Four good red wines for beginners

It’s no secret that interest in wine is growing worldwide. Maybe you like wine for the implied health benefits (i.e. keto friendly, antioxidants, etc). Or perhaps you just love rosé! Whatever the reason, one issue many newcomers struggle with is consistently choosing wines they love.

This is particularly true with red wines because, stylistically speaking, they’re very diverse.

So, here are four good red wines that aim to please. Call them crowd pleasers:

  • They are big on flavour and big on fruit. (aka fruit-forward)
  • They’re not too astringent (e.g. tannic) and have a smooth finish.
  • Compared to other varietal wines, they offer good value.

ZinfandelAll the fruit, all the time.

A fruit-forward yet bold red that’s loved for its red fruit flavours and exotic spice notes. It’s originally fromCroatia where it’s known as Crlkenak Kaštelanski.

Fruit Flavours: Blackberry, brambles, strawberry, peach preserves, cinnamon and sweet tobacco.

What You’ll Learn: How alcohol affects the taste.

The best Zins out there are traditionally pretty high in alcohol (definitely look for those with 14% or more by volume). Alcohol in wine is kind of like MSG; it magnifies fruit flavours and increases boldness.

To taste the alcohol level in wine, take a sip and slowly breathe out after you swallow: it tingles the back of your throat.

Oh yes, and they’re great with a braai (barbeque)!

Petite SirahA healthy dose of anti-oxidants.

This variety produces deeply coloured wines with black fruit flavours and bold tannins. It’s related to syrah and the rare peloursin, and the French call it durif.

Fruit Flavours: Sugar plum, blueberry, dark chocolate, black pepper, and black tea.

What You’ll Learn: What “black wines” really look like.

The ancient Greeks referred to all red wines as “black wines.” Today, black wines are a special class of super grapes with an exceptionallyhigh anti-oxidant content. The antioxidants in wine are found in the skins, seeds and stems of grapes and are generally called polyphenols, of which anthocyanin (the red colour) is one type.

Grapes with high polyphenols have high tannin (that astringent, bitter, tea-like taste in red wine) and are often deeply coloured. Of course, winemakers have learned how to manage bitterness in winemaking so that they taste bold and smooth. Petite sirah is no exception!

Enjoy it with blue cheese!

Nero d’AvolaThe gateway to Italian reds.

This is Sicily’s most important red wine variety and is often linked to cabernet sauvignon due to its full-bodied style and flavours of black cherries and tobacco.

Fruit Flavours: Black cherry, black plum, liqourice, tobacco and red chili flakes.

What You’ll Learn: The taste of terroir.

If you’re boggled by Italian wines, you’re not alone. Italy is one of the most challenging wine regions to understand, even for pros. To make things more complicated, many of the top Italian wines (like barolo) are an acquired taste.

So, start in the south! Sicily and Puglia continue to offer some of the best values in the entire country. Nero d’Avola delivers bold, crowd-pleasing fruit flavours alongside Italy’s trademark dusty, clay-like terroir.

It begs for red meat dishes, like steak.

Merlot The unsung hero of Bordeaux.

Merlot is loved for its boisterous black cherry flavours, supple tannins and chocolate finish.

Fruit Flavours: Red cherry, plum, chocolate, graphite, dried herbs, and vanilla.

What You’ll Learn: Great merlot gives cabernet sauvignon a run for its money.

Go to any wine store or restaurant and compare the prices of the higher end bottles of merlot to cabernet sauvignon. Merlot is always cheaper (unless we’re talking Petrus!) What’s funny about this fact is that of all the grapes in the world, merlot and cabernet couldn’t be more similar. They’re even related.

Great with a variety of dishes, including creamy Tuscan chicken.

And finally, remember, wine is NOT a destination, but rather a wonderful journey of discovery. Go forth and travel!

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