Red Wine for Beginners: Varieties and Food Pairings

April 29, 2021

Red Wine for Beginners: Varieties and Food Pairings

The most popular wine type in the Philippines, red wine is loved for its bold flavors that range from fruity to spicy to earthy. But if you’re new to red wine it can be intimidating. There are so many varieties, from Syrah to Cabernet Sauvignon to Pinot Noir --- and how can you know you’re picking a good red wine? Then there's always the question of what food to pair the wine with. 

The first step is to know the basics of red wine, the different varieties, and how to pair food with red wine. This wine 101 guide will go through each of these basics and give you a framework to help you find red wines you love.

What is Red Wine?

There are many different types of grapes and blends that can be used to produce red wine. This is why it is nearly impossible to answer the question “what is red wine?” Likewise, all of the different varieties --- think Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Tempranillo --- all vary in color (a defining characteristic of wine, but more on that below). But for now, we can say that red wine is an alcoholic beverage made from dark-skinned grapes

Characteristics of Red Wine

red wine color infographicAlthough color is the more obvious characteristic of red wine, there are a few others that define a red wine: tannin, acidity, aroma, and taste. Understanding what these are and how to spot them in red wine will help in understanding what you’re drinking and what your preferences are.

Red Wine Color

The color of red wine can range from pale ruby to bold purples and even brick-toned reds. Generally, a lighter colored red wine will be lighter in taste. Likewise, the bolder and richer hued reds will have a bolder taste. As reds are aged however, they lose their color and become more transparent as time goes on. 

Red Wine Flavor

red-wine-flavor-acidity-tannins-guide

To keep it simple, flavor here refers to both the aroma and taste of the wine. In general, red wine gives off flavors of red fruits like red plums, strawberries, cherries, and blackberries. But you will often notice a mix of flowers, spices, and earthy notes as well that will vary based on the variety and how it was produced. As an example, Cabernet Sauvignon typically has flavor components of black cherry, red plum, licorice, vanilla, and black pepper. Syrah on the other hand will typically have a flavor profile that is more savory including smoke, bacon, white and black pepper, and red and black fruits. 

It’s important to note that these flavors aren’t added to wine. They are all a result of the grapes used and how the wine was produced. 

Red Wine Tannins

Ever drank a red wine and your tongue felt dry? Those are tannins. They are what give wine structure. It can be described as astringent or smooth, and is a determinant of how well the wine will age. But where do tannins come from? 

Tannins are in fact a naturally occurring polyphenol found in fruit skins, bark, plants, wood, and leaves. In red wine they come from fermenting on skins or aging in wooden barrels. A popular red wine that has high tannins in Cabernet Sauvignon, which is often described as having velvety tannins. 

Red Wine Acidity

Acid is a key component of wine, acting as a preservative and provides freshness as well as structure to the wine. The level of acidity can be determined by how tart or sour the wine tastes. However, this is often countered by the sweet and tannic elements of the wine. 

Main Red Wine Varieties

There are about 30 main varieties of red wine that you might come across in stores or online. But for the sake of simplicity and relevance, we’ll go over just a few of the key red wines you’ll find in the Philippines. 

1. Cabernet Sauvignon

One of the most popular red wine varieties in the Philippines, Cabernet Sauvignon is also one of the most popular red wine varieties in the world. It is a dry full-bodied wine with medium to strong tannins that evokes flavors of blackcurrant, baking spices, cedar, black cherry, and bell pepper. 

Drink with: Burgers, Arroz a la Cubana, Steak

Read more about Cabernet Sauvignon here

2. Merlot

Full-bodied with medium tannins, Merlot grapes are the second most planted wine grapes in the world. They produce a deep ruby colored wine that is fruit-forward making it an easy drinking wine from beginners and wine lovers alike. When drinking Merlot expect to taste flavors of strawberries, watermelon, plum, milk chocolate, and vanilla. 

Drink with: Liempo, Sausage and Mushroom Pizza, Roast Chicken

3. Malbec

A popular daily-drinking wine in the Philippines, Malbec is known for its juicy fruit flavors and smoky finish. Malbec wine is deep purple in color and despite originating from France, most of the Malbecs we are familiar with come from Argentina. If you’re drinking Malbec from France, expect to taste a more savory and tart wine whereas the Argentinian variant will be more plummy and velvety. 

Drink with: Pork BBQ, Spaghetti with Red Sauce, Beef Mechado

Read more about Malbec here

different types of red wine glasses

4. Tempranillo

Tempranillo is one of Spain’s most popular wines --- offering wine drinkers something more savory. It has the same structure as Cabernet Sauvignon with the meaty nature of Carignan. It is a wine that when young tastes more fruity and fresh but as it ages you’ll taste more tobacco and leather notes. 

Drink with: Young Tempranillo pairs well with baked pastas whereas older Tempranillo pairs better with a burger or adobo. 

5. Syrah / Shiraz

Known as Syrah if it comes from Rhône Valley in France and Shiraz if it comes from Australia, this wine is known for being peppery, spicy, and bold. The key difference between the two, other than their country of origin, is in the level of flavor. Australian Shiraz can be made more fruity or more dense whereas French Syrah is the most complex of the two, exhibiting flavors of smoked meat, leather, and wild herbs. 

Drink with: Charcuterie plate, Szechuan Chicken, Lamb with Black Pepper Sauce

6. Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir is a light-bodied red wine that is one of the most delicate of the reds, making it a great entry-level red wine (or perfect for white wine lovers looking to get into red wines). The best expression of this wine comes from Burgundy however, today the grape is grown across the globe with each region producing a slightly different flavor. A common flavor profile amongst these different Pinot Noirs is a red-fruit-forward wine with raspberry, floral notes, and cloves.

Drink with: Oven Baked Salmon or Sushi 

7. Sangiovese

A savory wine, Sangiovese is a bit of a chameleon in terms of adapting to its environment. This also means that the flavor of Sangiovese wine can vary significantly. However, whether your bottle is from Italy or Argentina, you should expect to taste cherry flavors with hints of tomatoes.

Drink with: Red sauce pasta dishes, Beef Mechado, or Pizza

8. Carménère

Originating in Bordeaux, France, Carménère is now almost exclusively grown and produced in Chile. It is a medium-bodied red wine that is fruit-forward but with unmistakable herbaceous and peppery notes. When drinking a Carménère expect to taste raspberry sauce, sour cherries, green peppercorn, green bell peppers, and cocoa. 

Drink with: Carne Asada or Stuffed Bell Peppers

How to Serve Red Wine 

Despite the belief that red wine is best enjoyed at room temperature, flavors are in fact better expressed when the wines are chilled. As a general rule, red wine should be served around 11-20ºC with lighter wines being served at a cooler temperature. 

Now when it comes to stemware (or glassware) red wine is best served in a round and wide-mouthed glass. This helps smooth the tannins and also allows full-bodied red wines to breathe and release their aromas. You’ll also notice that the top of red wine glasses slopes in. This is to catch the aromas and allow you to experience the full taste and aroma of the wine.

With all this being said, we can’t tell you which wines to buy and which not to. After all, everyone's tastes are different and something we might love you might hate. What we can do though is guarantee that no matter what bottle of red wine you do buy from us, it will always be of good-value and high-quality.

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