Villa Maria Private Bin Merlot Cabernet SauvignonNew Zealand is known for sauvignon blanc. And, as much as its wineries have tried to convince the world that they can make something else, they have run into huge problems. That’s because their sauvignon blanc is not only terrific, but cheap. Even with the weak U.S. dollar, they’re still mostly around $10 and exceedingly well made.

Which is why I was so excited to find this red blend from Villa Maria, one of the oldest family producers in New Zealand. It’s not typical; if you see a red from that country, it’s usually pinot noir because New Zealand is supposed to be too cold to grow cabernet and merlot.

But the cabernet-merlot blend ($14, sample, available at Central Market) shows progress has been made with those varieties. It has black fruit that is obvious but not over-ripe, and it’s not as harsh as a similarly priced wine from France. Also impressive: long tannins and surprising balance.

It’s a simple wine, and would be a whole lot better at $12, but given the dearth of drinkable red wine at this price, it’s more than worth buying. Serve this with any red wine dish, and it wouldn’t be bad by itself, either, when you run into someone who will only drink red wine.

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