The world of red wines is an intoxicating, rich and wonderful world filled with everything from the nuanced subtlety of a gentle South African Merlot to the peppery richness of Sangre de Toro from Spain.
In general (and luckily for all of us), many of the old rules of wine drinking have been cast aside these days, making it more casual and accessible to everyone, and with the increased demand supply has soared, allowing for inexpensive and very delicious wine available to all.
I don’t know about you but this makes me a very happy woman! 😊
Still, for someone who is just beginning to enjoy red wine it can be a little confusing and intimidating choosing from so many options.
So where do you begin? How do you properly enjoy a red wine and with what meals would they be best?
Ok, so here are some very basic tips to help you explore red wines:
1. Don’t spend a ton of money on a bottle of wine...yet
Save your money for later, after you’ve had a chance to explore a variety of red wines and figured out what you like and you don’t.
There are so many really great wines that are available for somewhere between $5 and $10 a bottle, that you really should not need to drop $20 or $30 for a bottle of wine during the exploration phase.
Suggested glassware: French Teal Wine Glasses
2. Don’t buy local, yet
Often, your local wine store is stocked with bottles from the local vineyard (if there is one). These can be wonderful, or they can be vinegar. It really can be something of a crap shoot.
So, unless you live in the Napa Valley, or some other area that is renowned for its wine-making traditions, stick with something that is nationally or internationally distributed.
3. Stick with a varietal, for now
In other words, pick a wine that is primarily made from one type of grape, i.e. a Shiraz, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, etc.
Try to avoid blended reds to begin with, though they can be quite delicious. By learning the flavors of the varietal grapes, you’ll better understand what it is about the blend that you like.
You could start with a nice Merlot from South Africa, Australia, New Zealand or Chile. These vineyards are usually able to balance cost with quality quite nicely.
Merlot is a good option to start with because of all the red varietals, it is the gentlest, and complements a broad menu of meals.
While a Merlot can be a perfect complement for a spaghetti dinner (particularly if you have a nice buttery garlic bread), it can easily sit beside a pork chop or fried chicken dinner.
A Merlot is a lovely, non-pretentious start to your journey and should open the door nicely to a journey of wine loving.
Suggested glassware: Gold Etched Wine Glasses
4. Reds like to breathe
Open the bottle and let it sit for ten minutes or so. This allows oxygen to get at the wine and mature it quickly.
For that matter, pouring the wine into the glasses and allowing it to sit for ten to twenty minutes accelerates this process.
Or better yet, decant your bottle into a vintage wine decanter for added presentation. You’ll find the flavor to be much more enhanced this way.
5. Reds at room temperature and whites chilled
This is simple rule that doesn’t always apply but is a good guide, nonetheless.
Chilling a red wine removes many of the subtleties of flavor for which you buy the wine in the first place and slows the wine’s ability to mature with exposure to oxygen.
Keep them room temperature.
Suggested glassware: Mid-Century Romanian Blue Wine Decanter With Glasses
Speaking for rules, probably everyone knows that red wine goes with red meat or pasta and white wine with fish or poultry.
While these are not bad guidelines, they really are not carved in stone and nowadays waiters and even the seasoned gourmand will not turn up his nose at a guest who asks for a red with fish or enjoys a nice, tart Chardonnay with a burger.
So really, pair your wines based on your personal taste for the best experience. My personal favorite is the Argentinian Malbec and I drink that with pretty much every meal, except fish.
I just love the dark, inky purple color of a Malbec and those ripe fruit flavors of plums, black cherry, and blackberry can give Malbec a decidedly jammy character.
OK, so where do you start? Here’s a thought: try a few different brands of Merlot from competing vineyards and notice the differences in style and substance.
Once you feel like you’ve tasted a number of Merlots and are acquainted with the differences, then move on to a Cabernet Sauvignon and begin your journey anew.
I’d hold off on Shiraz, Syrah, Petite Syrah or Beaujolais until you have a basic appreciation of Merlots and Cabernets, but once you do, then dive in to the heavy, heady, peppery joy of the stronger reds.
Once you feel like you really understand and can note the differences of the red varietals, start exploring the blends or the truly excellent California varietals.
Good luck, enjoy and let us know what your favorite reds are!