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Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Basic Info on Wine Types, Part 2 (Reds)

The previous post gave some general definitions used to describe wines then related the major types of white wines and how you might use them.

Today we're on to red wines then discuss some other types of wines.

     Red Wines

Cabernet Sauvignon

Full-bodied (heavy), lots of interesting flavors (complex), and can be tannic when young (the tannins go away over time). A big wine for a big, meaty meal. This is the wine you find most people aging for a few years before drinking.

When to use Cabernet: This is the traditional red meat wine. Riper Cabs with richer meats, leaner, more tannic Cabs with well-marbled meats.


Malbec is related to Cabernet, sort of Cab's little brother. It's softer and easier drinking. Malbec and Merlot are considered as intros to red wine for many people. Malbec got very popular several years ago when inexpensive ones came here mostly from Argentina. Many are easy drinking enough to be used as a sipping wine rather than needing a food accompaniment.

When to use Malbec: Leaner steaks, roast beef.


Also a little brother to Cabernet and a fraternal twin to Malbec. Easier to drink when young than those heavy Cabernets and the good ones are more interesting than Malbec. At one time most California Merlot was what you'd call a serious red wine. It got very popular in the 1990s with people who didn't drink much wine so winemakers responded by making something closer to soda pop giving Merlot is current lousy reputation. Find the good ones as they are great with the same foods as Cabernet and they are usually less expensive.

When to use Merlot: Similar to Cab, but more versatile in that you can use Merlot with burgers, pasta, and meatloaf. If Cab is too heavy for the food, the weather or your mood then try Merlot.

Pinot Noir

In the last decade Pinot Noir in the U.S. has gone from near-obscurity to most trendy red wine out there. It's lighter and softer than most reds, but still can be interesting and complex. It's delicate, floral, and earthy if done right. Very versatile with foods.

When to use Pinot Noir: Works especially well for those used to lighter cooking. Lots of chicken and pork dishes, salmon, and lighter pasta dishes work well. Anything with mushrooms works as does smoked meats or sausages (if not too spicy). Pinot Noir can often be paired with everything from pizza to BBQ. Pinot is a good red sipping wine without food and is a good hot weather red as it's not heavy or tannic.Versatile is the word.

Syrah (or Shiraz)

Called Shiraz in some places, but called Syrah in the U.S. and France. Softer than Cabernet, but still can have those tannins and deep, dark fruit and often with some spicy flavors (often described as white pepper). Less complex than Cabernet so it's often blended with other grapes such as Grenache and Mourvedre (it's okay if you're never heard of those as they're pretty rare in the U.S.).

When to use Syrah: Another wine made for red meat including "the other meats" like bison, veal and lamb.


It's red, not white (or pink)!  Yes, there are millions of cases of white zin made every year and only a tiny fraction of that in red (real) Zinfandel so it's easy to understand the confusion. If you haven't had it you are missing something. It's a zesty, rich wine calling out for Italian food and grilled meats.

When to use Zinfandel: Pasta, grilled meats, sausages, or anything a little zesty. When I lather a spicy BBQ sauce on grilled chicken or pork that means Zin!

     Other Styles of Wines

Besides wine varieties there are other types of wines.


Bubblies are the most misunderstood food wine because they go with most anything or all by themselves (as most people drink them). Seafood, chicken, pork, anything a bit spicy or acidic. Salad course? Yes. Dessert? Yes.


Not too many years ago Americans only had syrupy, sweet cheap rosés. Luckily, there's real variety in quality, drier ones available that you can sip on a warm day out on the patio or even pair with some meals as chicken and seafood.


This is a dessert wine all the way. It's usually sweet, heavy, and high in alcohol. Think chocolate. Think sitting next to a fire.