As red blends have expanded Washington's landscape, talented winemakers continue to explore the boundaries - if any - of this style of wine.
Not so many years ago, we mostly saw Bordeaux-style blends that included primarily Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Now we are noticing not only a lot more using Syrah - which adds a certain richness to red wines - but also with many other varieties, including Sangiovese, Mourvèdre, Carménère and Grenache.
Using so many different grapes not only adds complexity and interest in a wine, but it also helps the wine taste more "complete" because each element can fill a need in its flavors and structure.
Such wines help make the Washington wine industry so much more interesting. Here are a few red blends we've tasted recently. Ask for them at your favorite wine merchant or contact the wineries directly.
Smasne Cellars 2011 The Farmer Red, Columbia Valley, $18: This blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Syrah offers aromas of black currant, blackberry and huckleberry as well as crushed herbs and Western serviceberry. Its rich and creamy structure presents flavors akin to black cherry and more huckleberry with boysenberry acidity. (13.9 percent alcohol)
William Grassie Wine Estates 2011 Impératrice, Columbia Valley, $44: The inaugural vintage from this Woodinville winery is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot that presents aromas of black cherry, blackberry, cassis, cola and spice, followed by flavors of boysenberry, blueberry, raspberry and Montmorency cherry. (14.4 percent alcohol)
Mannina Cellars 2012 Cali Red Blend, Walla Walla Valley, $18: This blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Sangiovese is reminiscent of a fruit compote with blackberry, blueberry and strawberry, but there also are notes of sage, oregano and black olive. Flavors of plums, black cherry and more strawberry are met with moderate tannin, good acidity and a pinch of black pepper. (13.8 percent alcohol)
Telaya Wine Co. 2011 Turas, Columbia Valley, $30: Boise winemakers Earl and Carrie Sullivan crafted this Syrah-based blend from Washington grapes. Aromas of black cherry and black currant include milk chocolate, rose petal, crushed herbs and a bit of charred wood. Sweet flavors of cherries and currants pick up notes of rhubarb compote and firm tannins. (13.8 percent alcohol)
Bunchgrass Winery 2011 Founder's Blend, Walla Walla Valley $35: Cabernet Franc long has been the secret sauce to this blend. This showcases aromas of black cherry, dark toast and black olive with pleasing herbal note. The rich drink is filled with black raspberry and plum flavors, backed by moderate tannins and capped by a remarkable finish that includes a sprinkle of cocoa powder, a pinch of crushed herbs and a dash of black pepper. (14.5 percent alcohol)
Dusted Valley Vintners 2012 StoneTree Vineyard Squirrel Tooth Alice, Wahluke Slope, $39: This Rhône-style blend of Grenache, Mourvèdre and Petite Sirah unleashes gamy aromas with blackberry, dark plums, black pepper, Dr Pepper and brambleberry leaf. That theme plays out on a palate that's fruit-filled and spicy with dusty tannins. There's plenty of complexity from the midpalate on back, with notes of mincemeat, black licorice, black olive and cigar box. (15.5 percent alcohol)
Bombing Range 2010 Red Wine, Horse Heaven Hills, $16: McKinley Springs has grown to become one of the Northwest's largest vineyards at 2,000 acres, producing beautiful fruit for nearly 30 wineries since it first was planted in 1980. This is a blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Mourvèdre with aromas of plum and Marionberry, followed by flavors of dark purple fruit. (13.5 percent alcohol)
Doyenne 2011 Aix, Red Mountain, $38: DeLille winemaker Chris Upchurch leads with Syrah in this luscious blend. It starts with aromas of black pepper, blackberry fruit leather and plum. Those spill out onto the palate in an inky fashion that already shows a sense of balance as raspberry and pomegranate acidity is joined by dusty plum skin tannins. (14.2 percent alcohol)
Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine, a news and information company. Learn more about wine at www.greatnorthwestwine.com.