Red Wine Beginners Guide
At times, you’ll find yourself in an alternate wine universe where words like viscosity (liquid consistency) and maceration (the extraction of tannins) are thrown around casually. While it may be helpful to be versed in vino lingo, what matters most is that you know what to look for in a bottle and how to enjoy it.
Red Wines Types
Most of us have been there before. We sometimes find ourselves scouring the aisles in an attempt to find the best tasting red wine for a dinner party, date, or family affair. Sure, there are tons of different red grape varietals out there, but to kick things off with ease, know that red wine is often classified by body type. The body relates to how heavy the flavor feels in your mouth and, ultimately, how it pairs with individual dishes.
You’ll often see terms like ‘light-bodied’ and ‘full-bodied’ (or somewhere in the middle) on a label, and this is a great way to make your selections based on what you might be serving for lunch or dinner.
Let’s look at some examples of the best red wines and their accompanying body types:
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- Petite Syrah
Full-bodied reds are the heaviest on the palette thanks to their tannin volume and, at times, their high alcohol content. These bold wines are best for pairing with rich, hearty meals while still displaying character and flavors. For beginners, these bottles may be a bit intense.
Full-Bodied Reds & Coloring:
Reds are usually very deep in color, and it may indicate a high volume of tannin present. Full-bodied wines are highly extracted and opaque in appearance.
- Cabernet Franc
Considered the Switzerland of body types when it comes to describing red libations that aren’t too light or too bold, these offerings are just right for anyone who likes a bit of tannin in their wine. Medium-bodied bottles are perfect in that the flavors aren’t too complex.
Medium-Bodied Reds & Coloring:
Medium-rich hues such as pale red and ruby are prevalent in medium-bodied varietals like Barbera and Sangiovese. Hold up your filled glass against a white background - like a napkin - to observe the actual coloring of your wine.
- Pinot Noir
- Saint Laurent
These types are the best light red wines for beginners and those who wish to adventure beyond white varietals thanks to their low tannin volume. Light-bodied bottles don’t require food pairings and can be enjoyed on a standalone basis. Still, that doesn’t mean you can’t munch down on your Chinese takeout with one of these easy-drinking reds from the best wine clubs.
Light-Bodied Reds & Coloring:
Look out for a more translucent color with hues that range from bright purple (violet) to garnet.
You may be wondering if the coloring of the wine has anything to do with how it tastes? Well, no, not quite. Reds are known for leaning toward the drier side, but some varietals can be rather sweet. The residual sugar amount is usually displayed on the bottle and can be categorized as follows:
- Very Dry (0): These reds contain very little residual sugar and tend to pair very well with a cheese platter or any savory dish that’ll complement the wine’s flavors. Bordeaux or Chianti are but two of the best red wines for beginners who favor something on the far end of the dry spectrum
- Off-Dry (1-2): This is where Sangiovese and Cabernet Franc come in with dryness and tons of body. They may not be sweet, but there are delicious hints of berries and deep velvet textures that shapes the personality of these varietals
- Medium (3-4): An easy-drinking category, the likes of Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec tipple on both sides of the spectrum, delivering a nice balance between sweet and dry
- Sweet (5-6): Bottles in this category become notably more sugary, and a nice Port will tantalize with hints of apricot, peach, and berries
- Very Sweet (7+): Considered next-level dessert wine at its best, think Gewürztraminer, Riesling, and Grüner Veltliner when venturing down this path
The Easiest Red Wine To Start On
Many oenophiles will say that slightly sweeter bottles are the best way to go when talking about red wine for beginners. However, not all varietals on this end of the spectrum are recommended for beginners.
The trick is to find a selection that’s either medium or sweet with the help of a wine guide. It’s easier for a beginner to acclimatize their palette to more syrupy beverages than drier ones. It’s also a question of familiarity and how the human mind responds better to something slightly more sugary.
For instance, if you were to begin this adventure with a startlingly dry red wine, your journey might end right there, or perhaps you discover that you favor something that might be right in the middle of these two.
Sweet Red Wine For Beginners
As a newcomer to the rouge arena, opt for something like a Brachetto d’Acqui. This red’s flavor tones include strawberry, cherry sauce, and raspberry. If you are familiar with Moscato and Moscato d’Asti as a white wine drinker, you’ll find this to be a lovely red equivalent.
Other worthy mentions include the following:
- Garnacha is a good red wine for beginners if you are in favor of something sweeter. This lovely varietal is characterized by its berry flavors that fall on the palate with slight acidic notes
- California Petite Sirah is what you need to have if you linger after sweet and tangy bottles that pack a decent punch with tannin
Light Red Wine For Beginners
Lighter red wines that are medium-bodied work well for those who are newer to reds. The selections highlighted below are a safe bet if you want to avoid the sweeter options and simply enjoy a bottle that fits the middle ground varietal scene:
- Merlot – Fruity, spicy, very soft, and less tannic than Cabernet sauvignon
- Pinot noir – Delicate and fresh, characterized by very soft tannins with fruity aromas
- Zinfandel – Typically zesty, this varietal ranges from medium- to full-bodied and dry to off-dry
The Best Red Wine Club
As you weave your way through the vineyards, you’ll come to recognize the most vital differences between types and varietals. While you are doing so, explore the beauty that is wine. Try anything from Viognier to Malbec. Figure out exactly what your palate likes and keep tabs on what you’ve fallen head over heels for.
The best possible way to gather further insights into your testing preferences is to join a popular wine club. These platforms not only provide you with tasting notes and suggestions for food pairings, but you also get to select from excellent merchants that deliver your choice of grapes right to your doorstep every month.