Often we use broad descriptions to describe wines or our taste preferences in wine. Often, when asked what type of wine a person likes, a common response is "red" or "white". The color of a wine is one of the simplest wine characteristics to identify. While this answer can indicate certain taste preferences, it doesn’t do justice to the broad spectrum of aromas, flavors and subtle tastes that make red wines delicious to drink, unique from each other and interesting to explore.
The more we drink wine and learn about wines, the more we understand how each characteristic of the wine affects cost, aroma, flavor and body. As you build your wine palate and knowledge, you can begin to use wine descriptions to make logical conclusions about what a wine will taste like and determine if it suits your palate and taste preferences. Red wine selections can ultimately be narrowed by color, varietal, region, blend or vintage.
Choosing a Red Wine By Color
Describing a wine simply as red doesn’t consider the fact that red wines can vary in color from pale rose, jeweled ruby, faded brick or burgundy to blue-hued violet. The color of the wine tells you about the varietal used, the wine-making process, how old the wine is, it can indicate the body or mouthfeel of a wine and also indicate how dry a wine will be. Typically, wines with a deeper color have a fuller body and can be drier in taste, due to having more tannins in the wine. Tannins are the naturally occurring compounds found in the skin, seeds and stems of the grapes; tannins provide stability and structure to a wine, and higher tannin levels allow wines to be aged longer.
Wines that have a faded brick color are typically aged longer than brighter colored wines. The Syrah grape is considered one of the darkest grapes and produces wines that are a deep, purplish red, are full bodied and deliver rich flavors of berry, fruit, spice, chocolate and pepper.
Choosing a Red Wine By Varietal
Expressing a taste preference for red or white wine, simply refers to the color of a wine in the glass, as white wines can be made from red varietals. The classic example of a white wine made from red varietals is Champagne, which is made using pinot noir and pinot meunier grape (red varietals) with chardonnay (white varietal). Champagne is probably the last wine we would think of as a "red" wine, with its classic floral, fruity, even citrusy flavors. When white wines are made from red varietals, the grapes are macerated and quickly separated to avoid the color pigments and tannins from the skins getting into the wine. Wine made from red varietals will still have the flavor characteristics of the red varietal without the color and body of red wines made with red varietals.
Choosing Red Wines By Blend
Blended red wines combine two or more different varietals to create flavor and body profiles that cannot be achieved with a single varietal. Perhaps the most famous blended wine is Bordeaux from France, which is made using a blend of primarily of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Depending on which varietal is more dominant in the blend determines the color, aromas, flavors and taste of the wine. In the case of Bordeaux wines specifically, blends with more Cabernet Sauvignon are typically more expensive, as they are richer wines with higher tannins that age better than blends with more Merlot. Bordeax wines with more Merlot are less expensive and have a juicier, more mellow flavor profile due to lower tannin levels and are aged less.
Region-based Selection of Red Wine
Wine grapes have been grown all over the world for thousands of years, and during that time, wine grape growers and wine makers in different geographical regions have figured out which grapes grow best in their region. This allows you to pick the best tasting wines based on your preferences.
While there are differences in wine making and wine styles, making a decision on a wine based on what grows best in the region is a sure bet. You can distinguish between Old World and New World growing regions and consider factors like climate when choosing a red wine. Red wines from warmer climates have lower acidity and sweet, fruity flavors. Zinfandel from California that is known for its smooth and complex flavors of pepper, licorice and blackberry; and red wines from cooler climates have tart fruits flavors and higher acidity. Pinot Noir is a very well-known cool-climate wine traditionally grown in France that is well known for its acidity and bright cherry and strawberry flavors.
Choosing a Red Wine By Vintage
The vintage of a wine means the year the grapes were harvested and the winemaking process began. Factors that influence the vintage include weather, natural disasters, pests, blight or anything that can affect the growing and harvesting of the grapes. While some vintages are exceptionally well known for producing brilliant and famous wines, that doesn’t mean that "off" years produce terrible wines. Different vintages contribute different "terrior" to the wine and also can affect how quickly the wine can be drunk or how long it can be aged.
Tasting the same wine from the same winemaker from different vintages will help develop your palate in tasting and understanding subtle flavor differences from year to year. Each of these selection processes can assist in honing your preference styles and understanding wine flavors.