Now that you’ve gotten a handle on the white grapes, maybe even tasted a few, let’s talk about the reds. Did you know that all grapes are technically white? Wine gets its color from the skin of the grapes. White grapes are separated from their skins and then fermented, red wines are fermented with their skins. The skins are later removed after the proper amount of color has been released and then fermentation continues in oak or stainless steel depending on the winemaker. Some grapes have thicker skins than others which lend to different colors and flavors in the final product of the wine.
While there are tons of red grapes that can be discussed (California alone has over 30 different red grape varieties) for the sake of time and space, we’ll just talk about the most popular 4.
Pinot Noir – One of the easiest drinking red wines with light to medium intensity of aromas and flavors. The most renowned (and expensive) examples come from Burgundy, France most notably the Cote de Nuits region. Other styles of Pinot Noir can be found in New Zealand, Australia and California. Think floral and truffle aromas with a texture like silk on the palate and bright red cherry and strawberry notes for young Pinot Noirs. The age-ability of Pinot Noirs is unpredictable depending on the style you enjoy, as they age they take on more vegetal and barnyard aromas, which may be off-putting for some.
Merlot – Intense purple in color and dry in flavor, Merlot packs a serious punch of fruit and aroma and on the palate. Think black cherry and plum. Toasted new oak barrels may also be used by the winemaker to further enhance the flavors and make for a more complex wine. Medium acidity and medium tannins lend to its food-friendliness. Another approach to Merlot is to harvest the grapes earlier, therefore producing a wine with a lighter body and alcohol content. The early harvest lends to a final wine with more or a red fruit character like raspberries and strawberries. What foods? Duck, lamb and pork to be exact, even try it at Thanksgiving with your turkey and all its sides. Merlot really shines in Washington State, New York and California.
Cabernet Sauvignon – Don’t let the smooth start fool you, Cabernet is big and bold. Intense in color, aroma and taste, Cabernet Sauvignon is high in tannins but not lacking in fruit. Ripe currants, black berries, and dark cherries can be found in the glass. Often aged in oak and held for a couple of years before release, most Cabs get better with time. The best examples come from Left Bank Bordeaux (France), California, Chile and South Africa.
Syrah/Shiraz – Another interchangeable name, Shiraz in Australia and Syrah everywhere else, they are both the same grape. Found to actually be an offspring of the Dureza and Mondeuse Blanche grapes, Syrah/Shiraz is one of the heaviest and most tannic of all the red grapes. But, if grown in a cool climate, you get spicy notes along with blackberry fruit and mint. Hot climate Syrah/Shiraz has earthier flavors with hints of leather and licorice. Most notably from Northern Rhone (France) and Australia, pair this beef, game and BBQ.
That’s all! Check back next week for our Champagne feature!