Which Red Wine Should I Choose?

Red Wine
Which Red Wine Should You Choose?

You’re branching out and want to choose a more sophisticated wine, maybe a red wine. You wonder, What do all the terms mean? Is it better to buy a wine that has a specific name or are blends okay? If this is your time to step beyond $2 bottles of wine into the exciting “world of wine” –know that enjoying the “fruit on the vine” doesn’t have to be a frightening pursuit. Don’t be intimidated by all the pretense! Learning about different kinds of wine should be a pleasurable experience! There are less rules then you think! Let’s discover a couple of terms.

What Is a “Varietal”?

It’s simple. The name of the wine is the name of the type of grape in the bottle. For instance, the grapes are called “Cabernet Sauvignon” or “Zinfandel” or “Pinot Noir” and each grape has it’s own distinct flavor, color, size, and characteristics; these are different varieties. When speaking of a “Varietal” one is referencing the grape variety predominantly present in the bottle. To be distinguished as a Varietal, the wine label must contain the originating appellation (where the named grape was picked) and contain 75% of said grape. Although all wines/winemakers are not created equal, you can trust that varietals should be similar. Thus, there is a taste profile you can identify when planning your wines for food pairing.

A fun exercise you might try is to buy different labels of one varietal and do a “side-by-side” comparison to find their unique distinctions. Another fun side-by-side comparison is using the same Varietals from one vineyard but from different years and discover for yourself how they are different or how they are similar. Remember to use red wine glasses to give it the best possible performance. Try decanting, as well, and notice the difference it can make. (Most wines benefit from decanting.)

What are “Blends”? Are Varietals Better?

Winemakers will use grapes from different sources to make their best possible wine. They may blend a sweeter grape to offset a more bitter grape, bolder grape to accent a lighter one, etc. However, if they use less than 75% of one grape, they can no longer call it by a varietal name. Thus, they will call it a “Blend” , “Table Wine” or “Red Wine from (region/state/country)”. Some might look down their noses at blends, but if you think about it, if you’re mixing the best grapes with the best grapes, isn’t that a good thing? The only drawback would be when comparing because one “red wine” and another “red wine” can be vastly different. Start checking out labels and note the different varieties present in the bottle.

What is a Reserved Wine or a Library Wine?

When looking at a label, one winery may have two varietals from the same year, but one is called a Reserve ( usually a little pricier) and you wonder, “What’s the difference?” Often, winemakers make a “Reserve” wine from the same harvest or bottling (Reserving some) and treat it “special.”  The wine may be aged longer, the grapes handpicked, etc.). There is no “set in stone” rules that make it a “Reserve”, just what the winemaker deems worthy. However, there is usually a good reason they call it a Reserve, so often it is worth a try.

A Library Wine is one where smaller batches of wine are set a part for a certain amount to be aged longer. This would imply that the quality of the wine has improved with the “laying down” (mellowing or becoming more full-bodied) and also will increase in cost (but hopefully in quality as well.)

Are More Expensive Wines Better?

Yes and no. Price is nearly a random thing. The economy, availability, hierarchy, vintage, among other things, all have a part to play. Sometimes higher priced wines are just higher priced for no apparent reason. That said, you can taste a difference in wines that have aged longer, have been picked at the right time or right climate, during better years of harvest or who have winemakers with great skill, this, and amount of aging, all factors into the price of wine. Smaller vineyards or boutique shops usually charge more because their own cost in making/purchasing is higher. However, some wineries have a great policy that wine should be affordable. Use price as a very loose parameter and experiment. Start with low priced wine and work your way up. Treat yourself once in awhile to something above your typical price range. Remember that the best judge is your mouth–the taste is what matters. A wine you enjoy may not be the one another chooses.

The palette is a fickle thing that changes, as well; a wine you adored two years ago may no longer taste good to you. The only true test is trying different kinds of wine, in different circumstances, with different foods, at different times and in different atmospheres (yes, it can make a difference.)

Should Red Wine Always Be Served With Red Meat and White Wine With Seafood/Chicken?

Not necessarily. However, there’s a reason this has been a general rule. Most red meats and the way in which we prepare the meat demand a hearty, strong, and bold red wine to compliment.; Whereas white meats are mild in flavor and welcome a crisp, citrusy or rich buttery white wine as a companion. But what about a heavy garlicky chicken or spicy Cajun shrimp? What of surf and turf? (And what about our vegetarian friends, would they be stuck with white wine all the time? I think many would protest.) The taste of the dish and the taste of the consumer means more than the protein. The key is to drink what you like and experiment with different pairings.

Try different foods with different wines and you’ll quickly discover what you like with which food. Try a small taste of your wine and notice its complexities first. Then take a taste of the food followed with a taste of the wine. How has it changed? This is a fun exercise, too!

Common Red Wines

Here is a very short list of Red Wines for starters with common characteristics:

(Remember, these are general guidelines.)

Attention: The internal data of table “1” is corrupted!

The Adventure

Just as in life, don’t gain knowledge for knowledge’s sake, apply your information and enjoy the journey.

Here are a few tips for making the trip more fun.

  • Ask questions. Especially of those more experienced. Others love to give advice. 
  • When choosing a bottle at a wine bar or restaurant, ask for recommendations. (They pay guys to figure this stuff out).
  • Go to wine tastings. This is a fun way to try wines you wouldn’t normally pick up because of ignorance or price. Plus, most tasting room “pourers” love to educate (Bonus Tip: Ask them their favorites, what they like to serve, etc.).
  • When you are in the tasting room, try not to read the tasting notes before you taste—think, what do I smell? What do I taste? Then look at the notes to compare.
  • Write down what you like and don’t like. Use a wine journal (or use your smart phone) and take notes, take pictures; remembering what you enjoyed is harder than you think when you are standing looking at a bazillion wine bottles side by side.
  • Have wine tasting parties and try the examples of side by sides above (one varietal but different wineries, same winery different varietals, decanting) or stage blind tastings.
  • Don’t skip your seeing, swirling and smelling before sipping. Your mouth only gives you 4 tastes (sour, sweet, salty & bitter) the rest of the “taste” comes from your sense of smell, so make sure your red wine glasses give you ample nose room.

New to the journey or well traveled, savor memories most of all. Wine should be sipped with great friends, good food and whole lot of adventure.

Three Simple Ways to Make Wine Taste Better

Wine bottle with cork screw

Some wine drinkers like to savor the effects of consuming wine with little or no regard for subtle nuances of flavor and would even knowledgeably declare that it all tastes the same after several glasses. However, this is definitely not the case and if you enjoy good wines, you owe it to yourself and the wine, to savor and enjoy the many elements that work together to ultimately result in a fine tasting wine. There are ways though, to improve the taste of your wine and this can be achieved by understanding and working with temperature, air and light. These are the three elements which can affect how a wine will taste and they can be manipulated to bring out the best in a wine.

1. Temperature Must be Optimal For Serving

Common knowledge has it that a red wine should be served at room temperature while a white wine should be chilled. There is an element of truth in this, however it is only the beginning, particularly in regard to red wines. Each wine has it’s own optimal temperature and will vary with different grape varieties and the region where they were grown. For example, a full flavored Bordeaux should be served at 65 degrees F while a light Beaujolais should be served at 54 degrees F. Likewise for storing wines. For red wines, it should be between 52 – 65 degrees F, while for white wines, it should be between 45- 50 degrees F. You can find a detailed list of serving temperatures for various wines at this website: http://www.skybarhome.com/about-wine/wine-serving-temperatures/wine-serving-temperatures.html

2. Correct Aerating and Decanting

Correctly aerating a wine will improve it’s taste. Essentially, it involves allowing the wine to ‘breath’ by exposing it to air prior to drinking it. Young wines can often have high levels of carbon dioxide and exposure to air can reduce this and allow their true flavor to come through. This will work well for most young red wines and can also have a similar effect on young white wines. Young wines will need up to two hours to fully aerate, although a mature wine should only need one hour. For aged wines, a few minutes only is recommended. Decanting with the aid of an aerating funnel is the best way to aerate a wine, although electronic aeration is commonly used these days.

3. Wine Glasses Should Be Wine Specific

Yes, the way in which wine is tasted can also enhance its flavor. Wine glasses are shaped so as to direct the wine to precisely the right place on one’s tongue and to allow the aroma to waft gently up the nose. This is why a full flavored red wine should be tasted from a large wine glass. It also allows for full aeration. With white wines, reducing the surface area can create a more concentrated funnel through which delicate aromas can be savored and tasted. Keeping a collection of wine glasses suited for reds and whites will ensure you experience maximum aroma and flavor from either wine. A tip for serving red wine, is to only fill the glass to the level of the glass’s greatest diameter because this will provide excellent aeration and thus improve taste.

The correct combination of wine glass, aeration and temperature can bring about the optimal taste and aroma experience for both red and white wines. So yes, you can make your wine taste better but it is always a good idea to start out with a good wine in the first place so that you actually have something to improve upon.

The Best Decanter for Serving Wine

Wine Tasting for Beginners

Wine pouring into wine glass - copyrighted image

There is a time honored tradition to follow when it comes to wine tasting and there are a series of steps to follow if you are serious about understanding the aromas and tastes that are associated with the myriad of wines that are just waiting for you to try. It is a complex process with many facets however if you are just starting out with wine tasting, you can break the process down into several steps that will ensure your path from wine tasting for beginners to that of a more advanced taster, occurs reasonable quickly.

Step 1 – Look at the Wine

You should take note of the color of the wine as it sits in the glass, preferably against a white background. A white tablecloth or napkin is ideal for this. Be sure to check the color at the edge of the glass and then tilt it gently to see if the color changes between the edge and the center of the glass. You should look for the clarity of the color as well as saturation or depth, and intensity while noting that the depth and intensity of the color do not necessarily equate with quality.

Step 2 – Smell the Wine

After you have had a good look at the wine, bring the glass to within a few inches of your nose and breathe in while identifying the main scent. Then place your nose closer into the glass and inhale again. Aside from checking for any odors that could indicate a spoiled wine (aka corked), you should try to identify the predominant scent. It could be fruity, cheesy, spicy, woody, flowery or any of the other countless scents that can be present in a particular wine. Be aware of any alcohol smell too and if any are present, it should not be overpowering.

Step 3 – Let the Wine Breath

This step involves swirling the wine around in the glass because this will expose it to air. The air can act to bring out even more scents in the wine because the act of swirling wine and allowing it to spread over the interior of the glass increases the wine’s surface area. Aromas in the wine will open up as the wine becomes exposed to the oxygen. It is also worth noting how the wine runs back down into the glass as you swirl it around. It will run quickly or perhaps slowly and is known as viscosity. A viscous wine may be more full bodied.

Step 4 – Taste!

Finally you get to taste the wine, having already noted some information about it from the previous steps. Simply take some wine into your mouth along with some air and allow it move over your tongue as well as all around the inside of your mouth. Take note of its texture, body and weight as well as any features such as smoothness or tartness. While savoring the tastes you should also ascertain if they align with the aromas you smelled a little earlier.

Step 5 – Swallow the Wine?

This last step involves either swallowing the wine in your mouth or spitting it a spittoon provided for the purpose. It is a personal choice but obviously if you are driving, the spittoon option is the one to take. The other thing to consider is that swallowing many samples will result in you becoming tipsy and perhaps not as discerning during the tasting process as you were when you started out. Either way, the experience should be fun and you can drink water between wines to cleanse your palette.

These steps will guide through the wine tasting for beginners stage of your journey to being a more experienced wine taster. There are additional steps to consider once you are ready to move past the learning stage however that is a topic for another time. Learning about the varieties of aromas and tastes of wines should be an experience to enjoy and a little knowledge of the process should ensure this is indeed so.