How To Learn About Types of Red Wine

Sommelier and red wine

Red wine goes with beef, right? If I stick to that rule my wine choice will be fine, won't it?

To simplify wine in this way is to ignore the vast complexity and variety of flavor, body and bouquet. Wine by itself is complex enough to intimidate a novice, but pairing it with food can enhance your appreciation of both the food and the wine. It's time to learn a little about red wines in general so you can make a better choice when choosing wine for a meal or for enjoyment by itself.

  1. Many people consider red wines "heavy" wines while they consider white wines "light." This isn't necessarily true of either wine. Instead of being described as heavy, red wines are more accurately described as being "light-bodied" or "full-bodied." The body is the texture and the weight that you will feel in your mouth and on your tongue when you drink the wine.
  2. If you are going for a general rule for drinking red wines, pair light-bodied wines with lighter foods and full-bodied wines with heavier foods. Here are some of the more popular varietals of red wines listed from lighter-bodied to fuller-bodied: Merlot, Syrah/Shiraz, Chianti, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Zinfandel.
  3. Yes, red wines are called red, but upon closer examination they are not merely red. They range in depth of color from a deep purple (newer wines) to browner hues (well-aged wines).
  4. If a red wine seems pale in color, it may be because the grapes were damaged by weather before being processed. Wines that are uncharacteristically dark may have been exposed to oxidation. Reds that are either too pale or too dark may not be pleasant to drink.
  5. Many people think that holding onto a bottle of red wine so it will age is the right thing to do for all varietals. Actually, many red wines aren't meant to be kept for more than a few years. The rule of thumb is to drink most bottles within three years of the vintage date on the bottle.
    • If you bought the bottle for under $20, there is a pretty good chance that the bottle was meant to be drunk sooner rather than later.
    • Some red wines that will improve with age when stored under proper conditions are Port, Bordeaux and Burgundy, as well as some Cabernet Sauvignon. If you are unsure about when you could optimally enjoy a particular bottle, find an expert to ask.
  6. When it comes to pairing red wines with food, the increasingly accepted rule is to drink whatever wine you like with any particular food. Pairing your red wine with food according to body and flavors has been raised to an art form. If a wine has a sweet flavor, then pairing it with slightly sweet foods can work well. If the wine has the flavor of herbs, serving it with foods cooked with the same herb flavors can make the experience enjoyable. On the other hand, pairing food and wine that demonstrate contrasting flavors can be exciting as well. When doing so you keep the tastes fresh and alive in your mouth. Regardless of your choices, paying attention to the acidity, fruitiness, and such general flavors of wine will help you develop a better sense for how the wines will pair with food. Food can often mask a previously dominant flavor in a wine, revealing subtleties you never knew existed.
  7. Those of us who have little experience with wine may feel lost in a sea of varietals and want more specific guidance when beginning their wine pairing adventures. Here are some of the more popular red wines and foods they generally pair well with:
    • Merlot: Merlot is a very popular wine right now because it is light- to medium-bodied and pairs well with many foods such as beef, strong cheese, game, veal, lamb, pastas with red and creamy red sauces, heavy seafoods, and BBQ chicken and pork.
    • Chianti: Chianti is a classic wine to pair with Italian meals. It also works well with steak and even poultry.
    • Shiraz/Syrah: Shiraz and Syrah are the same grape, but they are called different names in different regions. They pair well with heavy foods such as BBQ's, steak and spicy dishes.
    • Cabernet Sauvignon: This is a good wine to choose if you are having a steak dinner. It also works well with strong cheeses, lamb and heavy pastas.
  8. One way to learn more about red wine is to join a wine club. You can join clubs such as the one on that will send you a certain number of bottles per month for you to taste. There are also local wine clubs where members gather and share bottles of wine and advice about wine. By joining either type of club, you will definitely gain knowledge and benefit from the experience of others.
  9. You can learn a lot about red wine from visiting wine websites and wine blogs. One blog from USA Today offers information on good, reasonably priced wines, and you can even sort out the blog entries on red wine from the rest of the advice. In addition, magazines such as Food and Wine or Wine Spectator are full of information.
  10. The best way to learn about red wines is to try a lot different varieties and see which ones you like!


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