When learning about wine, especially when choosing the best red wine for beginners, it is key to understand the differences between red and white wine. Contrary to what most people think, red wine is not made from red grapes and white wine from white grapes.
The colour of the wine depends on how long the skins have been left in the wine juice during the wine-making process. In the winemaking process, the winemaker often washes and crushes the grapes. Sometimes, they leave this mixture to steep in a process called “maceration”. Ouch – difficult words, check out the wine terms guide for clarity!
If the grape skins are left in the crushed grape mixture for long, they get the red colour that seeps out of the grape. If you ever peeled a grape, you will notice that only the skin has the colour and the fleshy part is clear, yellow, or light green.
There are many types of grapes that make red wine. These include Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, Merlot and so much more. The best varietals (wine grape types) that make red wine have been selected by experts for years. They prefer the thick and dark-skinned grapes because they easily spread their colour on the grapes.
Characteristics of red wine
One of the most obvious characteristics to help you differentiate between red wine and other wines is colour. Red wines can have purple, red, or ruby colours. When you store wine for long or age it, the bright red colours turn to a light brown.
Red wine comes in many flavours like raspberries, cherries, earth, chocolate, spices, and even liquorice. The most interesting thing is that these flavours are not added to the wine but are found naturally and are accentuated when the wine is made.
Some red wines have acidity in them. Although acid is a characteristic most associated with white wine, it is easy to feel it in some red wines. Acidity gives wines structure and makes them feel fresher when you sip them.
The other property of red wine is tannins which is the dry taste that you get in your mouth. These come from the skins of the grapes, and they make your mouth feel like you are sipping some green tea or licking a paper.
Sometimes, wineries will even throw in the wine stems in the making of wine, and these tannins will seep into the wine. Some people love the texture and flavour, while others think that they interfere with the wine. When ageing the wine, they reduce and make the wine well balanced.
Red wine varietals
Just like how there are so many types of apples, there are also hundreds of grapes that differ in appearance, location, taste, and requirements. Grapes grown in different regions, climates, and soils will not taste the same. Red wine can be light, medium, or full-bodied.
This is the best wine for beginners and does not have very complex flavours to overpower your tastebuds. You can enjoy them alone or pair them with food. These light-bodied reds can even be lightly chilled for hot weather refreshment.
This is a light red wine that has more acidity and is grown in many wine regions of the world. The typical Pinot Noir has red fruit flavours with some earthy tones.
This wine is made from a grape called Gamay, from Beaujolais in France. The wine goes very well with foods at events and roasts. It is versatile and can be paired with many red types of meat and cheeses. If you are brave, consider trying Beaujolais Nouveau when it is released on the third Thursday of November. If you can’t be in France for the day, see what events are happening at your local wine bars – often the wine is bad, but the party is great!
Medium Bodied red wines
These are not too light or bold. They are still perfect for beginners.
Merlot is a very easy drinking red and most people like it. It does not have any major characteristics that stand out due to its simplicity, but many people swear to like the grape. You can often find flavours of vanilla and cherries. It is one of the grapes that you can easily pick up in the store for a nice dinner at home – but don’t be lured in by the very cheap bottles, the better merlot will start around £7 or £8 a bottle.
This wine has fruity jam flavours. Some Zinfandels also have spicy notes and aromas of tobacco. It is delicious when paired with sweet and spicy dishes. Zinfandel is also known as Primitivo in Italy – if you find a bottle that says “Old Vines” you’ll find it often has even richer jam flavours.
The grapes are very dark and are perfect for blending with other reds. For example, you may have gone to a store and seen “red blends” on the wine label. Sometimes winemakers decide to combine the characteristics from two, three, or more grapes. Cabernet Franc is great for blending and can also be enjoyed on its own or with delicious meaty dishes.
These are wines that are very flavourful on the tongue and mouth. You will notice this wine during tastings because of its high tannins and rich flavours. A seasoned wine drinker will enjoy these wines.
A word of warning – high tannins do not pair very well with greasy or oily food, beware of trying these wines with oily curries or fish and chips, you may end up with a wine that tastes metallic rather than lovely!
This is one of the well-known heavy reds that is cultivated in so many wine-growing regions of the world. It is one of the most planted grapes in the red wine spectrum. It is great for spicy, meaty dishes and is a perfect accompaniment for barbeques and roasts. It is also blended with many red wines.
This wine from Argentina has a great balance of fruit and spice. Expect to taste dark fruits like blackberry, plum and cherries.
This wine is a great entry to the classification of heavy reds. It is the pride and joy of Australia but is also grown in other countries. It has dark smoky notes and bold flavours including jammy black fruits and pepper.
When getting into the world of red wines, it is best to start with light reds and then go to the heavy ones. When organizing a wine tasting or dinner, it is also best to follow this order to prevent your tastebuds from being overwhelmed.
To get the best of red wines, ensure that you are storing them in a cold, dry, and dimly lit place. Wine should be stored away from direct sunlight and should be free from movements and vibrations. Also, serve red wines in a wine glass. Different red wines have different serving temperatures. To get the best out of the wine that you are drinking, check on the back of the bottle for the serving and food pairing notes.
Where are you going to start your red wine journey? Let us know in the comments!