenty of excess juice so you'll be seeing more of these wines on the shelves soon.
Have you tried any of these value-oriented California blends? Do you have a favorite, or one to recommend? Or avoid?