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Types of Red Wine

If you’ve ever been overwhelmed by the types of red wines available on the shelves of your local wine shop or market, you’re not alone. These days, with more and more regions of the world taking the plunge into wine-making, varieties are plentiful and often make it tough to choose.

Learning a little more about each type of red wine and what foods they are best paired with might help in making a decision next time you cook for a dinner party or special occasion.

Remember, however, that though all red wines are made by growing and processing red or purple/black grapes, not all wines of the same variety will taste identical. Much of what gives a wine its particular flavor depends on where it is grown and factors like soil conditions, temperature, amount of rainfall, and more. Furthermore, wine makers all have different techniques and preferences when dealing with the grapes after harvest, leading to an endless selection of wines that all have their own unique characteristics.

Once you’ve settled on a particular type of wine – i.e. cabernet sauvignon or zinfandel – it’s a good idea to try several labels to determine which you might enjoy most.

Merlot – A popular red wine world over, merlot is a dry variety that wine experts tend to describe as “soft.” It can stand alone but is also used in making the Bordeaux blend. It often has a fruity flavor that resembles plums or black cherries and is a very prolific wine, suitable when paired with just about any meal. Merlots grow in California, Washington, Italy, Romania, Australia, Chile, and many other countries.

Cabernet Sauvignon – Considered the king of red grapes, the cabernet sauvignon variety can be planted wherever red grapes are grown with the exception of areas that may be a little too cold. The best examples come from France’s Medoc and Bordeaux regions (it is the grape found in renowned Bordeaux wines) as well as California, Australia, and Chile. This dry wine is generally aged in oak barrels which can give it a sort of vanilla flavor but drinkers will also taste a fruit flavor reminiscent of currants. Cabernet Sauvignon is good when paired with steaks or other simple red meat recipes.

Shiraz/Syrah – What name is used on the label of this type of wine will depend on where it is produced. Syrah is the name used in France and the U.S. while Shiraz is common in Australia and South Africa. Often blended with Cabernet, this is a fruity, spicy robust red that is often paired with game (venison, pheasant, etc.) as well as hearty beef dishes like stew or shepherd’s pie.

Pinot Noir – An ingredient in the great Burgundy wines of France, the pinot noir grape doesn’t grow everywhere and can be particular difficult to cultivate. It is delicate and very fruity, often with aromas like strawberry, plum, or cherry. It is generally not blended with other varietals and is perfect for more subtle dishes like chicken, lamb, or mild seafood. In the U.S., it is grown in California and Oregon.

Zinfandel – Grown mostly in California, Zinfandel grapes love the warm temperatures and sunshine and are used in a huge variety of wines ranging from light, blush wines to hearty red ones. With a berry and pepper flavor, it goes well with pastas, pizza, and barbecue favorites.

Dolcetto – Grown almost exclusively in Italy’s Piedmont region, this wine is unusual because its flavors and aromas most closely resemble licorice and almonds, making it quite unique. Pair it with beef for best results.

Sangiovese – Also a type of grape that is peculiar to Italy but just starting to gain popularity in California, Sangiovese grapes are used in Italy’s famed Chianti wines. Full of berry and plum flavors and aromas, Sangiovese wines are perfect with a hearty Italian meal.

Malbec – The most popular red varietal in Argentina, Malbec was first produced in France’s Bordeaux region but can now be found in other places around the world. Demanding a slightly cooler climate than some red grapes, Malbec is often blended with other types, especially merlot and cabernet sauvignon, and its fruity flavors work well with all kinds of meat dishes.


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