© Cedric Angeles
It’s easy, with wine, to drown in the details. Most of us want to know what grape a wine is made from—Cabernet Sauvignon, say—and where it’s from. Knowing the vintage doesn’t hurt either. And before buying a wine, people usually would just as soon have some idea of whether it’s any good. But beyond that, there’s a hyperabundance of information that is fascinating to the few (wine writers, for example) and mind-numbing for almost everyone else. Try saying “You know, it's kind of amazing, but the grapes for this Central Coast Syrah were grown on a combination of decomposed granite and sandy loam soils!” to someone you're on a first date with. You’ll definitely be watching TV later, alone.
But how much do you really need to know? Here are a few good reds that simply leave out some of the information we usually expect, skipping the vintage, shrugging at origin, blowing off what grapes are inside. It’s a rather devil-may-care approach, but that’s kind of refreshing when it comes to wine.
Fess Parker Frontier Red Lot #122 ($14) It’s red, and if you turn the bottle around you’ll find that it’s a kitchen sink of varieties—Syrah, Grenache, Petite Sirah, Mourvedre, Cinsault, Carignane—but winemaker Blair Fox isn’t telling what vintages went into the 122nd edition of this brambly, berry-rich Central Coast blend.
Alexandre Sirech Les Deux Terroirs Red ($14) Not only does this earthy, structured blend of Merlot and Syrah from France not have a stated vintage, the label is even coy about where in France the grapes were grown. (Though I’d bet good money it’s Bordeaux for the Merlot and the Rhône for the Syrah.)
Sherman & Hooker’s Shebang Red! Cuvee IV ($15) Early versions of this nonvintage Zinfandel-based red came in an old-school jug with a loop handle. Proprietor Morgan Twain-Peterson has abandoned that format, much to my dismay, but the wine is still impressive for the price: big, dark, spicy and delicious.
2010 Bonny Doon Contra ($16) Bonny Doon’s irrepressible proprietor Randall Grahm has made a career out of defying expectations, so the fact that he neglects to mention exactly which red grape varieties are in this bright, peppery “old-vine field blend” should come as no surprise. It’s a great late-summer BBQ pour, no matter what.
2009 Frenchie Napoleon ($30) What grapes are in it? Well, Cabernet, Syrah, Sangiovese, Zinfandel, Merlot and Cabernet Franc—though you’d never know that from the label. What is certain, though, is that this sleek, full-bodied California red has a rather ornate picture of a French bulldog posing as Napoleon on it, and $1 from every bottle produced goes to the ASPCA.