Red Wine 101

Jammy, fruity, earthy, bold…these are some common words associated with red wine. There are hundreds and hundreds of different varieties of red wines, each one different from the next. Not all red wines are alike and there is a style for every palate. You may say that you do not like red wine, but perhaps you have not had the right one yet. So, let's go over some basics of red wine and perhaps help you find one you will like.



How Is Red Wine Made?

Red wines get their color from the grape skins. White wine can be made from either red or white grapes but red wine cannot be made from white-skinned grapes.  The juice of all grapes is clear. The color comes from the skins. Once the grapes are picked, they are fermented with their skins. This means that the yeast is added to the grapes and the sugar in the grapes is converted to alcohol. As the process takes place, the juice leaches color from the skins. The longer the juice spends with the skins, the darker the color of the wine. Red wines are typically fermented at a warmer temperature than white wines.

Tannins: 
Tannins are naturally occurring compounds typically found in red wines. They are released from the skins, seeds and stems when soaked in the juice. The characteristics of tannins is a drying sensation in your mouth. Think of a green banana or an oversoaked tea bag. In both cases, your mouth dries. The dryness you feel in your mouth when you drink a red wine will depend on how low or high the tannins are in that wine. Higher tannins are found in wines that spend longer times with their skins and seeds. Tannins can work as a natural anti-oxidant in wine and enable a wine to age. Tannins are in most red wines but they can be very subtle or very overt. It is ok if you do not prefer them. There are a lot of red wines that have softer tannins or low tannins. Again, there is a red wine for every palate and there is no right or wrong answer.

Tip: 
Do not use the word “dry" to describe a red wine. Most red wines are fermented until all of the sugars have been eaten. Typically, when the word “dry" is used to describe a wine, the drying sensation, the tannins, is what is being referred to.


Red Wine Styles:

Red wines can be broken down into three categories – light bodied, medium-bodied and full-bodied. Light-body red wines are fruity and fresh. Medium-body red wines are fruit forward with spice. Full-body red wines are big and bold with lots of tannins.


Go-To Red Wines

Pinot Noir: 
Where it's found: Made famous by the movie Sideways, Pinot Noir has been adored by wine drinkers for years. Pinot Noir is the red grape of Burgundy, France. It is also planted in Sonoma, Santa Barbara, Oregon, New Zealand, as well as Italy, Australia, Chile, Argentina, Germany and South Africa. The thin-skinned grape is difficult to grow and thrives in cooler climate areas. 

How it tastes: Pinot Noir can range from light-bodied to medium-bodied. Typical flavors of pinot noir are cranberry, raspberry, black cherries, mushrooms and wet leaves, licorice, tobacco and cola. Pinot Noir typically is low in tannins but medium to high in acidity.
 

Pair with: Pinot Noir can pair with all types of food. It is light enough for salmon and tuna but also works with duck, pork and lamb.


Cabernet Sauvignon:
 
Where it's found: Cabernet Sauvignon, one of the most recognized wine grapes, is grown in almost every wine producing county. It is one of the five grapes of red Bordeaux from France, and is also in California, Washington, Chile, Australia, Argentina, New Zealand, Canada and more. A thick-skinned red grape, cabernet sauvignon does best in warmer climates where the grape can ripen.

How it tastes: A full-bodied wine with high tannins, Cabernet Sauvignon can range from notes of blackcurrant, cassis and black cherry to black pepper, olive, tobacco, vanilla, violets, green pepper, eucalyptus and menthol notes.

Pair with: Cabernet Sauvignon is a wine that needs food. The fat in meat will soften the big, mouth-drying tannins. Enjoy with a charred hamburger or a thick steak. Do not pair cabernet sauvignon with tomato sauces as the tannins in the wine will fight with the acids in the tomato and create a metallic taste in the mouth.

Syrah: 

Where it's found: Like Grenache, Syrah is also one of the red grapes found in the Rhone blends in France, as well as California, Australia, Spain, South Africa, Argentina, Chile and Italy.
 

How it tastes: A full-bodied red wine, Syrah has notes of black berries (blackberry, boysenberry, blueberry), herbs and spices (rosemary, mint, clove, pepper, allspice, tobacco), licorice, olives and smoke. Syrah typically has high tannins and medium acidity.

Pair with: Next time you are grilling meat, pull out a bottle of Syrah. Also try it with lamb shawarma, barbecue pulled pork and cured meats.



Red Wine Gems

Grenache:
 
Where it's found: Garnacha, as it is called in Spanish, originates from Spain. Grenache is also one of the primary red grapes found in Rhone blends in France. It is also planted in California, Washington and Australia, as well as other regions. It is the “G" in a GSM (Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre) blend.

How it tastes: Grenache has a range of tastes, from strawberry, black cherry and raspberry to tobacco, cinnamon and anise. The taste really depends where it is grown, whether it is a cool, warm or hot region. The wines can range from medium-bodied to full-bodied with medium to low tannins and medium acidity.

Pair with: Grenache pairs well with roasted meats, such as rack of lamb or prime rib, as well as roasted vegetables.


Nebbiolo:
 
Where it's found: Nebbiolo is one of the most famous grapes of Italy and is found in the famous regions of Barolo and Barbaresco, where it can be quite expensive. Langhe Nebbiolo is an affordable Nebbiolo from the same region. While Nebbiolo is primarily grown in Piedmont, Italy, small plantings can also be found in California and Mexico. 

How it tastes: With aromas of cherries, roses and clay, Nebbiolo tastes like it smells. Rose, cherry, red currant, pepper and earth are met with intense tannins and high acid. 

Pair with: Enjoy Nebbiolo with meat, such as beef tenderloin, meat ragu or braised pork. Or try it with a rich, creamy cheese or a wild mushroom risotto.


Tempranillo:
 
Where it's found: Tempranillo is planted throughout Spain and is the grape found in Ribera del Duero and is one of the main grapes in Rioja. It is also planted in Portugal, California, Argentina, Australia and Mexico.

How it tastes: Fruit, leather and earth are typical flavors of Tempranillo, which is a full-bodied wine with high tannins and medium acidity.

Pair with: Enjoy a glass of Tempranillo with grilled meats and smoked meats, as well as polenta and grits. Tempranillo will also work with tomato-based sauces so try it with pizza, pasta or lasagna.



About the Author:
Allison Levine is the owner of Please The Palate, a boutique agency specializing in marketing and event planning for the wine and spirits industry. With over 15 years of experience in communications, marketing and event planning, Allison is passionate about the world around her and the diverse people in it. Allison holds a Master's Degree in International Communications with a focus on cross-cultural training from the American University School of International Service. She also holds a WSET Level 3 Certificate from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET), an Italian Wine Specialist Diploma from the North American Sommelier Association, a Certified Meeting Professional Certificate (CMP), and is BarSmarts Wired certified. Check out her Top Shelf Blogger profile!