For those of you like me that have trouble keeping straight the different red wine varieties out there (especially after a few glasses), AbridgeMe contributor, and resident sommelier (wine expert for the layman), Art Tongkao-on explains the most popular reds and what to pair with them, in AbridgeMe style.
He’ll walk you through from the lightest to the boldest, getting you quickly up to speed and ready for the next time your rolling down the wine aisles of Trader Joe’s.
Note: If you’re forgetful, or drunk while reading this, you may want to download AbridgeMe Mobile on the App Store and get this wine knowledge (and much more) on demand.
Pinot Noir is the prized red wine grape of Burgundy, France (where it was exclusively grown for years) that has now been adopted in wine regions all over the world including: Germany, Italy, Chile, South Africa, Australia, California, Oregon and New Zealand. The skin of the Pinot Noir grape is thin, making it rather difficult for wine production.
The taste profile of Pinot is light to medium body with a fragrance resembling black cherry, raspberry, or plum.
The smooth, easy to drink nature of Pinot Noir allows it to pair well with white meats like fish, veal, pork and chicken.
Merlot, a thinner-skinned dark blue grape, has its origins in the Bordeaux region of France. Used as both a blending agent (mainly in Cabernet Sauvignon and Cab Franc) and a standalone variety, Merlot grapes can withstand strong heat, allowing them to grow successfully around the world.
Typical flavors of this medium-bodied wine include plum, cherry, blackberry, spice, and raspberry.
With easy tannins and a considerably soft/smooth finish, Merlot pairs well with grilled meats, meaty fish (salmon/tuna), and more bitter flavors like fennel, eggplant, broccoli, raw onions, garlic.
Cabernet Franc is a black, thin-skinned, French wine grape common to the Bordeaux region of France, though now grown throughout the world. It is predominately grown to be a blending agent with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon in the Bordeaux style, but is also used as a sole wine grape.
A lighter and less acidic wine than its cousin Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc presents flavors of bell pepper, violet, raspberry, cherry, and cedar.
With fine tannins, peppery accents and a medium body, Cab Franc pairs well with roasted chicken, pork, roasted or grilled, beef, lamb, veal and cheese.
Malbec has its origins in the French Bordeaux region, though today Argentina leads production with over 75% of all the acres of Malbec in the world. The Malbec grape is bold, yet thin-skinned, which requires a substantial amount of sun and heat to mature.
Typical flavors of this full-bodied wine include: Black cherry, Spice, Pomegranate, Plum, Raspberry, Blackberry, Blueberry.
Possessing medium levels of tannins and acidity, the easy to drink nature of Malbec makes it pair well with beef, veal, chicken, pork, sausage, braised or stewed dishes, spicy cuisine, cured meats and dry cheeses.
Zinfandel is a black-skinned grape that has its roots in the vineyards of California. While all the other major wine varieties are tied historically to Europe, Zinfandel established its own tradition in California and has become known as America’s “Heritage” wine.
Though considered a lighter-bodied red wine, Zin’s high acidity levels and moderate tannin’s deliver a more bold taste with notes of cherry, plum, raspberry, blueberry and black pepper.
Considered one of the sweeter red wines, Zinfandel pairs well with grilled meats (including pork, beef, lamb, and venison), pizza, and pasta.
Cabernet Sauvignon, often referred to as “the king of red grapes”, is considered by many to be the most important grape variety due to its ability to grow worldwide in a wide range of climates and regions (including France, Italy, Chile, California, South Africa and Spain).
The taste profile of Cab tends to be full-bodied wines with high tannins (a natural preservative), a noticeable acidity, and dark fruit flavors and savory tastes from black pepper to bell pepper.
The classic pairing with Cabernet is lamb, though it goes well with almost any meat — pork, beef, venison, even rabbit.
Syrah, also known as Shiraz in Australia, is responsible for some of the darkest, most full-bodied red wines in the world. While Syrah grapes are planted all over the world, more Syrah is planted in France, than in any other country. The Syrah grape itself is thick-skinned and very dark (almost black).
Typical flavors include blackberries, black cherries, flowers, plums, spice, chocolate, licorice, blueberry, pepper and truffles.
This full-bodied wine pairs well with all types of grilled, roasted or smoked meat dishes like; duck, beef, veal, sausage and chicken dishes.
Referred to as “the king of wines, the wine of kings”, Barolo is considered one of Italy’s finest red wines. It is produced entirely from Nebbiolo grapes that are grown on the hills in Northern Italy (in the Piedmont Region).
Delivering an infamous ‘tar and roses’ aroma, Barolo offers full flavors, a bright ruby color, firm tannins, and high levels of acidity/alcohol.
Barolo pairs well with dishes that have strong flavors including traditional Italian meals, beef, lamb, veal, and venison.
Want to learn more? Check out other wines explained on AbridgeMe here!