Guide to Red Wines
Few things are as lovely as a glass of red wine on a chilly evening, the rich flavours complementing a comforting meal. Though a knowledge of reds often seems to convey a certain sophistication about a person, don't let this idea intimidate you from delving into what should be a universally enjoyed beverage. Red wines, while being complex and dynamic enough for serious collectors, are actually quite accessible to the amateur enthusiast. And if you need an extra incentive to start exploring this new world, remember that there are links between the consumption of red wine and a lower rates of heart disease!
Are you looking for a guide to White Wine? Click here.
- Red wines are best enjoyed with the appropriate glass that allows them to breathe, and they should be tasted between 15-18º.
- Focus on one particular region at a time: for example, if you prefer a more balanced Syrah , consider focusing on France , but if you enjoy a fruitier, oakier wine, you might enjoy Californian varieties.
- Conduct a blind taste test with at least three different types of the same variety.
- Note the colour: is it maroon, purple, garnet, ruby? Is it opaque or clear? Is there sediment or are there bits of cork floating in the glass?
- Note the smell: swirl your glass and inhale deeply through your nose. What are your impressions? What do you notice: oak, berry, citrus, vanilla, floral aromas?
- Note the taste: take a small sip and let the liquid roll around your tongue.
- Notice the intensity of the wine during this first taste, whether it feels heavy or light, sweet or dry, crispy or creamy.
- What flavours do you taste? Fruit, spice, woody notes, smokiness?
- After swallowed, consider the aftertaste. How long does it last? Was it light- or full-bodied? What was your final impression?
- Don't forget to cleanse your palate in between tastings.
- Finally, try pairing your wines with different foods to see how the flavours are enhanced. Red wines and chocolate are particularly interesting.
- Remember to note your favourites for future reference.
Cabernet Franc is one of the major varieties of red wine grape in the world, usually made into Chinon or blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in the Bordeaux style. Colour can range from light to bright red and it tends to be light- to medium-bodied. It is characterized by berry aromas, usually raspberry, blackberry or strawberry. Though typically grown in France, it is starting to catch on in at American wineries.
Cabernet Sauvignon is grown in nearly every major wine producing country and was once the most widely-planted red wine grape in the world. Wines are dark red and when young, hints of blue can even be present. This is a full-bodied wine that often has notes of bramble fruit, cassis, ginger or green pepper; it is known also for its oaky flavour but this should not be overpowering. These wines often improve with age, so consider buying a few bottles to save for a special occasion.
Grenache originated in Spain but has since become the most widely-planted red wine grape in the world. It is often blended with Syrah or Tempranillo , is the dominant variety in most Southern Rhône wines (especially Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Côtes du Rhône ), and is also used to make rosé in France and Spain. Colour tends to be light red or even orange, and the body is light to heavy. Look for notes of black pepper and red fruits, but aromas of thyme or lavender can also be present.
Malbec is one of the six varieties permitted in the making of Bordeaux, but it is no longer commonly found in France except in blends. However, Malbec is increasingly celebrated as an Argentine (and Chilean , to a lesser extent) wine. Colour should be a deep, even inky, red and its medium to heavy body is accented by hints of plum, berry, smoke and black pepper.
Merlot is one of the most popular red wine varietals. These grapes are almost always blended; grapes ripen fairly early, so they are often blended with the later-ripening Cabernet Sauvignon to add tannins and produce nicely-balanced wines. They tend to be a medium dark red to blue colour, medium-bodied, and soft. There are often aromas of blackberry, currant, chocolate or straw.
Nebbiolo grapes are traditionally grown in Italy and used to make Barolo ,Barbaresco and Gattinara . Young wines are lightly coloured and heavily tannic, but as they age, they take on a brick-orange hue and the tannins mature into complex flavours. Producers have begun in recent years to make young wines more approachable. Body is medium to heavy and aromas can include violets, tar, herbs, red fruits, truffles and tobacco.
Pinot Noir grapes are notoriously difficult to cultivate, but they arguably produce one of the best red wines and thus are among the most popular in the world. Rarely blended and softer than a Cabernet Sauvignon, it is light- to medium-bodied and light red in colour. Wines are known for aromas of cherry, black currant and anise and often develop floral flavours as they age.
Sangiovese is the primary component used in making Chianti and is also blended with Cabernet Sauvignon to make the so-called "Super-Tuscans", but is starting to become famous as a red wine grape in its own right. Colour ranges from very light to very dark, and body also can vary similarly: from very light to very heavy. Dark red fruits are the dominant aroma and there is often a heavy oak flavour.
Syrah , or Shiraz as it is known in Australia, is often blended with Grenache to make Châteauneuf-du-Pape and with the white grape Viognier to make Côte-Rôtie . In Australia, it is often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon . Syrah tends to be deep red with hues of blue, and of medium to heavy body. Look for aromas of spice, violet and raspberry and a strong, complex flavour.
Zinfandel grapes are predominantly grown in California and to a small degree in Australia . Not to be confused with White Zinfandel , an insipid rosé version, Zinfandels tend to be quite purple in colour and have aromas of dark fruits and berries. Body can vary from light to heavy, flavours should be spicy and earthy, and wines are best when consumed young.