Types of Red Wines: Introduction

When you come to the fine restaurant and the waiter hands you the wine list, you are likely to start feeling a little uncomfortable. When you need to purchase a bottle of wine as a present or for a special occasion, you find yourself marooned in the decision-making process and end up buying the cheapest (or most expensive) wine, depending on your budget. When you are asked about the taste of wine you are having at a dinner-party, you are likely to say something like “It’s nice, not very sweet… Is it Italian?”

Either it is because you hate to decipher the wine list, or because your wine knowledge is no deeper than telling red from white, it doesn’t matter. The important thing is that if you just name the first wine you see on the list in the restaurant, or select the wine you always order, you deprive yourself of a wonderful and unique experience. It means you have never been truly introduced to the fantastic world of wines and wine tasting.

You don’t need to learn all the nuances, but knowing the types of wine and some basic aspects to it will certainly increase the pleasure of tasting it as well as make you sure of yourself whenever you need to choose wine again.

Let’s begin with red wine varietals. There are around 50 key red wine varietals, which makes clear why it is difficult to be a wine expert without proper knowledge and training. You can be sure that you are on the right way to understanding the wine culture if you know at least the red wines list.

You should know that the color of red wine is taken from the color of grapes, and the individual wine’s color depends on the grape type as well as the wine’s age. The hues range in depth of color and newer red wines will be different in color from well-aged red wines. It is not necessary to go deep into the fermentation process, dispersion, pigmentation or tannins. Your ultimate goal is to appreciate and enjoy the beautiful results of it all: garnet, deep violet, dark red, light red, ruby, opaque purple or maroon color spectrum of red wine and the complexity of taste.

Dry red wines have a dry level of sugar, which means that a residual sugar level in these wines is 1.2-1.4% or lower. So “not very sweet” largely means that at that dinner-party you tasted some good dry red wine. As a matter of fact, almost all red table wines you find in the store on the shelf are dry. The sweeter wines are usually on a different shelf. It is worth asking for a brief consultation if you are not sure.

The most common red wines, the names of which you have certainly heard are: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Chianti, Barolo, Barberesco, Malbec, Tempranillo, Petite Sirah, Syrah, Shiraz, Sangiovese, Grenache, Bordeaux, and Côtes du Rhône.

Merlot is considered to be the baby of the dry red wine family. It has a softer taste than many others. Cabernet Sauvignon wines are probably the most popular. They age well and are great with meat dishes. Pinot Noir is a medium dry red wine, known for being great with spicy foods, and most meats. Red Zinfandel is a heavy wine, known to go perfectly well with pasta and any other tomato based foods or sauces.

However, the word “heavy” is not quite the word wine-lovers use when describing some types of wine. Instead of light and heavy, red wines are better described in terms of being light-bodied, medium-bodied or full-bodied. The body type of wine refers to the texture and the weight that you will feel on your tongue when you drink it. It means how thin or thick, watery or oily the wine feels in your mouth.

A light-bodied red wine is more watery, subtle, delicate, lower in alcohol, has fewer tannins present and less presence on the palate. A medium-bodied red wine has more substance but not very thick. It contains more tannins than the light-bodied wines. Some of the typical examples of medium-bodied red wines are Merlot, Shiraz or Chianti. Full-bodied wines have a rich, heavy, complex flavor that lingers in the mouth. They have the highest tannin and alcohol content. Cabernet and French Bordeaux are good examples of full-bodied red wines.

Now comes the aging aspect. Different grapes make wines with different aging requirements. For example, Cabernet Sauvignons age for longer periods than Merlots. Most bottles of red wine should be opened and consumed within three years of the vintage date. As a rule, more expensive wines are typically designed to become better with age, they gain complexity of taste, while inexpensive wines do not benefit from aging.

To appreciate and enjoy tasting red wine to the fullest, you’ll need a special red wine glass that is an oval or egg-shaped bowl that narrows slightly at the top, which allows room to swirl your wine before you smell and taste it.

Besides an art of tasting wine, there is an art of pairing it with food. At the basic level, you may drink whatever wine you like with any food you like, which is quite a relief. However, it is important to know that food may reveal new nuances of taste in wine and wine can complement food.

If you decide to acquire the art of pairing red wine with food according to body and flavors, you will need more knowledge than “red wine and steak” combination. You will need to pay attention to general flavors of wine you have chosen, its acidity, and fruitiness. For example, if a wine has a sweet flavor, it may be good to pair it with slightly sweet foods. However, pairing food and wine with contrasting flavors can also be very rewarding. Once you started grasping the knowledge of wines and wine tasting, you stop looking puzzled in stores and restaurants, but you also get more than this: a whole new world of tastes and subtleties.