Going to the wine section of a liquor store can be a confusing labyrinth with an endless amount of choices and decisions to make. There is an infinite amount of questions you have to answer before picking that bottle up and taking it to the register. This is why so many people I meet tell me that they choose a bottle of wine based on the logo design. Makes sense, cool wrapping equals good taste. This is sometimes true, but marketing can only take someone so far in the wine game. So, to put you on the right track, let’s break down the most popular red wines and what are their distinguishing factors.
- Cabernet Sauvignon
The full body maestro that has taken over the culinary world, Cabernet Sauvignon is a staple of American culture at this point. Perfect when pairing with red meats or lamb, it’s very difficult to go wrong when choosing this all-star. The greatest differentiator a cab sauv has with any other red varietal is its dense tannin texture. Without a fatty meal, this wine can come across as bitter and highly acidic. Paired with the right food, flush dark fruits such as plum, black cherry, and blackberry will ripple through your pallet. If those tasting notes aren’t enough, you’ll frequently identify a cabernet sauvignon through its aromas of tobacco and leather. While not nearly as forward as whiskey or scotch, the nosing experience can still be intense and in your face.
Merlot is one of the most common grapes you’ll see at any vineyard you go to. From Bordeaux to Tuscany to California and Washington, Merlot has massively grown in popularity over the last several years. While the tasting notes can drastically differ depending on the region, soil, and temperature the grapes are grown at, common notes include, ripe black, red, and blue fruits with undercurrents of vanilla, roasted almonds, and other earth tones. Merlot is a great option when a Cabernet Sauvignon is going to overpower the meal.
Syrah is one of the deepest, darkest red wines available all over the world. With lush fruit flavors that penetrate the taste buds, you’ll experience savory black olives and ripe blueberries. In addition, there will be undertones of smokiness, bacon, white and black pepper. Syrah is commonly a very dry varietal with thirteen to fourteen percent alcohol levels. In addition to being a great match for duck and braised beef, I always recommend drinking a glass of Syrah on its own. With subtler tasting notes, giving it free reign of your pallet will allow you to taste everything it has going on. I recently worked with a painting service to get my whole house re-painted. It was a massive three-week process. A glass of Syrah was the perfect way to end any really stressful days.
- Pinot Noir
My mother’s favorite wine, Pinot Noir is the fragile glass that wreaks of sophistication. Its beautiful crystalline red colors are always a dead giveaway. The words pinot noir derive from pine and black which may help accentuate just what France had in mind when they began fermenting this grape. Something altogether foresty and entrancing. With tasting notes of ripe black cherry, raspberry, and aromas of vanilla, clove, cocoa, pinot noir is always a more complex experience than the first taste will give away. If you’re looking for subtlety, pinot noir will be your champion.
Argentina’s pride and joy, Malbec is a wonderful wine that is not for everyone. Known as one of six varietals that is allowed into a red Bordeaux blend, Malbec is a feisty grape that has soared to prominence in the last few decades. Tasting notes include black cherry, blackberry, and plum with more nuanced flavors like cocoa powder, violet flowers, leather, arising when oak aged. The intensity of Malbec comes from the spice aromas and notes that often accompany the sweeter fruit flavors. This wine can often pack a punch that is spectacular when paired with a charcuterie board, leaner cuts of red meat, or roasted vegetables.
Port wine earns its place on this list because I am a dessert wine fiend. Tastes of black licorice and cherry and the texture of a thick syrup make this the perfect companion to a molten lava cake or anything else chocolaty. The title of Port wine exclusively belongs to wines manufactured within Portugal. Drink a glass of Port and get ready to be transported to the vibrant coasts of Porto, Portugal.
Red wine is a massive category filled with thousands of varietals and blends. That doesn’t mean that you need to be overwhelmed though. There are ways to pick and choose what wines are going to taste the best to you. Start experimenting, focus on the tasting notes, mouth feel, and aromas that arise for you. Everyone’s experience of a wine is going to be different, but that’s the great part of drinking wine. You get to figure out whether you prefer a subtle pinot noir or an overpowering malbec or, like me, just skip right to dessert with a port.