Red Wine Basics

The Basic Elements of Red Wines

The basic grapes that makeup the bulk of red wines in the world are: Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah (Shiraz), Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Zinfandel and Grenache. Most Italian wines will include Sangiovese. Other lesser-seen varietals include Viognier, Mourvedre, and Malbec.

As I referred to in my first blog, ‘Reading Wine Labels’, you can figure out what type of varietal is in the wine by finding it on the label. Once you start to know your regions, you’ll realize that most regions are specialists at certain types of grapes.

Here are the basic characteristics of each grape. You might find one or two more to your liking, but you will only know by trying them!

Cabernet: You will usually find that this grape has what is called ‘dark fruit’ characters like plums, blackcurrants (or cassis) as well as pepperiness. It has a lot of tannin (structural components in its skin) that makes it great for aging, with the right wines.

Merlot: Merlot is often blended with Cabernet (as in most famous Bordeaux wines) to balance out the power of Cabernet. It also has dark fruity flavours but is somewhat smoother. It’s the ‘balancer’.

Syrah (Shiraz): This grape is incredibly rich with significantly more spiciness than Cabernet and Merlot. Famously Syrah wines include Australia’s Penfolds Grange Hermitage.

Pinot Noir: The flavor components of Pinot Noir can offer somewhat more complexity in their youth (i.e., nearer the date of their vintage). You can sometimes taste blue fruits or unripe fruits, some black tea kind of taste (which can be related to astringency or the ‘mouth puckering’ sensation!), and cherries and other dark fruits. You can differentiate between lighter and richer style Pinot Noirs by judging these flavours.

Pinot Meunier: Is a varietal mostly used in blending in red wines and champagnes/sparkling wines. Pinot Meunier is another ‘balancer’, and is often blended because it has acidic or citrus flavours to balance out other grapes.

Zinfandel: Is most common to the U.S., and displays full flavours, lots of richness and lots of sugar (which contributes to its alcohol content). It has come back into popularity because it seems that its spiciness is being more appreciated.

Grenache: Grenache is a sturdy old grape, resistant to heat and lack of water, and so it has proven to be fabulous in the well-known Cotes du Rhone region of France, and in Australia, and in north-east Spain. It is extremely fruity and sometimes has a chocolatey velvet flavor, along with raspberries, strawberries and cherries. It is often blended with Shiraz and Mourvedre.

The Italian

Sangiovese: A beautiful, earthy grape from Italy, Sangiovese goes into such great wines as Brunello di Montalcino. You may often notice licorice, leather and violets (thinking of the colour purple?). Of course, you will get earthy soil flavours too, evoking Italy!

I hope these give you some information about the flavours you're looking for, and the types of wines you like!

Winefolly ‘Wine Buying Cheat Sheet’
Dan Murphy’s
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I think I was captured by how essentially natural or organic the whole process of winemaking is. It's farming, it's viticulture, it's weather and soil, and many more things. It's the winemaker. But after all these things, after the cap is unscrewed or the cork popped, I (and you) get to enjoy it. Then we talk about it and learn some more. Which is, I guess, the reason why you're here! Here you'll find stories, links, wine education samples and wine reviews. I am entirely independent and my wine reviews and ratings are based on my own thoughts and opinions. I accept no endorsements for products or good reviews. Enjoy! I can be reached for comments, feedback and questions at Good drinking to you! David

On the Hill of Corton

On the Hill of Corton


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