As summer begins to fade to fall, we find corks being removed more frequently on red as opposed to white wine bottles. Wine Folly provides us with a guide to exploring red wines.
Fruit-Forward Wine Era
First Love for Red Wine.
We are easily enticed into the world of red wine. Red wine is the most talked about, rated, and collected style of wine, and it’s also associated with several intriguing health benefits. But… how does one develop a palate for red wine?
This is the moment when fruit-forward red wines come into perfect focus. Fruity wines like Zinfandel, Garnacha, Alicante Bouschet, Petite Sirah, Merlot, Malbec, and Shiraz offer a welcoming bear hug to the wonderful world of red wine. Wines can be light, bold, soft, or spicy, but all have sweet fruit flavors as a dominant feature in the taste. To deliver this style, it’s not uncommon to see a small amount of residual sugar (usually 2–5 g/L RS from the grape’s natural sugars) left in the wine to further embellish the fruit-forward style.
If this is your wine palate, here is an article that will round out your knowledge and provide you with new wines to explore that you’re likely to love:
Bold Wine Epoch
After exploring fruit-forward wines, we amp things up. More fruit. More ripe. More bold. More lush. More everything. Bold red and white wines like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and oaked Chardonnay are like a meal in a glass. Your tasting skills improve as you identify distinct flavors in wine and associate them to wine making processes. For example, the taste of creamy chocolate or vanilla in a bold red wine is almost always derived from oak-aging. Talk about a massive confidence booster! Add to that layers upon layers of flavor and a long, mouth-coating finish, and it’s hard NOT to love these wines.
If you love this style of wine, you’re not alone. Many of the world’s top wine regions specialize in this style: (Napa Valley, Rioja, Bordeaux, Mendoza, Barossa Valley, Valpolicella, Montalcino, etc.) and it’s a style that pleases crowds of all kinds. In fact, some of you have decided that bold, lush wines are the ultimate for your wine palate and proudly stand behind your decision.
Elegant Wine Era (aka “Pinot Noir Stage”)
The Art of Subtlety.
For those who pass through the bold red wine stage and come out the other end, you are part of a much smaller core collection of wine ‘thusiasts. If your wine palate prefers elegance, chances are you have trained your tastebuds beyond the average taster. You have very little trouble finding delicate floral notes in wine, such as violet and hibiscus, and differentiating between flavors like fennel, anise, licorice, and tar. For these reasons you are often drawn to wines with distinct flavors, or what we like to call pointilized wines (think pointillism).
- Elegant red wines include Pinot Noir, Gamay, Nebbiolo, cool-climate Syrah, Carménère, and
- Elegant white wines include Grüner Veltliner, Assyrtiko, Soave, Chablis, and Albariño.
Interestingly enough, we’re observing elegant wines rising to become the “new luxury” in wine. There are many possible reasons for this, but perhaps the most obvious reason, is that in order to appreciate these wines fully, you have to be able to comprehend them fully. And, because it takes a great deal of skill to decipher the subtle flavors in elegant wines, they tend to have a shroud of exclusivity wrapped around them.
This era is the most guilty of wine snobbery, but it can be managed with a healthy pour of bubbles…
6 Red Wines To Explore Taste
There are 6 red wines and most fly under the radar, but as it happens they are some of the best red wines for beginners. Learn what Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Shiraz, Carménère, Monastrell and Garnacha have in common as examples of excellent wines to start your adventure into wine.
It’s true, wine is an acquired taste and everyone’s taste is different. On top of this fact, wine gives off hundreds of aroma compounds that deliver hundreds of unique smells: from cherry sauce to old saddle leather. So what are the best red wines to start your adventure into wine? The following wines are great to use as benchmarks for basic understanding. With over 1300 types of wine grapes, this is just the tip of the iceberg.
These wines were selected for 3 reasons: they are bolder on the flavor intensity spectrum, they have easy-to-identify fruit flavors, and they can be found for less than $18.
- Garnacha (a.k.a. Grenache): Zinfandel (a.k.a. Primitivo): Shiraz (a.k.a. Syrah)
- Monastrell (a.k.a. Mourvédre): Petite Sirah; Carménère
Why 100% Variety Wines Are Better for Learning
In the US, wineries can blend up to 25% of another grape variety into the wine. So if it says ‘Cabernet Sauvignon’, chances are it has up to 25% Merlot or others in it. This doesn’t just happen with Cab, it happens with other wines too, like Pinot Noir (Syrah to make the color and flavor richer). Wine blends taste awesome but they are not that useful if you’re trying to learn. The 6 wines mentioned above tend to be produced as 100% variety wines, which is perfect for expanding your palate.
Spanish Garnacha (a.k.a. Grenache)
Look for notes of Raspberry, Candied Cherry and Orange
This wine is all about understanding how to taste acidity. Garnacha from Spain tends to have bright berry flavors and moderate acidity. It’s relatively easy to pick out the mouth-watering acidity because it’s often laced with citrus flavors (e.g. grapefruit or orange). A recent study at the Oenology Department at University of Bordeaux has shown that wines with higher acidity taste less tannic than wines with lower acidity. By the way, Garnacha is an incredibly important wine grape outside of the US. It’s grown primarily in Spain and Southern France where it is the major blending grape in Côtes du Rhône wines.
Look for notes of Raspberry, Chocolate and Cinnamon
Zinfandel will help you understand how alcohol affects flavor. Be sure to select a Zinfandel with about 15% ABV for this to work — and invite a buddy with you to help drink it. After you taste the wine, let out a deep sigh and you’ll feel the tingle of alcohol in the back of your throat. High alcohol wines (14%+) often have a ‘spice’ element to the taste and in the case of Zinfandel, it comes across as cinnamon and pepper. Alcohol not only adds a tingling sensation, it also adds the perception of body. Testing at Bordeaux University have shown that higher alcohol wines tend to reduce the perception of tannin in the taste (but not the aftertaste). You might notice this effect the next time you try Zinfandel.
Alcohol Level Tip: Swirl your wine to see that higher alcohol wines have thicker tears. Thicker wine tears (or legs) can indicate higher alcohol and/or sweetness. Practiced tasters can pick the alcohol level of a wine within a percent!
South Australian Shiraz (a.k.a. Syrah)
Look for notes of Blackberry, Blueberry, Pepper and Coffee
Shiraz will help you understand what a full-bodied wine is all about. A few producers of Shiraz in Australia have moved towards a lighter style, but if you get a truly inky Shiraz, say from McLaren Vale or Barossa Valley, you’ll notice how boldly flavored a wine can get. Of course, there is a lot going on with the grapes and winemaking to create a wine this bold including heightened glycerol and sometimes just a touch of residual sugar. Australia is one of the few regions that consistently produces super-charged single-variety wines. When you taste one, focus on the profile and texture in your mouth.
Spanish Monastrell (a.k.a. Mourvédre)
Look for notes of Blackberry, Roasted Meats and Black Pepper
Monastrell will help you understand Old World wines, especially if you compare it to Shiraz. Monastrell is an abundant variety in Spain, but it is fairly unknown in the states. It makes a deep dark full-bodied wine with very rustic notes including tar, roasted meats and tobacco smoke. Earthy flavors are the hallmark of Old World wine and Spanish Monastrell offers great values for their lush bold red wines. Great examples can be found around Yecla in Spain
California Petite Sirah
Look for notes of Jam, Black Pepper and Cedar with high Tannin
Petite Sirah will help you understand what tannin is all about. Petite Sirah grapes are very small and because of this there are more skins and seeds which are the source of tannin and color. Because of this, Petite Sirah tends to have high tannin. When you taste it, you’ll notice how the texture of tannin dries your mouth out and sits on your tongue (and sometimes teeth!). If this is something you like, you’ll find yourself attracted to other high tannin wines such as Nebbiolo and Tempranillo.
Look for notes of Black Cherry, Clove, and Bell Pepper
Carménère will help you understand herbaceous or ‘green’ wines. No matter how cherry and plum flavored a Carménère wine tastes, there is always a subtle note of bell pepper in the mix. This aroma compound is called Pyrazine and it’s the source of the herby-grassy quality of many red and white wines including Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Carménère. Despite its pleasing preference in the aforementioned wines, ‘green’ flavors are also associated with underripe grapes (from a poor vintage).
TIP: If you can’t find a Carménère, seek out a Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley of France.