Cabernet Sauvignon is touted as being one of the most popular red wine varietals to fill glass stemware. Originating in Bordeaux, France, in the 17th century, Cabernet Sauvignon is now found in every major wine-producing country in the world. It boasts an oaky aroma that often hides hints of coffee, chocolate, leather, and tobacco. Younger Cabernets (aged 3 to 7 years) have a lighter, fruitier smell and taste with aromas of cranberry, raspberry and plum swirling in the bowl of your glass. Aged Cabernet Sauvignon is a bold wine that tends to overwhelm light dishes. It is best sipped with red meat dishes, like steak and lamb, heavy cream dishes, and dark chocolate desserts. Lighter Cabernet Sauvignons are best paired with pork, veal, poultry, pasta, and light cheeses.
Cabernet Franc has been grown with success in France, Australia, Chile, Canada, South Africa, California and Washington, producing a fruity wine that is softer and more subdued than its regal relative, Cabernet Sauvignon. With fine tannins, spicy aromas, peppery accents, violet nuances and an understated elegance plus some serious red and black berry (mainly blueberry, raspberry and sometimes plum) flavor, Cabernet Franc is an ideal candidate for blending with other varietals such as Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. However, more producers are selling Cabernet Franc as a stand-alone, single varietal on merchant shelves with notable success. Pairs well with poultry, lasagna, couscous with meat, Middle Eastern fare, veggie pizza, and Greek cuisine.
Most Shiraz wines are best enjoyed with red and/or game meats as well as full-bodied cheeses. Known as the man’s wine -- because like most men, Shiraz is steady, dependable and not a wine to be messed with -- both Shiraz varietals and blended wines have a distinct flavor that the general public has come to love. While we may know these wines as Shiraz, in its country of origin, France, these wines are labeled as Syrah wines, but still share the same robust and full-bodied experience. While the history of the wine may originate from France, it’s the Australians who have really taken Shiraz to the top with numerous vineyards, most notably from South Eastern Australia, taking on the Syrah grape and producing aromatic red wines.
A medium to full-bodied, dry red wine with plenty of acidity and higher tannin and alcohol levels. Dark, inky purple color profiles and ripe fruit flavors of plums, black cherry and blackberry can give this wine a decidedly jammy character. Smoke, earth, leather, wild game, tobacco and white/black pepper along with a slew of high profile spices can make for an interesting medley of aromas and flavors. A red meat wine that is adaptable enough to stand up to spicy Mexican, Cajun, Indian, Thai or Italian fare, with preference given to barbecue, spices and hard to pair meat-driven dishes, Malbec is extremely food-friendly and ultra-accommodating. Consider giving Malbec a go with a wide variety of beef, game, lamb, chili, stews, mushrooms, sausage and barbecue sauces.
Fresh flavors such as plums, cherries, blueberries and blackberries mixed with cocoa and black pepper tones, often dominate this type of red wine. The tannin levels are typically lower than say a Cab and the fruit flavors are typically forward making this a prime wine candidate for consumers just "getting into" red wines. Merlot is often used to blend with other varietals, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Food pairing options include poultry, red meat, pork, pastas, and salads.
Known as the toughest grape in the world to grow, but the effort is often well worth the constant care and investment. It is a fickle grape that demands optimum growing conditions, opting for warm days consistently supported by cool evenings. As for style, Pinot Noir is typically a lighter-medium bodied, fruit-forward red wine. It is well-suited to pair with a wide variety of ethnic dishes, classic cuisines and traditional foodie favorites, thanks in large part to its consistent acidity, subtle, silky tannins and lighter-bodied style. Perfect Pinot pairings include pork and poultry, beef and bacon, cheese and chocolate, fish, lamb, mushrooms, fresh herbs, and wild game. Pinot Noir plays well with creamy sauces, spicy seasonings and is considered by many to be one of the world's most versatile food wines.
The most commonly planted red grape varietal, boasting over a dozen distinct clones, is a thin-skinned grape that tends to linger longer on the vine, takes its time to mature. Central Italy, specifically the region of Tuscany, is the agricultural heartland of the Sangiovese grape. Italian Chianti and Chianti Classico wines are prime examples of popular wines produced predominantly from Sangiovese. Typically Sangiovese grapes make medium to full-bodied wines with tannin structure ranging from medium-soft to firm. Dominate flavors associated with Sangiovese derived wines include cherry, plum, strawberry, cinnamon and vanilla. There is often an herbaceous quality associated with Sangiovese wines. As for acidity levels, Sangiovese leans towards medium to high acidity content. The finish can range from elegant to bitter. Well-matched for the flavors of chicken, red meat, fish, lamb, pork, pastas, stews or well-aged cheeses.
This grape enjoys the title of "Italy's most commonly planted white grape; however, the notoriety tends to end there. These grapes produce mega volumes of white wines that carry somewhat neutral flavors and lean towards the dry side with a crisp finish. Trebbiano grapes are often the foundation for Italy's white table wines and may be improved significantly if blended with Malvasia Bianca grapes. It's light enough to be enjoyed with a fairly broad selection of foods, ranging from appetizers (think shrimp cocktail) to lightly flavored pastas.
Grown predominantly in the Piedmont region of Italy produce some of Italy's greatest red wines, Barolo and Barbaresco. Despite its fickle growing and fermentation nature, these grapes are surprisingly resistant to disease and mold. This grape is typically characterized by the flavors of sweet fruits like blackberry, currant, plum and cherry, with high acidity levels and tough tannins. This is a grape varietal that welcomes the challenge of being paired with strong, flavorful meats and cheeses and will compete well with spicy Italian meats and well-aged Parmesan cheese.
Zinfandel's original roots were firmly planted in Croatia. Regardless of its Old World beginnings, it is a dynamic red grape that has made itself quite at home in the New World. This versatile varietal is known and loved undercover as "White Zin" by some and "Zinfandel" by red wine enthusiasts. Old vine Zinfandels, made from vines that are typically 50+ years, are coveted for their intensity in flavor, color and balanced overall style. It is known for its rich, dark color scheme, medium to high tannin levels and higher alcohol content. The Zinfandel feature flavors include raspberry, blackberry, cherry, plums, raisins, spice and black pepper all wrapped around various intensities of oak. Pairs well with plenty of meat such as lamb, poultry, beef, game and some fish, under a variety of cooking styles (grilled, stewed, braised) and continues to showcase its versatility with tried and true pairing favorites like fish tacos, spicy fare or simply brats and burgers.
Is made from the red Zinfandel grape, but the grape skins are quickly removed after they are crushed so there is significantly less contact time with the heavily pigmented red grape skin, resulting in a pink/rose colored wine, instead of a deep red wine. White Zinfandel pairs well with a massive variety of foods, ranging from Cajun fare to Asian fare, from BBQ chicken to heavy-duty seafood entrees.
The origins of this grape are in France. California is the place to look for the best expressions of Petite Sirah. The "Petite" in the name refers not to the size of the vines but rather to the size of the grapes. In fact, the high skin to juice ratio that accompanies the small berries allows Petite Sirah to produce wines with high tannins and acidity, components that give them the ability to age well. The grape was first developed in the 1870s in France's Rhône region, the result of a cross between Syrah and a relatively minor Rhône variety, Peloursin. This rationale for this cross was to give Syrah a greater ability to resist mildew. For a number of years, Petite Sirah was primarily used as a blending grape, thanks to its deep color and fairly intense tannins. Petite Sirah is frequently blended into Zinfandel for added complexity, body, and to tone down the tendency of zinfandel toward "jammy" fruit. Pairs well with steaks, roasts, and game.
It is most often used in the region's famous red blends to add dark violet color, stouter tannins and impart concentrated fruit flavor on the palate. However, because Petit Verdot tends to ripen later in the season it can be hit or miss, depending on the vintage, as to whether or not the fruit will actually make it to harvest and be a viable addition to a Bordeaux blend. If you have ventured out into the Petit Verdot spotlight, featuring the grape as a standalone the expected aromas circle around vanilla, smoke, spice, cedar, molasses and even tar. The Petit Verdot flavor profile often includes dense, dark fruit, to the tune of blackberry, black cherry and black plum. Due to the rigid tannin structure and concentrated nature of this wine, foods with plenty of weight, protein and fat are your best bets. Consider rich cuts of red meat, well-aged cheese (like Stilton) or wild game.
The majorities of Gamay wines in Beaujolais are labeled as Beaujolais or Beaujolais-Villages and are deliciously juicy, easy drinking, gulpable wines. Of more interest are the Cru wines from the 10 villages in the north of the region where the soil is predominantly granitic schist and where the vines are planted on gently undulating slopes. These can be well-structured, intensely perfumed wines, redolent of ripe black fruits and, while delicious young, will reward medium term cellaring. Pairs well with Chicken Lyonnaise, pork terrine, duck noodle soup, Roast turkey with cranberry sauce, grilled salmon fillet with roasted fennel and Moroccan lamb with apricot tagine.
Delivers bright plum and black cherry aromas and flavors with crisp acidity and soft tannins. More serious renditions offer a dark purple color with ripe black fruit aromas and a beefy, almost decadent flavor. Naturally high in acidity, but low in tannins, Barbera responds well to oak, which can impart rich smoke and vanilla tones. Pairs well with pizza, burgers, barbecue, sausages, salamis and other foods with higher fat content for the smaller wines. Also, savory stews with root vegetables, roasted cuts of beef and venison, grilled wild mushrooms and hard, aged sharp cheeses including Parmigiano and Asiago.
The Tempranillo grape is the dominant grape varietal in Spain's Rioja wines. It produces a medium to full-bodied red wine with lower acidity and full fruit flavor characteristics. These wines are grown primarily in the Rioja and Ribera Del Duero regions of Spain. Tempranillo wines have characteristic flavors of plum, cherry, and strawberry often mixed with an earthy minerality. These wines are perhaps one of the most food friendly wines around. They offer versatility and value - without forsaking flavor and lift. Consider pairing them with their hometown favorites - tapas, pork, grilled or roasted entrees.