Wine on Wednesday – Best California Red Table Wine

I’ve had a lot of people tell me that Menage a Trois is their favorite California red table wine and I can see why. Maybe it’s because it offers a full-bodied flavor that stands up to strong flavors such as garlic or tomatoes without blowing the back of your head off with its jammy fruitiness.

Menage a Trois (French for “household for three” but also a euphanism for a three-way sexual encounter) is made from three grapes — zinfandel, merlot and cabernet sauvignon — that are blended together to make a wine that has the familiar jam-like flavor typical of table wines, but without the flavor getting the way of your enjoying the wine, the way most bottom shelf California reds do.

The flavor of Menage a Trois is no accident. The zinfandel is there to give it its distinctive peppery, vegetal flavor, the merlot mellows it out, and the cabernet balances everything out by giving the blend its structure.

The blending of differnet grapes to get a particular flavor profile is a very American way to make wine, or at least very un-European.

In France, for example, wines from a particular region by law have to be made from the grapes grow best in that region. That’s why all wines from Burgundy are made from pinot noir grapes, all wines from Champagne are made from champagne grapes, etc. These laws are hundreds of years old and violating them would be unthinkable to any good Frenchman.

Here in the US — as well as in Australia, South Africa and South America — we aren’t as uptight about what kind of grape goes in the bottle as long as we like what it tastes like. While the US has celebrated wine regions — such as Napa and Sonoma in California and the Willamette Valley in Oregon — each of those regions produce many different varieties of wines and many of them are excellent.

Menage a Trois is the top selling red wine product in the US. The brand also offers other wines — including a white table win, a rose and even a Moscato — but I’ve never tried them.

Menage a Trois is produced by Folie a Deux (French for “a madness or delusion shared by two”), a vineyard opened by two wine-loving ex-psychiatrists near Helena, in Sonoma Valley in 1981. It was sold in 2004 to Trinchero Family Estates, a vast wine house that produces a very wide variety of wines from super exclusive cabernets and merlots to the Sutter Home brand of mass produced low-end wines.

While I wouldn’t categorize Menage a Trois as low end, it is certainly not expensive. I bought it at my local discount liquor store recently for $6.70/bottle, which falls well below my self-imposed cost limit of $7.99/bottle.

At that price, if you are looking for an affordable California red table wine, you can afford to pick up a bottle of Menage a Trois and give it a try yourself!

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