Red wine is arguably the most popular wine choice around the globe. With so many variations, blends and flavor profiles, there seems to be no end to the potential creations and styles of red wine. For centuries, humans have been creating red wines and experimenting with their techniques to produce a vast array of wines.
6 Tips to Drinking Red Wine
With such a wide variety of red wine types available out there, it can be a little intimidating to sit down in front of a red wine flight. Below, we have outlined a basic tasting guide that can help you through the process of not just drinking, but truly experiencing the glass of red wine sitting in front of you.
By following these tasting tips, you’ll be more likely to discover the best red wine to suit your palate.
1. Look at the Label
Even if you know very little about red wines, you can learn quite a bit by simply by taking a close look at the bottle. If you are visiting a specific vineyard and trying its offerings, you know where the grapes came from. But if you are buying wine at the store or out at a restaurant and you want to make a wise choice, knowing the source of the wine is a good place to start.
What exactly are you looking for? Here are some basics:
These areas tend to produce lighter-bodied wines. This will be case for countries such as northern France, Germany, Chile, northern Italy or the Pacific Northwest region of the United States.
Wineries from warm areas are expected to produce full-bodied, riper wines with more intense flavor. Some of these areas are Argentina, California and southern France.
Of course, this is a very broad explanation and there will always be exceptions to these rules. Generally, winemakers like to create something tasters would not expect from their regions. Microclimates or soil variations can have a very drastic effect on the grapes grown in those areas. Ultimately, these small nuances will all change the overall profile of the wine.
Before you pour yourself a taste, be sure to choose the right glass for the type of red wine you will be drinking. All reds are best in glasses with large, rounded bowls.
However, lighter reds do best in a shorter glass that gets your nose closer to the wine. Bolder reds usually go in a slightly taller glass that provides more room for the intense aromas to move around before getting to the nose.
3. Pour and Swirl
After the wines have been left to breathe or decant for a little while, you can pour a small amount into a glass. This should not be done without care.
While you are pouring the wine into your glass, be sure to note the kind of body the wine has. Try to observe the following:
- Is it very viscous or slightly thicker?
- Does it coat the sides of the glass when you pour?
- What do you expect the wine to taste like based on what you observed during the pour?
Now, gently swirl the wine in the glass. Take note of the body of the red wine, the density and whether there are bits of solids floating around. Wines that are nearly opaque usually are from warm-weather regions and allowed just a short time to age. If the swirling wine leaves “legs” on the sides of the glass, this might be indicative of the wine’s level of alcohol or sweetness.
4. Take a Sniff
Now is the time to identify the notes of your wine by sticking your nose into the glass and taking a big whiff of the wine’s aromas. Try to get your nose close enough to the rim of the glass that you can get a clear scent. There are three levels of aromas you might be able to discern when smelling the wine:
- First, you’ll get the main scent, which is likely to be fruit-based–after all, all wines are just over-indulged fruit juice. Try to find scents beyond the grapes. Do you sense any fruits such as blackberries, strawberries or currants? Close your eyes and try to identify what your nose is taking in that is different from what your first instinct tells you. Try to describe the smell as thoroughly as possible: Is it tart? Intense? Sweet?
- Second, you might find hints of the flavors created during the winemaking process. Some common aromas that you might sense are rose, vanilla, pepper or mint. Again, it likely will take practice before you can sense these subtle levels, but it is a skill that you will eventually develop.
- Finally, the closing note of a wine’s aroma might be a reflection of the aging vessel, such as oak. Here you might get a brief scent of leather, smoke or coffee. It might be something you cannot quite put your finger on right away but that you might be able to identify after tasting it.
5. Give it a Taste
At long last, you can take a small sip. But, wait! Don’t swallow your first sip of red wine right away.
Let it roll around on your tongue for a moment. You’ll want to try to assess whether the wine is sweet, or has a lot of tannins. Or, perhaps this particular red wine features some other intense flavor that you weren’t expecting. Does having the wine linger in your mouth help you better understand any of the notes that you might have previously smelled?
Swallow & Analyze the Aftertaste
Or, Spit It Out.
It sounds crazy, right? But, ask any sommelier and they’ll recommend that you do just that. Nobody will be offended if you do. And many red wine tasting guides will fail to mention this as an option.
The reason why you should consider spitting out the wine, is because it allows you to fully analyze and compare different types of red wine, and do so without getting drunk too quickly. You’ll keep your senses intact and be able to analyze more accurately.
6. Food Pairings
Now that you know what style of red wine suits your palate best, next focus your energy on creating a fabulous meal to be your wine’s complement. Light red wines can go nicely with poultry, but heavier and bolder red wines are more suited to beef or cured meats. You can get away with pairing rich seafood such as crab with a light red wine, but generally seafood pairs best with white wines.
Note that other heavy foods — such as pasta — are well suited for a red wine pairing. However, try to avoid asparagus, Brussels sprouts and green beans as you’d be hard-pressed to find a wine that pairs well with these vegetables.
Mastering the enjoyment of red wine can take a little practice, but, fortunately, the repetition is pleasant rather than a chore. With this tasting guide in hand, you should feel confident and a little more prepared to explore the world of red wine.
Credit: Jeff Flowers.