Zinfandel, Shiraz, Merlot, oh my. Understanding the complexities and variety of red wine can be daunting, especially when it comes to choosing the correct wine for a dinner. Here are some wine selection tips for five of the most popular red wines for the beginner.
Considered the “King of Red Wine Grapes", Cabernet Sauvignon originated in the Bordeaux region of France and established itself in the California wine markets to become one of the world's most popular red wines. Cabernet Sauvignon is usually matured for 5-10 years to create a mellow-flavored wine. It is often blended with other grapes, most notably Merlot, to create a soft wine with lively fruit tones. Cabernets are medium to full-bodied wines high in tannins which carry rich berry, tobacco and sometimes even green pepper flavors. Cabernet pairs well with lamb, red meats, hearty red pasta dishes, strong cheese and dark chocolate.
The Pinot Noir grape is very difficult to grow demanding climates with consistently warm days and cool nights. Nonetheless, it is grown in regions including Oregon, California, New Zealand, Australia, Germany and Italy. Due it's strict growing requirements, Pinot Noir is produced in lesser quantities than many other popular red wines and tends to be a little pricier. It is a lighter colored and flavored red wine with sweet undertones of berries, tomatoes, cherries, plums and earthy or woody flavors depending upon where it is grown. Pinot Noir is one of the most versatile red wines and pairs nicely with poultry, fish, lamb, pork, ham, spicy seasonings and cream sauces.
Zinfandel has been a mainstay of the Californian wine market since the mid-1800s. Originally from Italy, this robust grape has found a good home in the Americas. The Zinfandel grape produces two varietals: the red Zinfandel, and the White Zinfandel (also called White Zin) which has become a popular wine for the beginner. The basic Zinfandel is a rich, dark red wine with flavors of sweet berries, plums and black pepper and undertones of oak. White Zinfandel is made by removing the grape skins shortly after the grapes are crushed. The result is a rose to pink colored wine with a lighter flavor. Red Zinfandel pairs nicely with red or white meat, hearty fish, burgers and spicy dishes. White Zinfandel is suited to a large rage of foods including Cajun and Asian flavors, BBQ chicken and heavy seafood dishes.
Merlot originates from the Bordeaux region of France and is a soft and lush, medium-bodied wine. Its juicy fruit flavors and low tannin content makes Merlot a popular wine for the beginner. Merlot has a wide range of tones including plums, cherries, blueberries, blackberries and black pepper. Merlot is often blended with other wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc to soften their flavors and gain more structure and definition. Merlot is a versatile red which pairs well with pork, red meats, pastas and salads.
Known as Syrah in France, Shiraz is a bold, spicy wine which has become very popular in Australia where it gained its alternative name. It is a medium to full-bodied wine with firm tannins that give it a fuller body than most younger reds. Shiraz has an impressive range of flavors including black cherry, blackberry, plum, bell pepper, black pepper, licorice and even dark chocolate and smoked meat. Shiraz stands up well to hearty foods including grilled meats and vegetables, wild game, seasoned red meats, beef stew and meaty pizzas.
You can read about white wine for the beginner and learn how to find $50 quality wines for $10 or less at Choosing and Buying Wine For The Beginner , a popular online beginner guide to wine.