The world of wines is incredibly complicated. There are so many wine growing regions, different grapes, different preparation methods, all of these names and rules defining what may be called by those names. And then, there is all of the terminology that those in the know use, talking about the aromatic bouquet of berries and vanilla, how tannic or delicate a wine is. And it sounds great.
When you’re just beginning to get to know the different varieties of red wines, this can all be overwhelming. Here are some red wines that you can try in order to develop your palate. These are wines that will give you a taste for what some of these terms mean. They are classics from which you can then deepen your knowledge of wines with the six best red wines for beginners.
1. Cabernet Sauvignon
The Cabernet Sauvignon is a classic and considered as the best red wine for beginners. It is produced around the world, but perhaps more well-known as being a wine that originated in the Bordeaux region of France and now also in the Napa Valley in California. It is a full-bodied wine that is high in alcohol content. It is also a dry wine. In wine terminology, dry is the opposite of sweet. Its aromas are generally of dark cherries and spice and it may also feature notes of coffee, toffee and chocolate.
Another classic: featuring deep reds and a heavy velvety body. It often comes from France, but also from Australia. Syrah is good to try in order to get a feel for what a full-bodied wine is, to understand what it is that people mean when they talk about the body of a wine. The body is the ‘weight’ or viscosity of a wine.
A Syrah is heavy bodied, if you swirl the wine in your glass you will notice the wine stick to the edges of the glass. If you did this with water, nothing would stick (water would make for a very light bodied wine). In terms of aroma, it tastes of dark fruits like blueberries and plums and has hints of chocolate and tobacco. It starts as a mouthful of flavour and as it tapers down you’ll notice some spicy notes.
Fun fact: the name probably comes from the city of “Syracruse”, which was an important city in Greek times around 400BC.
This is a French classic. Like most, it is now grown in most of the world’s wine regions. It is both fruity and spicy. In many ways, it is similar to a Cabernet Sauvignon, but it is less tannic. Tannins in red wine make it more bitter and astringent, while those with fewer tannins are said to be smoother and more drinkable. Try this one after a Cabernet Sauvignon, in order to get a real feel for the difference.
4. Pinot Noir
Pinot Noir is a light red wine, it has a light body (and therefore colour) and is medium dry. It may taste of rose, vanilla and cranberry with oaky overtones. It is a good wine to learn about acidity in reds.
Acidity is a feature that is usually used to describe white wines. Those that are described as crisp and fresh have higher levels of acidity. The reaction to an acid wine is reminiscent of the pucker that you make after eating lemon. Pinot Noir will give you a chance to see these qualities in a red.
It is produced mostly in both France and Argentina. This is another full-bodied wine with strong dark berry flavours. While many Malbecs are French, it is a great wine to introduce you to the wineries of South America. Different Malbecs can taste very different. A lot of Malbec is produced in the Mendoza region of Argentina. Once you get going and try a few you’ll begin to notice slight differences in flavour between wines produced in different wineries.
Fun fact: Grapes of the same species grown at different altitudes will taste different. At higher altitudes, the difference between daytime and nighttime temperatures is greater. This means that grapes develop thicker skins in order to protect themselves. That is important for wine because most of a grape’s flavour is in its skin. There are many factors that impact the growth and flavour of grapes. But try to watch the altitude that the grapes in your wine were grown at and see if you can taste the difference!
Carménère grapes used to be grown in France, but now are almost only grown in Chile. This wine is a great one to try because of its unique flavour: it features notes of green peppercorn – bet you haven’t heard about a wine with that sort of a flavour description before! It mostly features flavours reminiscent of red and black berries though, so it does still taste like a wine (don’t worry).
This wine is considered good for beginners because it gives you a feel for something called herbaceous or ‘green’ wines. It’s a quality that is present in many other varieties but it stands out here, giving you the opportunity to really get a feel for it, so you can go out and identify the subtler flavour in other wines. This aroma is not the result of the addition of herbs or anything to the wine, it comes from a compound called Pyrazine.
Fun fact: You might not have been able to taste this wine. And, it could easily have gone extinct, as the vineyards in Bordeaux were hit hard in the late 1800’s. For a long time, Chilean Carménère was thought to have been a Merlot, but DNA analyses have revealed that most of this Merlot is in fact Carménère.