Red Wines

What is

Red wine is an alcoholic drink created through the fermentation of juice extracted from grapes with dark-colored skins. When compared to white wine, red wine stands apart in terms of its raw material and production method. Unlike white wine, which is made using light-skinned grapes, red wine is crafted from dark-skinned varieties.

During the production of red wine, the winemaker allows the pressed grape juice, known as must, to undergo a process called maceration, where it ferments together with the skins of the dark grapes. This maceration contributes color, flavor, and tannins to the wine. The conversion of grape sugar into ethanol and carbon dioxide by yeast leads to the production of alcohol. The culmination of these intricate processes results in the exquisite red wine we enjoy.

Red Wines

Characteristics

Red wine possesses distinct characteristics worth exploring. Let’s delve into them concisely

Color – Red wines exhibit a spectrum of colors, ranging from deep, opaque purple to pale ruby. As they age, their vibrant shades transform into garnet or even brown.

Tannin – Tannins contribute texture, structure, and aging potential to red wine. They arise from macerating the juice of grapes with their skins, seeds, and occasionally stems. Tannins can be perceived as ripe, smooth, well-integrated, rustic, green, or astringent, imparting a drying sensation akin to black tea.

Flavors -Red wines offer a diverse range of flavors derived from different grape varieties. Aromas of fruits, flowers, herbs, spices, and earthy elements emerge. Pinot Noir may display notes of raspberry, cherry, and forest floor, while Cabernet Sauvignon often reveals cassis, licorice, and wet gravel.

Acid – Acid plays a vital role in preserving wine, imparting freshness and structure. Red wines exhibit tart and sour attributes that balance against sweet and bitter components, primarily attributed to tartaric and malic acids.

Types of Red Wines


The world of red wine is vast, with numerous grape varieties grown in various regions worldwide. While there are hundreds of red grape varieties to explore, you’ll commonly come across only a select few. In this overview, we’ll focus on the flavor characteristics and regions associated with the most prevalent red wine grapes. While there is much more to discover beyond this brief list, the following information serves as a convenient introduction to red wine basics, providing you with a quick and accessible starting point.

Cabernet Franc

Flavors: Violets, blueberry, earth, black olive, coffee.

Cabernet Franc plays a significant role in Bordeaux blends and Meritage red wines, along with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. While commonly used for blending, Cabernet Franc possesses distinct characteristics as a tannic and earthy counterpart to Cabernet Sauvignon. In warmer regions outside of Europe, it reveals unique qualities like pure violet and blueberry notes, with ripe tannins carrying hints of freshly roasted coffee. In certain areas like Chinon, Bourgueil, and Saumur-Champigny, it is crafted as a varietal, known for its firm and tannic nature, accompanied by austere minerality. In Pomerol and Saint-Émilion, it often combines with Merlot, contributing a spicy, pungent, and occasionally minty aroma.

Pair with roasted lamb, grilled steak, herb-infused dishes, mushroom risotto, or roasted root vegetables.

Cabernet Sauvignon

Flavors: Bell pepper, green olive, herb, cassis, black cherry

Cabernet Sauvignon, the key component in exceptional Bordeaux wines and synonymous with the Napa Valley, is grown worldwide but seldom achieves greatness. It is a late-ripening grape and can exhibit weedy and vegetal characteristics in cooler climates like Chile. In Bordeaux and Tuscany, it is predominantly blended to soften its intensely astringent tannins. The Napa style showcases a dense, purple-black appearance, with a jammy profile and flavors of currants and black cherries. This thick and ripe wine is often layered with prominent scents and flavors of expensive new oak, playing a significant role in the rise of cult wineries. In Washington, the finest Cabernet wines strike a balance between the ripeness seen in California versions and the nuanced herb, leaf, and olive flavors reminiscent of great Bordeaux wines.

Ideal with hearty red meats like prime rib, beef stew, grilled ribeye, or lamb chops. It also pairs well with strong cheeses and dark chocolate.

Gamay

Flavors: Strawberry, raspberry, cherry

Gamay is the grape variety predominantly found in Beaujolais wines. It is typically intended for youthful consumption, showcasing vibrant and tangy flavors of strawberry, raspberry, and sweet cherries. When crafted using the carbonic maceration method, young Gamay exhibits a slight effervescence and a distinct banana aroma. The most renowned example of Gamay is Beaujolais Nouveau, which is released shortly after the harvest.

Perfectly complements roasted chicken, grilled salmon, charcuterie, mushroom-based dishes, or lighter pasta dishes.

Grenache/Garnacha

Flavors: Spice, cherry

Grenache, also known as Garnacha, is responsible for some of the finest red wines in Spain and Australia. It is a key component in esteemed French wines like Châteauneuf du Pape, Gigondas, and Côtes du Rhône. Old vine Grenache produces exceptional wines, characterized by a tendency towards high alcohol content and low acidity. These wines offer bold flavors, showcasing a delightful combination of fruitiness and spiciness, reminiscent of a milder and less intense version of Syrah.

Pair with barbecued meats, spicy sausage, lamb tagine, roasted vegetables, or paella.

Malbec

Flavors: Sour cherry, spice

Malbec, originally a blending grape in Bordeaux, has gained significant recognition in Argentina. In this South American country, it produces spicy and tangy red wines that excel with aging in new oak barrels. While Malbec remains a minor player in other regions, a few varietally labeled Malbecs can be found in California and Washington.

Matches well with grilled steak, beef empanadas, barbecue ribs, spicy dishes, or aged cheeses.

Merlot

Flavors: Watermelon, strawberry, cherry, plum

Merlot, often considered the “Chardonnay of reds,” is widely known for its easy pronunciation, approachability, and versatility. However, it tends to lack distinct character on its own. An exceptional exception is Chateau Pétrus, where Merlot constitutes 95 percent of the blend. While varietal Merlot gained popularity in the 1990s, the market became saturated with insipid, watery, and overpriced versions that dampened its reputation. Nevertheless, outside of Bordeaux, Merlot shines brightest in Washington state, where it achieves beautiful ripeness and yields plump, powerful wines capable of aging for a decade or more.

Versatile and pairs well with roasted chicken, pork tenderloin, grilled vegetables, tomato-based pasta dishes, or mushroom risotto.

Mourvèdre/Mataro

Flavors: Spice, cherry

Mourvèdre, also known as Mataro, is a popular Mediterranean red grape found in France and Spain. It produces medium-bodied wines with delicate spiciness and lovely cherry-flavored fruit. The finest vineyard sites enhance the fruit with a distinctive, gravelly minerality. While some old vine plantings of Mourvèdre can still be found in California and Australia, it is commonly featured in blends alongside Shiraz and Grenache.

Try it with braised short ribs, smoked brisket, Moroccan tagine, or spicy sausages.

Nebbiolo

Flavors: Plum, pie cherry, tar

Nebbiolo stands as the principal grape in renowned Italian wines like Barolo, Barbaresco, and Gattinara from the Piedmont region. It undeniably belongs among the world’s great red wines, yet has proven exceptionally challenging to cultivate elsewhere. Despite decades of effort, Nebbiolo versions from California tend to be light, thin, and lacking distinctiveness.

Traditionally paired with rich Italian dishes such as truffle risotto, braised meats, aged cheeses, or osso buco.

Pinot Noir

Flavors: Tomato leaf, beet root, pale cherry, blackberry, cola, plum

Pinot Noir is a beloved yet temperamental grape that winemakers adore. It possesses an unmatched beauty, allure, and unpredictability. The benchmark for exceptional Pinot Noir is found in Burgundy, where it can exhibit flighty and fragile characteristics with obstinate weedy flavors. While it is a key component in many sparkling wines, Pinot Noir can also be ripened to produce surprisingly dense and even jammy wines in regions like California, New Zealand, and warmer sites in Oregon. Pinot Noir truly shines as a pure varietal, often showcased as a single-vineyard wine in Oregon and California, mirroring the numerous small appellations of Burgundy. When at its best, Pinot Noir showcases ethereal delicacy and can age gracefully for decades, earning its poetic description as “the iron fist in the velvet glove.

Goes well with roasted turkey, salmon, seared duck breast, wild mushroom dishes, or grilled vegetables.

Sangiovese

Flavors: Pie cherry, anise, tobacco leaf

Sangiovese, the prominent grape of Tuscany, takes center stage in renowned wines like Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino. It typically exhibits a relatively light color and firm acidity. In Italy, Sangiovese reveals distinctive flavors of pie cherry, anise, and tobacco. However, outside of Italy, it can sometimes appear plain and unremarkable, although promising bottles have emerged from Washington’s Walla Walla Valley. Many of Italy’s “Super Tuscan” red blends marry Sangiovese with Cabernet Sauvignon, combining the strength of Sangiovese with the smoothness of Cabernet.

A great match for tomato-based Italian dishes like pasta with meat sauce, pizza, roasted tomato bruschetta, or herb-roasted chicken.

Syrah/Shiraz

Flavors: Blackberry, boysenberry, plum, pepper, clove

Syrah, also known as Shiraz in Australia, has experienced a surge in plantings in California and Washington. These regions produce juicy, spicy, and peppery versions of Syrah. In Australia, Shiraz holds a prominent place as the country’s standout grape variety, crafted in a wide range of styles. From light and fruity to dense and tarry, Australian Shiraz encompasses deep red wines, tannic sparkling wines, and fortified “Ports”. In the northern Rhône, particularly in Hermitage and Côte Rôtie, the grape reaches its pinnacle, giving rise to extraordinary expressions. These wines showcase peppery, dense, and spicy fruit, layered into incredibly complex wines with hints of mineral, smoked meat, tar, wild herbs, and leather.

Pairs well with grilled meats, game dishes, hearty stews, pepperoni pizza, or smoked cheeses.

Zinfandel

Flavors: Raspberry, blackberry, black cherry, raisin, prune

Zinfandel, once exclusively associated with California, now thrives across the West Coast of the United States, as well as in Australia, Italy, and other regions. Its ancestral roots have been traced back to Croatia. However, California remains the archetype for Zinfandel, showcasing its distinctive characteristics throughout the state. Mendocino produces somewhat rustic versions with hints of Asian spices, while Dry Creek Zinfandels display raciness and an abundance of raspberry flavors. In Amador and Gold Rush country, Zinfandel exhibits a hot, thick, and jammy profile, whereas Napa offers plush wines with ripe, sweet black cherry flavors. California Zinfandels often reach alcohol levels of 15% or 16%, and sometimes even higher for late harvest versions. Zinfandel “Ports” are also produced in the region.

Ideal with barbecued ribs, spicy sausage, pizza with rich toppings, chili con carne, or dark chocolate desserts.

Red Wine’s Ageability


Proper storage is essential for red wine to reach its full aging potential. Several factors impact the aging process, including temperature, light, and humidity. Red wines should ideally be stored at around 55°F, which is 10°F below the optimal serving temperature.

Excessive warmth accelerates the aging process, while temperatures above 75°F can “cook” the wine, resulting in the loss of fruit flavors and a mushy, baked quality. Cold storage can also be detrimental to red wine, although not as critical as overheating. Extremely low temperatures may slow aging but won’t cause significant harm unless the wine freezes, which can lead to cork displacement or bottle cracking. Slight temperature fluctuations are generally safe, but maintaining a consistent temperature is crucial for wine storage.

To shield red wines from harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays, they are bottled in green or brown tinted glass. Although light-bodied wines are more susceptible to light damage, it’s best to avoid prolonged exposure to both natural and artificial light. UV rays can accelerate the aging process by breaking down compounds in the wine, while light also carries heat that can be detrimental.

Maintaining an appropriate level of humidity is equally important. Dry environments pose a risk to the cork, as it can dry out, shrink, and allow oxygen to seep into the bottle or wine to

Red Wine Stemware


Proper glassware enhances the wine-drinking experience. Two main red wine glass shapes are the tall, tapered Bordeaux and the wide bowl Burgundy. Bordeaux glasses concentrate aromas, suitable for fuller-bodied wines with spicier notes. Burgundy glasses trap delicate aromas, best for lighter-bodied reds. Wine glasses should have stems to prevent heat transfer.

When cooking with red wine, avoid grocery store cooking wine. Most recipes suggest the wine style, even as “dry wine.” Use about half a bottle for recipes requiring 1 cup. Consider the dish when choosing wine: dry for savory dishes, sweet for desserts. When unsure, select a dry red with low to moderate tannins. Cook with wine you’d drink as it affects the dish’s flavors.