It's a tremendous wine, spicy and complex, with red and black fruit flavors along with exotic notes of cinnamon and turmeric and a fascinating aroma that would put an expensive cologne to shame. Moreover, because it has a balance of tannin from some grapes and acidity from others, it will probably age well despite its hefty 15.5% alcohol.
However, how is a consumer, without knowing the background, to tell the difference between Bedrock Heirloom Wine and a supermarket blend like Red Truck, made of grapes purchased from around the state? There's no label law regulating "field blend," and the term has no market traction anyway.
For that reason, Zin-based field blends are usually a hard sell, despite their heritage, complexity and deliciousness.
"There's so many versions of what a field blend is so they don't go over too well," says Bob Golbahar, president of Twenty Twenty Wine Merchants. "People want to know what it is and what's in there."
ZAP is not rushing to support field blend producers. Its board of directors had a long, heated debate last year before ruling that promoting field blends — traditionally called "mixed blacks" by growers not only because that is what the grapes look like, but also because it saves the trouble of hiring a geneticist to figure out what they actually are — would detract from the group's promotion of Zinfandel.
"ZAP has worked since 1991 to get people to figure out what Zinfandel is," Twain-Peterson says. "In 1991, putting Zinfandel on a bottle of red wine was a step of courage. Mixed blacks are the next level of discussion."
Fortunately for field blend fans, the past is not dying with the vines. Ridge is committed to replanting mixed blacks in its field-blend vineyards like Geyserville.
Mike Officer, owner of the mailing-list-only brand Carlisle, will replant Papera Ranch vineyard in Russian River Valley this year with a mix of mostly Zinfandel but also Petite Sirah, Alicante Bouschet, Carignane, Grenache — and even some Muscat vines for the pickers.
"We're kicking it old school," Officer says.