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Red Wine Basics

An Introduction to Red Wine

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First things first, red wine is well…red, but why? Its color can be derived from a vast assortment of grape varietals ranging from grapes that are reddish, deep purple, and even a beautiful blue on the color scale. These grapes give rise to a wine that is color classified with such descriptors as garnet, almost black, dark red, light red, ruby red, opaque purple, deep violet, maroon and the list goes on. It is the grapeskins that are responsible for the red wine’s distinct color spectrum. The skins are in contact with the grape’s juice during the fermentation process, allowing the dispersion of both color and tannins. The individual wine’s particular red hue depends on the grape type used in the process and the length of time the skin’s pigmentation is in contact with juice. There are right around 50 key red wine varietals that consistently manifest themselves in today’s worldwide wine market.

Red Wine Style

As with all wines, the particular winemaker will have adequate “say” in the style of wine he will produce. That said, red wines are often classified by “body-type.” For example, one might say that a certain red wine is “light-bodied” – referring to the mouth-feel and tannin structure. A light-bodied wine will have fewer tannins present and less presence on the palate. These wines tend to be less demanding partners with flavor-filled foods. An example of a light-bodied red wine would be one derived from the Gamay grape varietal, such as France’s famed young red wine: Beaujolais Nouveau. A medium-bodied red wine will contain more tannins than the above Beaujolais Nouveau, but will not have near the pucker power of a high-powered California Cabernet Sauvignon or an Italian Super Tuscan. Typical examples of medium-bodied red wines include: Merlot, Shiraz or a Chianti. Full-bodied red wines boast the highest tannin (and often alcohol) content. Prime examples of full-bodied reds are France’s esteemed Bordeaux wines, California’s key Cabs and Italy’s sizzling Super Tuscans. In general, light-bodied wines tend to “feel” more like water in the mouth. In contrast, “full-bodied” wines feel heavier, more like milk, this effect is due in large part to the higher tannin (and again, alcohol) content.

Dry Red Wines

Sweet Red Wine

Key Red Wine Varietals

The top red wine varietals that you are likely to encounter are: Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petite Sirah, Syrah, Shiraz, Sangiovese, Malbec, and Grenache.

Sometimes, you will hear of red wines referred to by their popular regional names. For example, a "Bordeaux" is a red wine from France that is made primarily from three varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot grapes. Or move to ordering a wine from Italy and you will often hear of a Chianti- made from the Sangiovese grape varietal, or look at Piedmont's Barolo or Barbaresco wines (both of which hail from the Nebbiolo varietal). Malbec is Argentina's super star red wine grape and is a rising star in the world of red wine. Curious about which Malbecs to try? Check out some best bet Malbecs here.

Red Wine Stains

It happens... red wine spills, stains and other mishaps. Don't panic, there are several very effective methods of dealing with the inevitable red wine stain, check out the Best Ways to Deal with Red Wine Stains.

Common Red Wine Questions:

What are the health benefits associated with moderate red wine consumption?

How many ounces are in a "standard" red wine glass?

How many calories are in red wine?

What are best bets for red wine clubs?

What is one of the most expensive red wines on the market today?

What are the best Cabernet Sauvignon wines under $100?

Why is oak such a big deal for red winemakers?

Red Wine Recipes:

Red Wine Sangrias

Mulled Red Wine Recipes

Red Wine Glass Choice

Red wines will put their best foot forward when poured into and sipped out of a wine glass with adequate room. A distinctly oval or egg-shaped bowl that narrows slightly at the top as opposed to a slender flute-like glass is necessary to enjoy a red wine to the fullest . The ideal red wine glass will accommodate between 10-22 ounces of liquid, allowing more room to swirl your wine and better surface area for allowing the wine to breathe a bit. On the serving note, keep in mind that most red wines are at their best when serving temperatures are between 60-65 degrees Farenheit – serve them too warm and the taste of alcohol is overly evident, serve them too cold and they will quickly veer towards bitter and more astringent on the palate.

Common Red Wine Flavor Descriptions

Cherry

Plum

Strawberry

Blackberry

Raspberry

Currant

Gooseberry

Boysenberry

Raisin

Fig

Pepper (white/black)

Clove

Cinnamon

Coffee

Cocoa

Mocha

Tobacco

Leather

Licorice

Toast

Smoke

Violet

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