Types of Red Wine: A Quick Tutorial

by Pamela

types of red wine, red wine, health benefits of red wine
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You may have heard all the hubbub going on this week regarding wine pairings and whether or not all the fuss over what to drink with what you eat is worth all the hours and gray hairs it’s caused people all these years.  A recent study conducted by Wine Opinions suggests that the majority of wine purchased in America isn’t consumed with food anyway.  The survey was conducted with people who drink wine daily, or several times a week, and are responsible for 82% of all wine purchases.  The survey showed that 60% of the wine they consumed was done outside of sitting down to a meal.

This great quote from Alder Yarrow, who writes Vinography.com pretty much sums it up:

I can only barely imagine what might happen if wine writing and the attentions of wine lovers actually matched their real behavior. Would a large portion of the critical establishment stop excoriating all wines that are greater than 14.5% alcohol as having no place at the dinner table? Would wine drinkers feel free to not only drink whatever they like, but to explore and experiment in their wine choices without fear of doing something wrong? Would more people actually drink wine because they knew it didn’t always HAVE to go with food?

That being said, I thought I’d take this time to break down the basic eight types of red wine that are out there just waiting to be consumed.  Many of these types of red wine are intimidating you and because of that, you’re not trying them.  I get that you’ve been trying to pair them with the food that you’re serving, but I think I’ve shown you enough evidence that, for the most part, wine pairing is a bunch of bullsh*t.  Yes, sometimes you want a specific wine with a certain food, but quit being a wuss and try one of these different types of red wine.  Odds are, you won’t be drinking it while eating a meal anyway.  On top of the fantastic flavors these wines have to offer, there’s also several health benefits of red wine.  Just one more reason to get out there and try something new.

Barbera: An Italian red wine varietal.  It’s a great light red table wine that has lots of red fruit and berry flavors.

Cabernet Sauvignon (Cab):  One of the world’s most widely recognized wine varietals.  Cabs can run the gamut with regards to flavors and weight.  The flavors typically found in Cab are fruits such as berries and cherries.  You also might taste a hint of herbs and spices like black pepper.  Cabernet can sometimes be tannic (that’s the drying/astringent feeling in your mouth after taking a sip).  Over time, the tannins typically mellow out so that they aren’t so pronounced.

Malbec: An easy drinking wine, that’s medium to full bodied.  It tends to have jammy fruit flavors of plum and blackberry.  Malbecs tend to be a consistent wine that most enjoy regardless of vintner.  Malbec can be found growing in various regions, but it is a true Argentinian wine at heart.

Merlot:  A smooth, easy drinking type of red wine.  Very low tannins make this a red wine that is loved by many.  Flavors of plum, blueberries, cherries and blackberries with hints of cocoa and black pepper.  While bottles of merlot are readily available, this varietal is frequently used in blends.

Pinot Noir:  Much lighter than Cabernet Sauvignon.  It’s flavors can change dramatically, depending on where the grapes have been grown.  The typical flavors are black cherry, raspberry and currants.  Overall, it’s got a lot of fruit flavor regardless of where it is grown.  But just because it’s got fruit flavors, it’s not a sweet wine.  As the wine ages, the fruit flavors tend to take a backseat to more earthier flavors like mushrooms.

Sangiovese: Another Italian varietal.  Lots of fruit flavors, including strawberry, but with more acidity than most red wines.  The tannins are moderate in this wine making it easy drinking.

Syrah or Shiraz:  Syrah is the name that is used for this varietal from all of the countries that produce it except for Australia, where it is called Shiraz.  Australian Shiraz and California Syrah tend to produce more fruit forward wines in this varietal.  Most other countries produce a wine that has earthier flavors like blackberry, black pepper, smoke and leather.  The wines are medium to full bodied with strong tannins.

Zinfandel:  The vast majority of Zinfandel comes from California.  It’s a bold and assertive wine that has plenty of tannins.  It’s got jammy blackberry (and sometimes blueberry) flavors.  Because the grapes have a high sugar content, the wines tend to be higher in alcohol.  This is what causes that slight burn in the back of your throat.  This wine is delicious, but it’s not for the faint of heart.

Relationship Advice

I posted this wine personality test before, but I thought it would be perfect to add in here.  Buying a bottle of wine for someone does not have to be an angina inducing experience.  Don’t try to buy a wine for someone based on the kind of food that they like, that just makes the buying process that much harder.  Buy something that you like.  If you don’t have a particular wine that you like, use this personality test to help you choose the perfect type of red wine (or white).

What is Your “Wine Personality”?
Are you…

  • Sweet? – Riesling
  • Energetic? – Sauvignon Blanc
  • Sporty? – Pinot Grigio
  • Sunny and Mellow? – Chardonnay
  • A person of high standards? – Pinot Noir
  • Earthy? – Merlot
  • Adventurous? – Cabernet

Have fun taking the Mirassou® Winery unscientific “wine personality” quiz. Answer these questions to determine what your “wine personality” is, so you can choose the perfect wine for you and your guests!

1. Are you a real sweetheart or big softy?
2. Do you prefer sweet tastes over salty ones?
3. Do you run circles around your friends because you’re so energetic?
4. Are you constantly “on the go”?
5. Do you spend most of your free time on the golf course?
6. Do you tend to participate in sports rather than watching as a by-stander?
7. Is your disposition a happy one?
8. Do you “go with the flow”? Have you been described by some as being flexible or “mellow”?
9. Are you a perfectionist, never letting go of a project until it’s completely perfect?
10. Are you a “Type A” with extremely high standards for yourself and others?
11. Are you a nature buff, one who’d rather be out hiking or fishing or out enjoying the natural world?
12. Are you concerned for the environment?
13. Are you a powerhouse in the workplace who is ready to meet any challenge and sometimes referred to as “adventurous”?
14. Do you like to take risks, preferring to try things outside your comfort zone?

If you answered yes to questions 1 or 2, you are a Riesling If you answered yes to questions 3 or 4, you are a Sauvignon Blanc If you answered yes to questions 5 or 6, you are a Pinot Grigio If you answered yes to questions 7 or 8, you are a Chardonnay If you answered yes to questions 9 or 10, you are a Pinot Noir If you answered yes to questions 11 or 12, you are a Merlot If you answered yes to questions 13 or 14, you are a Cabernet.

If you answered yes to multiple questions, you like a wide range of varietals!

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12 comments

merlotman October 1, 2012 at 12:40 am

I just discovered a delicious red wine at a friend’s party last week. It was called Baby duck. It was so good, better than a lot of those i tasted before, it was clearly a high quality wine.

Pamela October 1, 2012 at 9:52 am

I didn’t even know that Baby Duck was still around. Glad to hear you found a new wine you enjoy! Discovering new to you wines is half the fun of drinking wine. :)

stephanie April 9, 2011 at 6:16 am

Hey Pamela.. spotted your wine post through foodblogs.com.
Fun blog! and right on about the men and belly thing… so true!!!!
I’m a Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot AND Cabernet. Think I will get drunk!!!
Is it ok to put this test on my blog too???
thanks!
Stephanie

Pamela April 9, 2011 at 6:57 am

Hi Stephanie-

Sure you can put the test up on your site. Please include a link to Mirassou and to my site. :)

Thanks for the nice words about my site.

Dorothy at Shockinglydelicious April 9, 2011 at 5:57 am

Barbera, Malbec, Sangiovese, Zin here.
You may keep your snooty cabs!

Dorothy at Shockinglydelicious April 9, 2011 at 5:59 am

Well, that looks rude when I see it in writing! I mean….in general, I prefer those I listed. Now Pamela, if YOU are serving me a snooty cab, I am certainly drinking it!

Pamela April 9, 2011 at 6:58 am

Dorothy, I’m a Rhone girl myself (Pinot, Syrah and Zin). I would gladly share a bottle, or 2, of Zin with you. In fact, I suggest we get together and do that real soon.

Cathy/ShowFoodChef April 8, 2011 at 4:29 pm

Love the post. It was a great idea to put this out there in a simple form like this. I’ve been working with a small vineyard in Paso Robles the past few months developing foods with their wines as ingredients, etc.. and I’ve learned so much more through the experience. This was a much needed write-up and you did it with humor and clarity. Brava!

Pamela April 8, 2011 at 11:24 pm

Thanks Cathy, I’m glad you liked it. So many people are intimidated by wine and they really shouldn’t be. It’s so much fun to try different wines. I wrote this up in hopes that people would get out there and try something new.

blogbytina! April 8, 2011 at 3:20 pm

i usually drink mine while cooking! None is left by the time we start eating :D

Pamela April 8, 2011 at 11:24 pm

LOL – I do the same thing.

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