While many enjoy a glass of wine, few can tell you much about what they’re drinking. Wine has been part of our world longer than shoes have been, but many struggle to understand wine varieties past red and white. In this blog post, we hope to help you understand red wine by discussing the five most common red wine varieties.
Compared to other red wines, Pinot Noir (pronounced “Pee-no Nwar”) is the lightest and fruitiest. While Pinot Noir is not rich or bold like other red wine varieties, Pinot Noir is the most highly prized wine in the world because it is difficult to make. Pinot Noir grapes are highly susceptible to both disease and mutation, making it difficult to harvest enough grapes to make wine. As a result, Pinot Noir tends to be slightly more expensive than other red wines.
Pinot Noir is characterized by its high acidity, fruity and sweet taste, and translucent color. You may notice hints of clove, vanilla, licorice, mushroom, wet leaves, tobacco, cola, and caramel. Pinot Noir grapes are grown in France, the United States, Germany, New Zealand, Italy, Australia, Chile, Argentina, and South Africa.
Experts agree that Pinot Noir is the most versatile red wine. While this red wine is light enough for seafood, it is also complex enough for veal and duck. When ordering a bottle of wine for the table, Pinot Noir is likely to suit everyone and every dish. Pinot Noir pairs well with salmon, chicken, pork, veal, duck cured meat, French and German dishes, cream sauces, soft cheeses, and nutty medium-firm cheeses.
While Zinfandel can be red or white, we will only be discussing Red Zinfandel, which is a light-bodied red wine with moderate tannin and high acidity. It’s rather translucent color causes many to think Zinfandel tastes similar to Pinot Noir, but that is not the case. Red Zinfandel’s tannin and acidity levels give the variety a bolder taste than Pinot Noir but a more subtle taste that other red wines.
Red Zinfandel pairs particularly well with spicy foods, such as curry. Red Zinfandel can also complement chicken, pork, cured meat, lamb, beef, barbecue, Chinese and Indian dishes, full-flavored cheeses (like cheddar), and firm cheeses (like Manchego).
If you are not a wine enthusiast, Merlot (pronounced “Mer-low”) is a wonderful wine to get you started. As a medium-bodied, smooth wine, Merlot is neither as fruity as Pinot Noir nor as robust as Cabernet Sauvignon.
Merlot is characterized as a wine with easy tannins, red fruits, and a soft finish and often possesses notes of black cherry, raspberry, plum, graphite, cedar, tobacco, vanilla, clove, and mocha. That said, a glass of Merlot featuring grapes grown in Italy tastes much different than a glass with grapes grown in Argentina due to a difference in climate. As a result, Merlot can be classified as either “cool climate” or “warm climate.” Cool climate Merlot — which is grown in France, Italy, and Chile — tends to have more of an earthy taste, while warm climate Merlot — which is grown in California, Australia, and Argentina — is slightly more rich and fruity.
As a medium-bodied wine positioned in the middle of the red wine spectrum, Merlot pairs well with a variety of foods. Generally speaking, Merlot pairs well with light meats — such as chicken and other poultry — and lightly-spiced dark meats.
Syrah (pronounced “Sear-ah” and often called “Shiraz”) is a full-bodied red wine with a slightly tart taste. While Syrah is not as full bodied as Cabernet Sauvignon, which we will discuss next, Syrah is darker than Cabernet Sauvignon and the darkest of the red wine variety. Because Syrah is loaded with antioxidants, it has earned a rather positive reputation in the health industry.
Syrah is distinguished by its dark color, tart taste and smell, and slightly spicy aftertaste. Syrah will enter your mouth with a dark fruit flavor and leave your tongue with a peppery kick. This wine tends to have hints of olive, pepper, clove, vanilla, mint, licorice, chocolate, allspice, rosemary, cured meat, tobacco, herbs, and smoke. Grapes are grown in France, Australia, Spain, Argentina, South Africa, the United States, Italy, and Chile.
Put simply, Syrah pairs well with bold comfort foods, such as brisket or chili. Generally speaking though, Syrah goes well with beef, lamb, smoked meats, Mediterranean dishes, American firm cheeses (such as white cheddar), and hard cheeses (such as Manchego).
Cabernet Sauvignon (pronounced “Cab-er-nay Saw-vin-yawn” and often called “Cab”) is arguably the world’s most popular wine variety. Grapes for Cab are grown in France, Chile, the United States, Australia, Italy, South Africa, and Argentina.
Because grapes are grown in various regions and climates, Cabernet Sauvignon flavor varies greatly from region to region. That said, Cab is generally a full-bodied wine with bold tannins and hints of dark fruits and savory flavors. You might experience notions of baking spices, black cherry, black currant, tobacco, and cedar.
As a full-bodied and savory wine, Cabernet Sauvignon pairs well with dishes that are high in fat, such as steak, short ribs, and pizza. You may be surprised to hear this, but experts agree that Cab pairs especially well with a burger. More generally speaking though, Cab can complement beef, lamb, smoked meats, American firm cheeses (such as aged cheddar), and hard cheeses (such as Pecorino).
While we hope these descriptions give you a better understanding of red wine, we know the best way to learn more about wine is to try wine. You’ll never know your preference without tasting your options. At BLEND Bar with Davidoff Cigars, we have an endless list of red and white palette-pleasing wines in our wine cellar that are nothing short of spectacular. Much of our menu, including our Cheese Board, pairs well with one red wine or another. Our staff is always happy to make recommendations and you’re always invited to join us in Indianapolis or Nashville. Stay tuned for our “White Wine Breakdown.”
BLEND Bar • Cigar with Davidoff Cigars® is Indianapolis and Nashville’s premier cocktail lounge and cigar bar. BLEND’s selection of premium cigars is second to none, and our walk-in humidor is one of the largest in the US. BLEND is the only appointed merchant for Davidoff cigars in Indiana, so cigar aficionados are sure to find what they are looking for.