Everyone’s a wine expert these days. Or at least they try to get everyone to think so. Start asking about tannins and body, and a lot of those experts will fall by the wayside. Choosing red wine doesn’t require an expert, but you’ll have a lot more fun and discover more wines to love if you know more. The best red wine is ultimately the one you like most. Knowledge just helps you explore so that you have more options and pairings to appreciate.
Have a Purpose
It’s remarkably easy to walk into a wine store and become overwhelmed. It’s even easy sometimes to look in your wine fridge and become unsure about what you want. That’s human nature. When we’re besieged by too much information, we stop making sense of a lot of it. When you know more, you know what you’re looking for inside of all that information.
If you regularly feel overwhelmed by the amount of choice at a wine store, focus on the thing you want. That won’t stop you from exploring, but it will help you focus on a specific area. Maybe you get something different that you haven’t tried, but it’ll be something adjacent to what you know you enjoy. This is a good way to start branching out into new wines.
Tannins are a component of wine. They come from parts of the grape that become filtered out during the wine-making process: seeds, stems, and skins. Some wines are left in contact with the tannins longer, some for a shorter amount of time. Tannins give a wine a little bit more of that bitterness that makes you pucker.
It’s important to know whether you enjoy this or not. Some people love high tannin levels and the dry, astringent feeling they leave you with. Some prefer sweeter red wines that are more lush and velvety.
You might be familiar with the feeling of tannins from black teas, dark chocolate, or almonds. Each contains tannins and evokes a certain enjoyable dryness.
High tannin red wines include Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and Shiraz (or Syrah). These are often delicious with steak and stews. They may also have a warming, comforting feel that lingers.
Low tannin red wines include Pinot Noir. Low tannin reds pair exquisitely with pasta, chicken, and even fatty fish like salmon. You’ll feel these wines more in the mouth, and they tend to bring out a smile.
Region and Climate
Now, tannins don’t decide everything. Region and climate influence a wine’s taste just as much. For instance, if you’re looking for a Malbec, Chile is the region to look at first. They’re known for elegant, silky Malbecs that deliver exquisitely deep flavors. They balance complex, dark fruit flavors with a hint of spice. Chilean Malbec is one of the best red wines for complementing a range of flavors.
You may find that you particularly like a type of wine from a specific region. Although different producers from that region will put different spins on it, there’s something about that region and its climate that creates wine you love. This is because it influences the grapes in the region to grow in certain ways and ripen at certain times of the year. What you’re appreciating is the climate’s and soil’s influence on how those grapes mature.
Chances are you’ll prefer different regions for different types of wine. When choosing red wine, don’t just stick to the heavy hitters like France. You’re less likely to find something unique to your tastes. Look into a country like Chile that may not produce the same volume of wine, but that has unique environmental qualities that produce deep and refined flavor profiles. These are the places where you can really find something special.
More acidic wines are perfect for pairing with foods that have butter or fat in them. As you alternate bites of the food and sips of the wine, your mouth is feeling more contrast. This creates what’s called a mouthfeel between the food and the wine. Every sip of wine resets the palate to get a greater sense and appreciation of the food. Every bite of the food resets the palate to be affected more by the wine. As you alternate bites and sips, your sense of both food and wine is heightened.
This is one of the most important factors in creating a great pairing with red wine. When you’re first trying a wine, do this. Alternate bites of food and sips of wine to heighten your sense of each. Wines that are high in acidity but that have sweetness may taste less acidic, but will still help create this mouthfeel.
Try New Types of Wine
Let’s say there’s a wine producer you like. You’ve tried their Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon. When you step into a new wine, try it first from this producer. Maybe you haven’t had much Carménère before. You already know and like the flavor profiles this producer makes, so you have an idea that you can trust something else they’ll make.
This gives you a good place to step into new types of wine knowing that you’ll be taken care of. You know there will be a certain level of quality to rely upon.
When you like specific wine producers, and especially when you like multiple types of wine they produce, take a look at what other types they make. Maybe there’s something you haven’t tried yet. This isn’t really about brand loyalty. It’s about knowing that the approach they take to making wine will reach that level of quality. Winemakers that tend to make a smooth wine with spice notes that you appreciate in a Malbec will be more likely to deliver a velvety Carménère or a structured Cabernet Sauvignon.
When choosing red wine, find your path. What your friend loves best is something you can enjoy together, but might not be your favorite when you’re picking. The best red wine is the one that makes you feel warmest and most fulfilled. Red wine helps you relax and de-stress. The process of choosing one should include some enjoyable anticipation and excitement. In other words, it should help you look forward to that relaxation.