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Red wine 101: The different types

Our guide to the unique characteristics and flavours of eight major red wines.

Merlot
This is a dark blue-coloured wine grape variety that is most widely planted in the Bordeaux region in France. It is also one of the primary grapes used in Bordeaux wine.  It is now also grown in Italy, Romania, California, Washington State, Chile, and many others. Touted for its fleshiness and softness, Merlot wine is less rough or tannic as compared to Cabernet Sauvignon. It has a full bodied taste and is high in alcohol. Merlot has a fruitier taste with strong undertones of black cherry, plums and herbal flavours coupled with a velvety and soft texture. This makes it a great wine for those just starting with red wine. Due to its versatile nature, the wine can be enjoyed with any food pairing.

Cabernet Sauvignon
One of the best varieties in the world, wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon are often dark, aromatic and tannin. This grape is easiest to grow, so it’s used to make most dry red wines. The grape’s thick skin and its resistance to viticulture hazards like rots and insects make it easy to cultivate. Full bodied, high in tannins, with noticeable acidity are the signatures of Cabernet Sauvignon. Its taste differs from climate to climate; like in cooler climate it generally has a blackcurrant undertone with hints of green bell pepper, cedar, mint which become pronounced as the wine ages. This type of wine is best paired with dishes of red meat.

Malbec
Originally from the French Bordeaux region, it is now widely grown in Argentina, and is also available in Chile, Australia and cooler parts of California. The thin skinned Malbec grape, when ripen in mid-season can bring a very deep colour, with strong tannins and a plum like flavour. As a varietal, it creates a rather inky red or violet, intense wine. A varietal wine is one in which only one type of named grape is used. Most Malbec wines are blended with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot to create Bordeaux style wines. Though the taste differs a bit in every region, this easy drinking wine tastes like plums, berries and spice. Malbec can be paired with all types of meats. Argentinean Malbec goes well with Mexican, Cajun and Indian dishes.

Pinot Noir
This grape is difficult to grow, rarely blended and almost completely devoid of any roughness. The wine is grown all around the world, mostly in cooler regions. It makes for a delicate and fresh wine, with very less tannins. The wine is pale in colour, with subtle flavours of cherries, raspberries, violet, plum and spices, making this wine a treat for the senses. This type of wine goes well with grilled salmon, chicken, and lamb dishes. It’s great with Japanese dishes as well, especially sushi rolls.

Zinfandel
This is one of the most versatile wine grapes that makes everything from blush wine (white Zinfandel) to heavy, rich reds. It originated in Italy, where it is famously called Primitivo. The grapes give the wine its deep red colour. The wine often has flavours of berry and pepper notes, depending on the ripeness of the grapes from which they are made. The Zinfandel vines are rigorous and grow best in warm climates, but not too hot as that can shrink the gapes. The flavour of the wine is mostly determined by the length of the fermentation and maceration period (process of soaking), the level of oak ageing, and the degree at which the grapes were harvested. The wine tastes delicious when served with grilled and barbeque meats, pizza and tomato-based pastas.

Sangiovese
Originating in Italy, this red Italian red wine variety is also produced in California. The taste largely depends on the age of the wine. The young Sangiovese has fresh, fruity flavours of strawberry with a hint of spice, but as it ages the wine acquires oaky or tarry flavours when aged in barrels. It is not as aromatic as its other red wine counterparts. This medium bodied wine is high on acidity and medium on tannins. The high acidity and light body nature of the grapes are balanced by blending it with other grape varieties. Sangiovese wines taste delicious with Italian and other Mediterranean style cuisines.

Barbera
Another versatile red wine of Italian origin, this deep-coloured grape is low on tannins and high on acidity. When young, the wine offers an intense scent of fresh red and blackberries. It has a silky texture with flavours of plum and black cherries. Many winemakers also use toasted oak barrels that provide increasing complexity and hints of vanilla notes. This wine goes well with most meats, dishes with tomato-based sauces, pastas, and hard cheeses.

Syrah
Popularly known as Shiraz, the grape originated in the Rhone Valley of France and now is grown widely in regions like Chile, South Africa, California, and New Zealand. Climate often influences the flavour and style of the wine. In a moderate climate, grapes tend to produce medium to full bodied wines with medium to high levels of tannins with undertones of blackberry, black pepper and mint notes. In a hot climate, it tends to be full bodied with softer tannin, fruit and spice notes of earthy leather and liquorice. The wine can also have hints of toffee which are often the result of resting in oak barrels. Syrah is one of the darkest wines, darker than Cabernet Sauvignon. The full bodied nature of the wine often feels heavy on the mouth. It’s best paired with steak, beef, stews, lamb, and cured meats. 

Categories:   Lifestyle, Food & Drink

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