Learning about and acquiring a taste for red wines may be challenging. Each person has a unique and varied sense of taste and tolerance for the slight differences in wines. Many of us play it safe and stay with the whites. Some people with a very developed sense of taste can detect a “bitterness” with red wine almost before it hits their taste buds. If so, they may be less likely to enjoy beverages such as bitter beers or high-tannin, full-bodied reds. Luckily, however, there are still red wines that they may enjoy because of the huge variations in flavors!
The following wines are a good starting point to explore and become acquainted with red wines. They have bold and easy-to-recognize fruit flavors, and are moderately priced (under $20/bottle). These wines tend to be made from 100% of their variety grapes rather than being blended with another grape.
- South Australian Shiraz (Syrah). This is a full-bodied wine with bold flavor in a single-variety wine. It has a touch of residual sugar with notes of blackberry, blueberry, coffee, and pepper.
- California Zinfandel. This is a high-alcohol wine which will have a taste of spice (cinnamon and pepper). Higher alcohol wines reduce the sense of tannin and add a tingling perception. Swirl the wine in the glass to see thicker wine tears which indicate either higher alcohol and/or sweetness.
- New Zealand Pinot Noir. This is typically a lighter medium-bodied, fruit forward red because of the notable strawberry, cherry, raspberry, and blackberry feel. The grape is hard to grow, requiring warm days and cool evenings. Be sure to notice the warm spicy undertones of clove and cinnamon with a silky tannin and lighter body.
- Spanish Garnacha (Grenache). This wine demonstrates acidity. Higher acidity produces wine which tastes less tannic then lower acidic wines. This wine has hints of citrus flavors as well (orange or grapefruit). Garnacha grapes are grown primarily in Southern France and Spain.
- California Petite Sirah. Because the Petite Sirah grapes are quite small, more of the seeds and skins are used in the wine for color and tannin. It has a high tannin level with notes of jam, black pepper, and cedar.
- Chilean Carmenere. This is an example of an herbaceous or green wine. Although basically a plum or cherry-flavored wine, you will always notice a subtle hint of bell pepper in the wine. This is the herby-grass quality found in many red and white wines and is called Pyrazine. If you are unable to find a Carmenere, look for a Cabernet Franc from France’s Loire Valley.
So start with these red wines and experiment with others. By comparing and contrasting the characteristics of red wine, you will eventually find the wine that seeks you out. Cheers!
See also: Wine Basics