Seeing Red: What You Need to Know About Red Wine
Shopping for red wine can be intimidating. If you don't drink it regularly, or if you're only familiar with a few varieties, it can be difficult to pick out the right bottles for you and your guests. But fear not! Here's what you need to know about the most common red wine varieties.
What is Red Wine?
Red wine is, unsurprisingly, red. It gets its colors from the skin of the grapes it's made from. Because red wine grapes are fermented with their skins, they often contain compounds called tannins. Tannins lead to a drying sensation when tasted, and may not be something you enjoy. Fortunately, it's possible to find red wines that are very low in tannins, allowing you and your guests to enjoy its bold flavors without tannic interference.
Red Wine Styles
You can break red wines down into three major categories: light bodied, medium bodied, and full bodied. A light bodied wine is fruity and fresh. A full bodied wine has a bold flavor and noticeable tannins. A medium bodied wine is somewhere in the middle, usually containing fruit and spice flavors.
Common Red Wine Varieties
Cabernet Sauvignon: An easily recognizable red, Cabernet Sauvignon is full-bodied with a tannic taste. You'll find a variety of flavors in your glass, including black cherry, green olive, vanilla, and herb. This is a wine to serve at a dinner party, particularly one featuring red meat. The fat in a nice, thick steak helps soften the tannins, allowing you to enjoy the wine's flavors fully.
Malbec: A popular wine in Argentina, Malbec is a full-bodied wine that is medium in tannin. You'll notice dark fruit, raisin, chocolate, and smoke flavors when you pour yourself a glass. Its combination of full flavor and medium tannins means this wine can be enjoyed on its own, or paired with lean meats, pesto pasta, or blue cheese.
Merlot: Merlot has a bit of a bad rap due to overexposure and poor production in the 90s. However, pick up a European Merlot and you'll find a wine that's easy to drink. Depending on the bottle, merlot can be medium-bodied or full-bodied. With notes of black cherry, cedar, plum, and tobacco, it's an approachable wine perfect for people new to reds. Drink it on its own or pair it with shellfish, goat cheese, or roasted red peppers.
Pinot Noir: One of the most popular light bodied wines, pinot noir is known for its spicy aroma, smooth finish, and fruity flavors. Look for cherry, raspberry, vanilla, and hibiscus when you take a sip. It's a truly versatile wine, pairing with most foods, or delightful on its own.
Syrah: Syrah is one of those full-bodied red wines that gives you a punch of flavor. Highly tannic, syrah contains flavors like blackberry, rosemary, pepper, licorice, olives, and smoke. It's a lovely dinner party wine, pairing well with dark and grilled meats, cheddar, and roasted lentils.