What’s the best red wine? You’ve probably asked yourself this question a dozen times before. But how do you make that judgment call? Do you ask your local wine clerk or scan the labels for something that sounds familiar or prestigious?
The problem with wine recommendations is that they’re often very subjective. What works for one person won’t necessarily work for another, which leaves you with a tricky dilemma. Let’s look at a few ways you can discover a red wine that suits your preferences.
What makes red wine ‘great’?
A great red wine depends on personal taste. To choose the perfect wine for your palate, it’s important you try out as many grape varietals as possible. Red wine tastes different from white wine in a number of ways:
Higher levels of tannin
Higher levels of alcohol
Different flavour profile
Potentially increased complexity
All these qualities come from the fermentation process, where the grapes skins are left in the tank along with the juice. Barrel and bottle ageing also play a large part, with a more aerobic style of wine-making changing the way a wine matures. It’s the nature of these processes and the quality of the grape that has the biggest effect on the flavour and character of the wine.
Finding your sweet spot
Just because a wine is vintage or well-aged, doesn’t mean you have to enjoy it. Ageing aromas are an acquired taste, much like truffles or mature cheeses. For those new to wine tasting, it’s good to vary your options and get adventurous with your choices. We recommend you start with the following grape varieties to get a sense of what you prefer.
Pinot Noir – acidity
Pinot Noir is the perfect red wine for understanding acidity. If you like Pinot Noir, the chances are you’ll enjoy other highly acidic red wines such as Grenache. When you taste Pinot Noir for the first time, you’ll experience a puckering sensation in your mouth, as though drinking a fizzy drink. This is the acid at work. A good bottle of Pinot Noir has exactly the right balance of tannins and acidity to compliment the fruity nature of the wine.
Syrah/Shiraz – body
The body of the wine is also important. Red wine tends to be heavier-bodied than white because of their composition, but each varies according to its origins. Syrah or Shiraz (as the New World likes to call it) is an excellent example of a full-bodied red wine.
You should be able to taste darker flavours such as plum, chocolate and tobacco in Syrah, which add to its velvety/milky quality. If this hits the spot, we recommend you try Malbec for a similar wine tasting experience.
Cabernet Sauvignon – tannin
Next up are tannins. Cabernet Sauvignon is a notoriously tannic wine, which leaves your mouth feeling dry when you swallow. It’s perennially popular in the wine-drinking world, because of its rich, spicy flavour and complementary pairing with red meat. If you like Cabernet Sauvignon, you’ll also enjoy Merlot, Chianti and Rioja, which have similar qualities.
Zinfandel – alcohol
Most red wines are high in alcohol, but Zinfandel is one of the highest. A good bottle is around 15% ABV (the upper end of the scale). The high alcohol content causes Zinfandel to feel ‘bold’ and ‘full’ or, in other words, more intense.
High alcohol levels come from a high amount of sugar in the fermentation process, which the yeast converts into ethanol. You can taste this sweetness in Zinfandel through its ripe, fruity flavour. Shiraz and Madeira are other high-alcohol wines.
Don’t compromise on quality
Another defining factor of great red wine is its quality. You can drink all the tannic wine you want, but if it’s cheap, nasty plonk you’re not going to enjoy the experience. That’s not to say you have to spend hundreds of pounds at the auction house. In fact, it’s possible to pick up the perfect bottle of red wine for less than £40. Here’s what you should be looking for:
this sounds a little pretentious, but really what you’re after is a wine with a large array of flavours. For example, a great Cabernet Sauvignon will have hints of cherry, blackcurrant, spice, green pepper, and, if it’s a little older, cigar box, leather, chocolate and savoury.
how clearly can you identify each flavour? The more obvious they are, the more intense the wine, and the higher the quality.
the best wines hold all their flavours in balance. If it’s fruity, earthy, and well-structured, you’re on to a winner.
Are you a true redhead?
Red wine isn’t everyone’s cup of.. well… wine, but if you enjoy flavoursome, full-bodied beverages, then the perfect bottle is out there waiting for you. Approach wine tasting as you would dating. Be adventurous, try out new things, and play the field a little until you find something you like.
We’ve given you a few ideas to start, so put these into practice and step beyond your comfort zone.