The Classic Reds
Four varieties of red grapes make up the majority of the great red wines of the world:
[Pronounced CAB-ehr-nay SOH-vee-nyawn] is the "king of reds."
Origins: This "king" of red's origins lie in the renowned Médoc region of Bordeaux in France, where it continues to make the most prized of all red wines. But Cab now grows—and produces great wines—all over the world. World class Cabs are produced in California, Italy, Australia--where it is often blended with Shiraz, Chile, and Washington State. The great Cabs are carefully crafted and oaked to age beautifully and last for many years. Cab is frequently blended with Merlot and other grapes to give the wine bright fruit and good structure.
Flavor Profile: In general, Cabs are dry, but have intense fruit that make them seem less tannic than they typically are. The aromas and flavors of Cab range from black cherry, blueberry and blackberry, cassis (black currant), and red plums, to cedar, eucalyptus and mint, to leather, vanilla, chocolate and tobacco. It is a varietal that shows very distinct regional characteristics. The characteristic earthiness of Bordeaux wines mellows out over time, taking decades to mature. Cabs from Napa have big mouth puckering tannins and jammy rich fruits.
Goes with: Aged Cheddar cheese, blue cheese, standing rib roast, pot roast and other rich meat dishes. Roast Beef, steak prepared with dark and hearty sauces or red wine sauces, beef stew, short ribs, hamburgers, Beef Stroganoff and Beef Wellington, Cornish game hens, duck or turkey prepared in rich, hearty or heavy sauces, rack or leg of lamb and lamb chops, roast pork or spare ribs, wild game (pheasant, venison), pasta with meat and red sauce, dark chocolate truffles
[Pronounced murr-LOH] means "little blackbird" in French. If Cab is "king," then Merlot is the red "queen."
Origins: Again—Bordeaux "roots," where Merlot is the most widely planted grape. Now, Merlot is successfully grown around the world. It seems to adapt to a wise variety of regions, including the state of Washington. It remains the most popular of reds because its tannins are so much softer than those of Cab and produce a more supple, soft wine.
Flavor Profile: This approachable red, though generally less tannic than Cabernet Sauvignon and softer on the palate, has mocha & berry flavors much like those of Cab. Plums, raspberry, red and black cherry, black currant, mint, toffee, chocolate, vanilla and baking spices—the complexity of flavors make Merlot a good wine to pair with food.
Goes with: Rich grilled fish like tuna, turkey, roast chicken, steak, beef in a red wine or mushroom sauce, stew, short ribs, brisket, meatloaf, hamburgers, Beef Stroganoff and Beef Bourguignon, grilled marinated chicken, chicken with medium sauces like red wine or teriyaki, chicken with hearty sauces like spicy Italian, mushroom, Cornish hen, duck with light to hearty sauces, turkey with light to hearty sauces, rack or leg of lamb, lamb chops, roast pork, pork chops or tenderloin, veal with heartier vegetable and/or bean sauces or mushroom and/or wine sauces, pasta with meat, herbed tomato or carbonara sauces, flavorful, firm cheeses like Gouda, hearty vegetable or chicken or meat based soups or stews, flourless chocolate torte.
[Pronounced PEE-noh nwahr] was highly regarded long before the movie, Sideways.
Origins: One of the most renowned of wine grapes, Pinot Noir has its roots in the cool climate of France’s Burgundy. It is a fussy grape to grow and make into wine. Winemakers in New Zealand, Oregon, and Michigan, and even the cooler areas of California are now having success with Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir is often an important component of classic French Champagnes and the best American Sparkling wines.
Flavor Profile: Its often pale color, especially in cool climates, belies its rich, silky texture and complex flavor. Its cherry, strawberry fruit and earthy, smoky flavors, along with its light tannins and acidity make it a great food wine. As it ages, its flavors move toward the earth and truffle side. Traditionally it is elegant and refined. The California versions of Pinot Noir tend to be more concentrated both in color and flavors.
Goes with: Mushrooms, grilled salmon or tuna, steak, roast chicken, Beef Burgundy, grilled chicken, Coq au Vin, Thanksgiving turkey dinner, pork tenderloin, mild sausages, veal chops, veal in a wine sauce, light pasta dishes, firm cheeses, vegetable and beef soups or stews.
[Pronounced SURR-rah] OR Shiraz (Pronounced SHURR-rahzz) is the fastest growing in popularity red wine.
Origins: Syrah, the predominant grape of the prestigious French Northern Rhone wines and a major blending grape of Southern Rhone Reds has more recently become signature Shiraz (same grape!) of Australia. Since the 1990’s, it has become increasingly popular in California, South America, and South Africa, where the climate favors the grape.
Flavor Profile: Full-bodied, intense, rich and tannic, Syrah can also have an appealing velvety texture. A spicy white pepper flavor along with licorice, bacon, smoke, black cherry, blackberry, raspberry, boysenberry and currant fruit flavors are the dominant flavors of the blockbuster Aussie Shiraz. The more refined classic Syrahs of the Northern Rhone are more earthy in flavor.
Goes with: Grilled lamb, grilled quail, venison stew, duck, goose, steak, burgers, lamb chops, pork spare ribs, stronger cheeses.
Origins: Considered the "native" wine grape of California, Zinfandel does not grow all over the world. DNA testing has discovered its “roots” in Italy in the Primitivo grape of Italy.
White Zinfandel (not a separate grape variety) is made when Zinfandel grapes are fermented without their dark purple skins. It’s sweet because of the residual sugar that is allowed to remain in the wine at fermentation time.
Flavor Profile: Red Zins can vary from a medium-bodied fruity style to a hearty, spicy version with rich berry fruit, to a luscious syrupy Port wine. Some are rustic; some are quite elegant. The flavors: zesty spices, like pepper, cedar, bold red fruits like raspberry, cherry or wild berries and even some dark fruits like blackberries, cassis and black cherries. The light White Zin is light-bodied and sweet with pleasant strawberry flavors.
Goes with: Red Zins go well with grilled vegetables, grilled chicken, grilled (yes, on the grill) cheese sandwiches, roast, steak, hamburgers, beef ribs, leg of lamb and lamb chops, pork chops cooked in a variety of ways, even spicy, spare ribs, chicken in a spicy barbecue sauce, pizza, Mexican entrées, herbed and peppered cheese, chocolate desserts. White Zin goes well with spicy foods as well as ham or turkey (See blush wines).
[Pronounced: puh-TEET sear-rah] should not be confused with Syrah or Shiraz.
Origins: Though it may have some loose connections with Syrah, Petite Sirah is mainly a California grape where it has been growing since the 1880’s and where it is still found in field blends (vineyards interplanted with different varieties of grapes).
Flavor Profile: Rustic and intense, with rich fruit flavors and an inky color produced by the high ratio of skin to juice in its “petite” grapes. White pepper, graphite, leather, balance the dark fruit-flavors (black raspberry and black plums) of this delicious tannic red.
Goes with: Pancetta, salami, andouille, chorizo, and Italian sausages, blue cheeses like Gorgonzola, Maytag and semi-hard cheese like Mild Cheddar, Gouda, and Swiss, bean or lentil dishes, roasted duck or goose, barbecued chicken, pork roast, grilled, sautéed, or barbecued pork chops, veal roast or chops, sautéed or grilled veal chops, beef stews, pot roast, grilled steak, grilled lamb chops, lamb stew, pheasant, venison, wild boar, meat lasagna, pepperoni or sausage pizza, stuffed peppers.
[Pronounced: SAN-joh-VAY-zay] is the predominant grape in Italian Chianti.
Origins: A native of the Tuscan region of Italy, Sangiovese is the dominant grape of Chianti, Vino Nobile di Montalcino and Brunello. Along with Cabernet Sauvignon, it is a major grape in pricey Super Tuscans. It is now produced in several Australian as well as many California wineries.
Flavor Profile: Medium to full-bodied, Sangiovese wines have a black cherry flavor similar to that of Pinot Noir. They also taste of raspberry, plum, anise and spice. As they age, they gain in complexity and richness with earthy, mocha flavors.
Goes with: Hearty Italian fare, parmigiano reggiano cheese, grilled or roasted chicken with garlic & fresh herbs, turkey with rich or heavy sauces, roasted or stuffed red bell peppers, hearty bean-based dishes.
Origins: From Spain’s north central Rioja region, Tempranillo is usually the dominant grape in a blend, though sometimes a red Rioja is 100% Tempranillo. Spain has over 81,000 acres planted with Tempranillo alone (as compared with 38,000 acres of all wine grapes grown in Napa!) It also grows in Portugal where it is called tinto roriz and is one of the grapes in Port. And it is now grown some in Argentina. It’s thick skin produces soft, elegant tannins that can age a long time
Flavor Profile: Ruby red in color with a full, intense flavor and aromas of strawberries, blackberries, stone fruit (plums, nectarines), minerals, licorice, tobacco and leather with hints of spice, vanilla and chocolate.
Goes with: Pork, spicy and barbecued chicken wings and ribs, patés. Cold cut meats and hard sausages, goat cheese, Brie or Camembert, Manchego cheese, omelets, quiche lentil or bean dishes, tomato-based soups, seafood stews and soups, chicken in mushroom or red wine sauces, roast game hen, rabbit, beef stews and curries, steak in with pepper sauce, char grilled lamb or pork, stuffed peppers or eggplant, Mexican, Chinese, or Cajun meat dishes.
Origins: One of the classic blending grapes of red Bordeaux, as a 100% varietal wine, Malbec has become the signature red of Argentina.
Flavor: Full-bodied with a soft mouth feel like Merlot but slightly more tannic. Bright plum and cherry fruit, black currant, berries, black pepper and spice.
Goes with: Grilled beef, barbecued chicken wings, pork ribs, patés, sweet or spicy sausages, salami, char grilled halibut or swordfish, meaty pasta and ravioli, vegetable lasagna, baked, barbecued, broiled or roasted chicken, grilled pork chops, pork roast, grilled, sautéed or roasted veal, hamburgers, beef stews, meatloaf, roast beef, prime rib and pot roast, stuffed peppers, eggplant, or tomatoes. Mexican, Cajun, Indian beef dishes.