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If you ever feel overwhelmed when walking down the wine aisle in the supermarket or feel a sense of nervousness when you pick up the wine menu in a restaurant, you’re not on your own.
96% of UK adults wish they were braver when choosing wines, with 93% claiming they would be more likely to expand their range if they knew more about the different types of wine available.
The good news is that understanding wine is easier than many people think. It’s certainly not as complicated as some ‘wine experts’ would like you to believe.
This beginners’ guide to red wine will help you understand more about the most popular types of red wine, where they come from, and the foods they best pair with.
Probably the most famous and most recognised red wine in the world, Cabernet Sauvignon originates from Bordeaux in France.
This popular red wine is now produced across the globe, with almost three quarters of all Cabernet Sauvignon being produced in the USA. Australia, Chile and Argentina are also major producers.
The taste and flavour profile of Cabernet Sauvignon can vary slightly depending on where in the world it is produced—different climates produce different tastes in wine. But fundamentally, Cabernet Sauvignon is a full-bodied wine that has flavours of plum, black cherry and blackcurrant.
A typical Cabernet Sauvignon will be high in acidity, tasting quite crisp and tart. It will also typically be high in tannins, which means it has a taste of bitterness on the palette.
You can expect the alcohol content of a Cabernet Sauvignon to be between 13% and 15%, and it’s a great wine to pair with red meats.
Merlot is another popular red wine that has its origins in Bordeaux but is now produced globally.
The biggest global producers of Merlot are the USA, Italy, France, Chile and Australia.
Merlot is a more moderate dry red wine than Cabernet Sauvignon. It typically has medium acidity, medium tannins and a taste profile that includes both red and black fruits.
There can be a difference in the taste and flavour profile of Merlot depending on where it is produced. Merlot from cooler climates has more dominant red fruit and strawberry flavours, with Merlot from warmer climates having more dominant flavours of blackberries and cherries.
Merlot is ideal for pairing with a wide variety of foods, especially meats – it’s a relatively safe bet as a wine choice to take to a dinner party.
Malbec is famous for its deep purple colour and fruity taste and flavour profile.
More than 80% of the worlds Malbec wines are produced in Argentina. Other countries that are known for producing high quality Malbec include France (where the variety originated), Chile, USA and Australia.
Malbec wines are typically lower in acidity than Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, making them smooth and easy to drink. They are well known for their fruity flavours that include tasting notes of blackberries, plums and cherries.
Quite a versatile wine, Malbec pairs well with many dishes but is at its best when paired with leaner, less fatty cuts of meat.
The homeland of Pinot Noir is Burgundy in France, and this remains the place where a lot of Pinot Noir is produced today. Almost 60% of all Pinot Noir production is in France, with the USA, New Zealand and Italy also being notable producers.
Pinot Noir is lighter and more delicate than some other red wines like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Malbec. It’s a light-bodied red wine, with low tannin levels and high acidity. It has a fruity flavour profile which contains notes of strawberries, raspberries and cherries.
Because the Pinot Noir grape is quite difficult to grow, it has higher production costs. So, you might expect a slightly higher price point for a good bottle of Pinot Noir compared to other red wine varieties.
With Pinot Noir being a more delicate wine, it pairs better with lighter dishes. Try pairing with chicken, salmon or creamy pasta dishes.
Let’s clear up some confusion first. Shiraz and Syrah are essentially the same grape – just two different variations.
Syrah is the original name given to the grape that originates from the Rhone Valley in France. Compared to Shiraz, Syrah is slightly lighter with fewer tannins and typically lower levels of alcohol. Some might call it smoother and more refined. Approximately 60% of all Syrah production is in France, with vineyards also being found in the USA, Italy and Chile.
Shiraz is the name given to the Syrah grape in Australia. Shiraz has its own unique style, being richer in the flavours and aromas than traditional Syrah. It’s a bolder, more intense wine. Australia produces almost 90% of all Shiraz.
Syrah and Shiraz have a taste and flavour profile that includes blueberries, blackcurrants and black cherries. Both wines pair best with flavourful foods. They are great served with red meat and game, and spicy cuisine such as Indian or Thai food.
Produced almost exclusively on the Iberian Peninsula, Tempranillo is Spain’s leading wine grape and the fourth most planted variety of grape worldwide.
Tempranillo forms the base of many Rioja blends, but is also impressive as a single-varietal wine.
In terms of flavour profile, it is best described as medium-bodied and has notes of both red and black fruits including strawberries, cherries and blackberries. Some people find that Tempranillo has a similar taste profile to Cabernet Sauvignon.
Tempranillo pairs well with a lot of Spanish food, but also complements any dishes made with tomato-based sauces.
So, there we have it – a beginner’s guide to some of the common varieties of red wine from across the world.
Hopefully it makes you feel a little more confident when you open up that wine list or stroll down the wine aisle in the supermarket.
We want to make sure our content is relevant and valuable to our community of wine enthusiasts, and those discovering wine for the first time.
So, if you’ve got any further questions about red wine, or any suggestions for future blog content, we’d love to hear from you.