When it comes to getting acquainted with wines, it's common to start with white wines. They can be fruity, zesty, refreshing and easy to drink. And, because they are chilled, they are often more approachable when starting to explore wines. But then there are the reds with all their wonderful flavors and aromas!
Red wines can range from being light and delicate to big and bold. So, here are four common red wines that span the spectrum.
Starting with the light-bodied and delicate end of the spectrum is Pinot Noir (Pee-no-nwarh). Wine from the Pinot Noir grape is known as Burgundy in France, since the wines produced in the Burgundy region are made from greater than 80% Pinot Noir grapes. The flavors of Pinot Noir can be wonderfully delicate and include cherry, raspberry, and cola. Pinot Noir is low in tannin which means that it is very smooth and has a soft finish. This wine has gained tremendous popularity and the prices reflect it. But once you get ahold of a really nice Pinot Noir, you'll be hooked.
Next is Zinfandel (ZIN-fan-dell) which is considered a medium-bodied red wine that can have medium tannin. In Italy, Zinfandel is known as Primitivo. The flavors of Zinfandel include blackberry, black plum, black cherry and jammy fruit. You'll sometimes hear a Zinfandel referred to a 'jammy' which means that it has big, bold fruit flavor, like you might expect from a jar of jam. Zinfandel can also be spicy with aromas of bell pepper and licorice. And, with oak aging, Zinfandel can take on flavors of vanilla, chocolate, mocha, coffee and burnt sugar. These may seem like odd flavor combinations, but they really work together well.
Then there's Syrah (Sih-rah) or Shiraz (Shih-Rahz) as it's known in Australia. This is a full-bodied red wine that has been described as being floral in its youth, and then developing more peppery and herbaceous flavors as it ages. Flavors include leather and smoky scents, blackcurrant and licorice. Syrah is dark in color with big initial flavor, medium tannin and a notable, lasting finish. Syrah is often blended with other grapes due to its deep color and tannins. In southern France (Rhône) it is common for Syrah to be blended with Grenache and Mourvèdre in the famous Grenache-Syrah-Movrvèdre (GSM) blends.
And finally, Cabernet Sauvignon (cah-bare-ney so-veen-yawn). It is probably the most famous red wine grape variety. It produces a full-bodied wine with bold black-fruit flavors of black cherry, blackberry and black currant. Oak aging produces flavors of vanilla, tobacco, licorice, and black pepper. Cabernet Sauvignon is deep in color with bold tannin. In France, Cabernet Sauvignon is blended with Merlot and Cabernet Franc in Bordeaux wines of Medoc (Left Bank). DNA testing has proven that Cabernet Sauvignon is actually a cross of Cabernet Franc (a red wine grape) and Sauvignon Blanc (a white wine grape).
All of these red wines should be served at cellar temperatures of 53 degrees F for the lighter red wines to 62 degrees F for the full-bodied reds. If these are served too cold (i.e., in the kitchen refrigerator) you really won't get the full flavor these red wines have to offer. And, if you serve them at room-temperature, they are probably too warm.
So, there's a quick run through the spectrum of a few basic red wines. Next time we'll explore some other red wines that are similar to those discussed here to help expand your red wine drinking options. Until then, cheers!