Everything You Need to Know About the ‘Gateway Wine’: Red Blends

Red Blends

Feb. 18, 2020

Cabernet sauvignon, the red wine titan, has some fierce competition on its tail, the red blend.

According to Nielsen, off-premise sales, by volume, looked like this in 2018: chardonnay 19%, cabernet sauvignon 15%, red blends 11%.

The red blend has been largely defined as a wine blended from more than one grape. With this broad category, there’s no rule on how many different varietals are included.

Most red wines, with a few exceptions, are technically red blends. California law requires a wine to include 75% of the grape varietal on the label to capture the singular style. So, a California pinot noir could very well have 10% merlot in it, but still be considered purely just a pinot noir. 

“Red blends can be crafted in a manner to yield a more approachable wine, with less tannins and lower acidity,” said Christopher Rowell, Breakthru Beverage Wine Educator. “Astringency can be an obstacle for consumers to expand from whites and rosés to reds, and this is an easier way in. Plus, there’s more residual sugar in these blends than most traditional varietal wines, and a little sweetness makes reds more approachable, especially for a less experienced wine drinker.”

In the last 20 years, red blends have been rising in popularity with winemakers, and as we mentioned earlier with the rising sales, it’s a hit with consumers, too.

Rowell provided some handy background information about why red blends are on the upswing, and how you can best sell this versatile style. 


Why winemakers create red blends

  • Less restrictions = more possibilities.
  • Less vintage-sensitive. If it’s a less-than-stellar growing season, they can still produce profitable wine.
  • Experiment with exciting new styles and “design” a wine.
  • Stretch the more popular grapes with others that are not as in demand.

Why consumers go for it

  • Red blends can be the “gateway” red wine, leading them to experimenting with other reds down the road.
  • Some feel it is more interesting and approachable than a single grape varietal.
  • Clever, edgy names and labels for those adventurous consumers. 

Tips for selling red blends

  • Avoid placing these in the “Other Reds” section on your menu or shelves. Give it its own stage.
  • Create sub-categories like Modern Super-Luxury and Red Blends.
  • Add descriptions so consumers know what to expect as this could be new territory for them.