There are many different types of red wine, each with different flavors and aromas. Learning about how these varieties of red wine differ from each other, and how their characteristic flavors and aromas works, will help you choose the best red wines for any situation. All grape juice is basically colorless and red wines are produced by allowing the skins to mix with the juice for some portion of the fermentation process. Red wines tend to be drying, stronger, and more complex than white wines.
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Barbera is the third most widely planted red grape variety in Italy though it is most common in the Asti and Alba regions. Barbera grapes produce rich, red wines with strong fruit flavors and aromas, especially black cherry. Other characteristics of wines made with Barbera grapes include low, mild tannins and high acidity which produces a crisp taste.
Cabernet Franc is a blue-black grape that is grown around the world, mostly for blending with other red wine grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, but also for its own varietal wines. Cabernet Franc is also commonly used for ice wines in North America. The varietal wines created from Cabernet Franc grapes is bright red because of the light color of the grapes.
Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are among the most widely grown, widely know, and widely enjoyed grapes for red wine. The flavors and aromas of Cabernet Sauvignon wines include vanilla, currants, and even green bell pepper if made form underripe Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.
Other characteristics of Cabernet Sauvignon wine include high alcohol levels and strong tannins. These strong tannins make it easier to age Cabernet Sauvignon in cellars for many decades.
Gamay grapes grow especially well in the Beaujolais district of France where they are used to produce Beaujolais wines. Although the Gamay grape itself has lots of tannins, the resulting Gamay wines are characterized by fairly low tannins. Wines made from Gamay grapes have fresh, fruity flavors like strawberry and raspberry and aromas of pears.
Grenache grapes originated in Spain where it is called Garnacha, but Grenache is the name by which the grapes and resulting wine are most commonly known. Grenache wines have flavors and aromas of strong fruit, raspberries, and a bit of spice.
Other characteristics of wines made from Grenache grapes include weak colors, soft tannins, and high alcohol content. Grenache tends to be most closely associated with the southern French region of Rhone where it is grown widely.
Malbec grapes originated in France and play a big role in the wine production of Argentina. The flavors and aromas of wines made from Malbec grapes include blackberry, cherry, plums, and chocolate. Other characteristics of Malbec wines include inky-black coloring, soft or high tannins, and high acidity.
Malbec wines aren't as popular as wines made from other red grape varieties, but their popularity is growing as wine drinkers seek out new and different wine experiences.
Merlot grapes produce a red wine with flavors and aromas of black cherry, berries, plum, chocolate, and some herbs. Merlot wine is popular with people trying to get accustomed to drier, more complex red wines because of its other characteristics, like low tannins which make it easier to drink than other reds wines.
The softer characteristics of Merlot with the fruity flavors make it a red wine that's well-suited to lighter foods that won't overwhelm the flavors of the wine.
Nebbiolo grapes are grown primarily in the Piedmont region of Italy where they can produce great wines; outside of Piedmont, though, the grapes produce mediocre wines at best. Nebbiolo has complex flavors and aromas, including roses, cherries, truffles, and mints. There can even be hints of tar, tobacco, and leather. Other characteristics of wine made from Nebbiolo grapes include high tannins, high acidity, and high alcohol content. Nebbiolo wines take on orange tinges when they are aged.
Pinot Noir wine is produced from red grapes but it is much lighter in color than other red wines. Pinot Noir flavors and aromas include roses, fruits, black cherry, berry, and currant. Other Pinot Noir characteristics include high acidity and low tannins. Pinot Noir's flavor depends heavily where it is grown and how the wine maker treats it, so a good winery can produce exceptional wines. However, Pinot Noir is finicky and can produce poor wines even when the wine maker does things right.
Because Pinotage is a unique South African grape variety that only seems to grow well in South Africa, most wine drinkers haven't had as much experience with it as they have with other red wines. The situation for Pinotage is made worse by the fact that South Africans have a love it/hate it relationship with Pinotage: some enjoy its unique flavors while others disdain it because it's not European enough. Pinotage wines are characterized by the cherry fruit flavors of Pinot and the earthiness of Rhone Cinsault.
Sangiovese grapes are common in the Tuscany, are the most planted red grape variety in Italy, and are popular for the production of Chianti wines. Sangiovese flavors and aromas are strong in fruit, especially tart cherries, with floral notes.
Other characteristics of wines made from Sangiovese grapes include firm tannins and high acidity. The exact flavors and aromas of any particular Sangiovese wine depends heavily on where the grapes are grown and how the wine maker creates the wine.
Syrah grapes, known as Shiraz in Australia, produce full-bodied, long-lived, fruity wines. Syrah/Shiraz flavors and aromas include peppers, berries, currants, and even chocolate. Syrah grapes originated in France's Rhone valley and their use in wines is traced back to the Romans and Greeks. Syrah is usually bottled alone as a varietal wine but can be blended with other grapes like Cabernet and Grenache. Syrah wines have some of the strongest, most distinctive flavors and aromas of any red wine.
Tempranillo is a famous Spanish grape variety used in many rich Spanish red wines. Tempranillo is marked by strong fruit flavors and aromas. Other characteristics of Tempranillo include deep color, weak acidity, medium to strong tannins, and moderate amounts of alcohol. Tempranillo grapes are frequently blended with other grapes, but the flavor and color can be better when Tempranillo is bottled as a varietal wine. Tempranillo is usually aged several years in oak barrels before serving.
Zinfandel is a red grape which produces red wines with strong flavors and aromas of berries. The berry flavor and aroma of Zinfandel wine can be so strong that some consider it 'jammy' in character Many are familiar primarily with White Zinfandel which is a blush version of Zinfandel, not a true white wine. Other characteristics of Zinfandel grapes include high alcohol content, strong tannins, and slightly spicy flavors.
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