Red Wine Guide: Everything You Need To Know
We think Benjamin Franklin said it best when he said, “Wine makes daily life easy, less hurried, with fewer tension and more tolerance”. Now, we don’t know about daily (medical guidance has changed since Mr Franklin’s days) but we do certainly agree that a glass of good wine at the end of a long day is one of life’s more agreeable pleasures. That’s why we started this series of wine guides to celebrate all things wine and make it easier for you to choose the perfect bottle, discover new varieties and grapes, and pair red wine with food.
We’ll be taking a look at all the major grape varieties including Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Malbec, Merlot, Pinotage, Sangiovese, Pinot Noir, Shiraz/Syrah, Tempranillo, and Sémillon.
Serving Red Wine
Decanting red wine is always a good idea, especially if you have been storing the wine horizontally on a wine rack. If you’re not decanting, it’s recommended you stand the bottle up vertically for a few hours before you serve, this allows the wine’s sediment to settle. It’s also recommended to serve red wines, like cabernet sauvignon, merlot and malbec in larger bowled glasses as it enhances the flavours and aromas of the wine.
Cabernet Sauvignon Red
Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the world’s most widely recognized red wine grape varieties. Mostly grown and produced in Bordeaux, France, it is also found in almost every major wine-producing country in the world, including Italy and the new world wine regions in Australia and Chile.
Cabernet Sauvignon is a full-bodied red wine that is known for its dark fruit flavours like black cherry, blackcurrant and blackberry, and sweet and savoury tasting notes that can include black pepper, tobacco, liquorice and vanilla. It is usually stored in French oak barrels for between 9-18 months that adds a complexity to its distinctive flavour and depth.
The deep complexity of cabernet sauvignon makes it the ideal wine to enjoy with red meat. It complements a steak, especially when cooked medium-rare. It’s also great with a Sunday roast, particularly if you are serving roast beef or a lamb. The tasting notes of cabernet sauvignon will also accentuate flavours like garlic, rosemary and mint. If you’re serving a cheese board after dinner, it’s a safe bet to work with those flavours too, especially strong blue cheeses.
Grenache is a fruity and complex classic red wine and one of the old world favourites. With naturally high levels of alcohol, it is traditionally grown in the warm climates of the South of France and Spain and is now also grown in new world wine regions, particularly Australia. It is one of the major grape varieties used in the production of the popular French red wines, Rhône Villages and Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
Grenache is a sweet and full-bodied wine. Expect to find tasting notes like raspberry, white pepper, spice, herbs, fruit cake and black cherry in your bottle.
It pairs well with big rich flavours like gravy and meaty dishes such as shepherd’s pie and Sunday roasts. It also works well with braised meats and game and is always a good choice if you’re serving French food.
Malbec is famously an Argentine varietal wine from Mendoza but the grape itself is actually French in origin. It is a thick-skinned grape that produces deep, full-bodied red wine.
Malbec red wine boasts complex and nuanced flavours and tasting notes. The fruity flavours you can expect to find in your evening glass of malbec include blackberry, plum and black cherry. The secondary tastes of this popular, and often great value, red wine include milk chocolate, coffee, leather, vanilla, dill, black pepper and tobacco.
Malbec is a versatile and drinkable red wine that goes really well with food. It works perfectly with lean red meat, strong flavours like blue cheese, earthy mushrooms and also complements spices like cumin.
The word ‘merlot’ comes from the French word for ‘the little blackbird’, referring to the colour of the red grape variety used to make this popular red wine. It’s not just grown in France, however; in fact, it’s a very well travelled grape. Merlot is grown all around the world including Italy, California, Australia, Argentina, Bulgaria, South Africa and New Zealand, as well as more non-traditional wine-producing countries and regions. Merlot is a velvety dry red wine that is medium to full-bodied, very drinkable and often great value.
Merlot has a wide variety of flavours and tasting notes due to its adaptability and versatility. You’ll find notes and fruity flavours like black cherries, plums and blackberries along with notes of vanilla, cedar and cloves.
Pinotage is South Africa’s signature red wine. It’s a complex wine with an interesting history but in recent years pinotage is enjoying a bit of a comeback, with new wines proving very drinkable and popular. Pinotage grapes are famously dark and often called the black grape. It’s a dense red wine with what is often described as a bold flavour, so is worth trying when you’re looking for something a little different from your usual red.
The bold and distinct pinotage flavour features fruity and oaky tasting notes of black and red fruits, plum sauce, spice, leather, tar, liquorice and chocolate.
As you would expect from a South African red wine, Pinotage works really well when served with a barbecue, especially when you’re serving bolder flavours.
Sangiovese is an Italian red wine that takes its name from the Latin ‘sanguis jovis’ meaning ‘the blood of Jupiter’. It’s a prominent grape throughout Italy, in fact, it’s the most prominent grape in Tuscany. It’s a versatile grape that produces very popular, and affordable red wine, and is famously the main component in Chianti wine (best served with fava beans, etc). It can also be found in other wine-producing regions like Argentina, France, New Zealand and California.
Sangiovese red wine has natural fresh fruity flavours of strawberry and a little kick of spiciness, but it readily takes on more complex oaky, even tarry, flavours when aged in barrels. Sangiovese often has tasting notes of sour red cherries with earthy aromas and tea.
As you would probably guess, Sangiovese red wine, especially when blended in a Chianti, works very well with Italian food, particularly with Italian pizza with a sharp tomato base as well as classic Italian pasta dishes served with tomato sauce. More full-bodied blends of Sangiovese are more suited to meatier dishes like roast chicken, mixed grills and steak.
Pinot Noir Red
Pinot noir is considered to be the world’s most popular light-bodied red wine. Originating in Burgundy, France – an area synonymous with red wine – pinot noir translates to ‘black pine’. Pinot noir has travelled however and is now grown in wine-producing countries around the world like Australia, New Zealand and California. Pinot noir proves its versatility by being one of the very few red grapes that is used to make red and white wine, rosé wine, and even sparkling wine.
The light-bodiedness of pinot noir makes it very easy to drink red wine that can boast a wide variety of agreeable tasting notes. The young pinot noir grape can release delightful aromas and notes of red fruit and berries that are accentuated by the wine’s famous long and smooth finish. Oaked in French barrels, you can also find tasting notes of cola, caramel, mushroom and vanilla in your bottle of pinot noir red wine.
The light body of pinot noir not only makes it a very pleasing red wine but also makes it a satisfying accompaniment to a wide variety of food. It’s a great red wine to drink with fish (yes, you don’t have to have white wine with fish), especially salmon, and it also works really well with chicken, pork and earthy mushrooms.
Shiraz/Syrah is the grape that’s so good they named it twice. Grown around the world, with tremendous results, the Shiraz/Syrah grape, like a lot of wine grapes, has its origins in France. It’s mostly known as syrah in Europe and North and South America (where it’s grown in a cooler climate and Shiraz in Australia where it’s grown in a hotter climate. Good examples of shiraz/syrah can be found across Europe, think Rhône Valley and Languedoc, and in new world wine-producing countries like South Africa, Chile and California. Syrah is generally a more elegant and savoury wine, while shiraz is bolder and more full-bodied.
You’ll find a range of flavours and tasting notes in your bottle of syrah. The young grape can feature notes of everything from smoke, bacon, herbs, red and black fruits, white and black pepper, and floral violet notes. When aged in oak, elegant notes of vanilla and baking spice can be found. When it comes to shiraz, jammy aromas and meatier notes are more prominent.
Syrah red wine tends to pair well with duck and game as well as rustic stews, classic pasta dishes and meaty ragus. Shiraz is a very drinkable red wine so therefore is a great pairing for barbecued food like burgers, ribs and hot dogs. And of course, both varieties are an excellent choice to accompany cheese.
Tempranillo is the predominant Spanish red wine grape. Found in the popular Rioja wines, Tempranillo is grown across Spain and Portugal, where it can be found in many popular port blends. It’s a robust grape that not only grows across the Iberian peninsula but also in California and Argentina, and other wine-producing regions with cooler climates, such as Oregon and Washington State, too.
The young tempranillo grape is fresh and fruity with notes that include cherry and pepper. With age and oak, however, it gains more complex and intense notes of leather and tobacco.
As it’s a Spanish grape, tempranillo of course pairs wonderfully with ham and cheese but, as it’s a red wine that works beautifully with food. It’s also great with roasted vegetables, tomato-based pasta dishes and even recipes with a little spice.
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