When we were children, we thought there were only two kinds of wine: red and white. But now that we’re not children anymore (seriously . . . you’re supposed to be over 21 to read this blog!) we know that there’s a lot more to the variety of wine than just two colors.
We know: some people are happy to find just one variety, maybe even just one label that they’re happy to drink. But as much as we can admire someone for finding what they like and sticking with it, we always want to encourage people to take the time and truly come to enjoy the almost limitless diversity of red wines and learn that to every wine there is a season. Or, at least, an occasion.
Did you know that all grape juice is initially white? It gets its red color from contact with the grape skins during the winemaking process. The longer the contact with the skins, the darker the color will be and the more tannic (dry) the wine will taste.
There are hundreds of grape varieties grown throughout the world today that are used to make red wine. They can be used alone or as part of a blend. We’ll introduce you to some of the more popular varietals and the wines that they make.
Cabernet Sauvignon is a grape hybrid created from the Cabernet Franc and the Sauvignon Blanc grapes. It became popular in many regions of France where the hearty vine could flourish where others didn’t. The grape has a high level of tannins, which gives is a fairly dry flavor and allows it to mature nicely with aging. Speaking of aging, Cabernet Sauvignon is aged in oak, which brings out some of its natural flavors and adds more. The strong taste and high alcohol content of this wine makes it a preferred complement for food.
Merlot is the third-most planted wine grape in the world (FYI, Cab is second). The grape has a dark blue color, and the wine can have a rich, purple color, although it can also be very red. Merlot tends to be an easy-drinking wine with fruity flavors.
Malbec is a relatively thin-skinned grape that needs more sun than the previous two grapes to ripen. Varietal Malbec has an intense flavor, fairly tannic but often with a characteristic plum flavor.
Pinot Noir is a grape that produces a wine that’s delicate in flavor, with very light tannins. It tends to be a very fruity wine, but with earthy notes. And it’s also very sensitive to the place where it’s grown—more of the flavor of the location shows through.
Syrah and Shiraz are two names for the same grape. The wines produced from these grapes tend to be moderate to high in tannins, and they often benefit from aging.
Zinfandel is a black-skinned wine grape that is much more popular in the US than in Europe, where it’s grown primarily in Italy. In the US, it’s used to make both a semi-sweet rosé called White Zinfandel and a rich red wine that can be very strong.
There are over 10,000 varieties of grapes currently grown to make wine. That might seem like a lot, but when you consider all the generations of people who have been enjoying wine, it starts to seem a little stifling. So how do you increase the variety of flavors you get from wine? Blending, of course. There are many popular wine blends that you should know.
Bordeaux wine blend is part of how Cabernet Sauvignon became so popular, since it’s one of the regular elements of this blend. Other varietals used in the blend are Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec.
Chianti is an Italian blend that came into being almost the same time as the country of Italy itself. It consists of Sanviovese, Canaiolo, and Malvasia Bianca. It is often sold in a characteristic squat bottle in a straw basket, known as a fiasco.
All the different flavor nuances, or notes, help define a wine’s flavor profile. They can be in-your-face bold or subtle. Here are a few of the more common flavor profiles that you’ll hear describing red wine:
- Red fruit
- Black Fruit
Wine gets its complex flavor in part from the complex process in which it’s produced. It can pick up flavors during growth and ripening, processing, fermentation, or aging.
When deciding on a red wine, it’s helpful to know something about its style. Three common styles to consider are:
Full-bodied – These wines are big and bold and have a much richer flavor profile. They can be very dark in color, have medium to high tannins, and have a thicker, heavier mouth feel. Full bodied reds include Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Petit Sirah, Syrah/Shiraz.
Medium-bodied – Not as bold as a full-bodied wine. Tannin levels can range from low to high. These are versatile wines that pair well with wide variety of foods. Wines in this style include Merlot, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Zinfandel.
Light-bodied – These wines are fruity and lighter in color. They have a softmouth feel and a more subtle flavor profile. They are lower in tannins but can be more acidic. These wines Include Bardolino, Beaujolais, Burgundy, Pinot Noir, and Valpolicella.
If you’re looking for guidance on the best wine for your particular occasion, we can help, but if you aren’t buying for a special occasion, it’s often best to just let yourself be guided by flavor. Taste, experiment, and explore. No matter where your palate takes you, you’ll love the journey.