What was "dago red" wine?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

I am 74 years old and my Italian friends and I remember drinking “dago red" wine years ago. Can you explain the term?

—Ed B., Traverse City, Mich.

Dear Ed,

Let me begin by apologizing to my readers, because "dago red" employs an offensive racial slur that is no longer in use in the wine industry, but it is a part of wine history. For those not familiar with its use as pertains to wine, it's a dated term that refers to both a style of wine, and also to a former commercial wine venture of the same name.

As a style, a “dago red” referred to a wine made from a blend of assorted dark red wine grapes, typically made in what I’d call a fruity style—little or no oak influence, and often with a slightly sweet finish. The term became synonymous with affordable, basic table wine, especially field blends in California. There is no strict recipe—Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah and Zinfandel were all popular for these projects, though I’ve seen home winemaking recipes that suggest everything from Concord grapes to frozen grape juice concentrate.

In the late 1970s and early '80s, there was also a Dago Red brand that was produced and sold by Joe Carrari, a California grapegrower with an Italian heritage. A blend of Zinfandel, Merlot, Petite Sirah and Cabernet Sauvignon, Carrari sold the wine for $2 a bottle. It was both popular and polarizing; the name “Dago” was eventually removed, and the brand was discontinued.

As far as trying to find wines to replicate that style, I think modern-day jug wines are typically in the same vein. If you want to try something a little more intense and probably a little less sweet, I’d look for other red blends, particularly Zinfandel-based reds.

—Dr. Vinny

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