A guide to the types of red wine
Enjoying a glass of red wine with dinner is one of life’s simplest pleasures. We all love a good bottle of red, but do you know how red wine is made, which food to pair with which grape variety, and why red wine is considered healthier than other alcoholic drinks?
If you frequently find yourself in a pickle about which red wine you should serve for your dinner guests, this quick guide to the different types of red wine is for you!
The characteristics of red wine
Made from black grapes, red wine gets its characteristic red hues from the fermentation of dark grape skins. The colour spectrum of red wine ranges from light ruby tones to heavily pigmented dark red. The colour depends on factors such as the type of grape used as well as the duration of the fermentation process.
Red wine is typically high in tannin, which contributes to the dry sensation that is associated with drinking red wine. From a taste perspective, red wines are usually rich in dark fruit flavours along with earthy nuances. The ageing process of red wine often adds subtle but luxurious notes of chocolate and coffee to the taste profile. Some of the most common red wine descriptions you might encounter include cherry, plum, blackberry, fig, clove, cacao, tobacco, leather, smoke, liquorice and violet.
You may have heard that red wine is a healthier choice than other alcoholic refreshments. This is because red wine contains plenty of polyphenols that act as antioxidants to help counteract free radicals responsible for health conditions such as cancer and cardiovascular disease. Procyanidins and resveratrol, two polyphenols found in red wine, have been proven to reduce inflammation in the body to elevate good cholesterol while lowering bad cholesterol levels.
Red wine styles
Red wines are often categorised according to their body type, which is descriptive of various factors including the tannin structure, taste and texture of the wine. Here is a quick breakdown of the different red wine styles based on body type:
- Light-bodied red wines are easy-to-drink wines with lower alcohol and tannin levels. Light-bodied red wines also have higher acidity and are strong in red fruit flavours. Since these red wines are undemanding on the palette, they pair well with flavoursome, lighter foods like fish, cheese and greenery.
- Medium-bodied red wines are slightly heavier with moderate alcohol and tannin levels. Medium-bodies reds like Merlot and Shiraz are highly versatile since they are right in the middle of the red wine spectrum. Easy to drink and easy to pair with a wider range of foods and flavours, medium-bodied red wines are always a safe bet when you’re not sure which style to go for.
- Full-bodied red wines have a heavy feel on the palette due to the high level of alcohol and tannin. Full-bodied reds like Bordeaux wines are likely to be drier and sweeter than light-bodied or medium-bodied wines. If you’re looking for bold flavours with notes of dark fruits and spices, a full-bodied red is a perfect wine to pair with heavier foods like red meat or pasta.
Serving red wine
Red wine is best served just below room temperature at about 15°-20°C. When red wine is served too warm, the alcohol presence may overpower the taste, while red wine that is served too cold may have a bitter, astringent taste to effect. If you prefer drinking red wine at cooler temperature, it is best to opt for light-bodied red wines with lower alcohol and tannin levels.
Red wine glasses are typically designed with a large, oval shape that is wide at the bottom and narrower at the top. The reason for this particular design is to allow plenty of room for the red wine to breathe. This will allow the taste profile to develop to its fullest.
When it comes to food pairings, red wine pairs well with bold, flavoursome and hearty meals like meaty dishes or carb-rich foods like pizza and pasta. The dry nature of red wine helps to balance out the richness of these types of foods to add to the overall dining experience.
The most popular red wine varietals
There are many different styles and types of red wine, each of which has dozens of varieties. Whereas some wines are made from only one type of grape, others are made using a mixture of grape varietals. Red wines are often named after the region they originate from, such as Bordeaux or Malbec. In other cases, red wines may be named according to their grape variety, such as Burgundy or Chianti.
Let’s take a look at some of the most popular red wine varietals:
- Cabernet Sauvignon. Made of the ancient red wine grape, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon is a full-bodied red that is enjoyed all over the world. Cabernet Sauvignon has rich, dark flavours such as blackberry, blackcurrant, blueberry, chocolate, tobacco and cedar. This red wine ages very well and may help to protect the body against damage caused by cholesterol and poor heart health.
- Pinot Noir. This medium-bodied red wine is a lovely and versatile varietal with some lighter taste notes like strawberry, cherry, raspberry and cinnamon. Pinot Noir can age for up to 30 years, making it a popular collector’s wine. Made from grapes with thin skin, reduced sugar, reduced calories and low alcohol content, Pinot Noir is one of the healthiest red wines.
- Merlot. Another medium-bodied red wine, Merlot is a popular varietal with a wide range of flavours, depending on the region in which the grapes have been grown. Merlot grown in cooler climates have strong red fruit notes while grapes that are grown in warmer environments are more inclined to botanical flavours. Merlot wines can typically age up to 15 years.
Malbec. Made from thick-skinned grapes, Malbec is a dry full-bodied red wine that is high in tannins and antioxidants. Malbec has a complex flavour profile with smoky notes of chocolate and dark fruits like blackberry. Malbec is often enjoyed as a dessert wine thanks to its rich, sweet flavours.
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