When you are new to drinking wine, red wine can be a bit hit and miss. Some red wines have very strong, distinctive flavors that can sometimes be too bitter. If a wine is too complex it will overcrowd your palate.
As your palate develops, you will be able to enjoy these complex wines and pick out the individual flavor notes. But as a beginner, it is better to start off with smoother red wines.
But which varieties of red wine are considered smooth? What is the difference between a light bodied red wine and a full bodied red wine? And what temperature should you be serving your red wine?
There is a lot to learn about red wine, even for a beginner just picking up the basics. But don’t panic! We have answered these all important questions and put together some information about the smoothest red wines which are most suitable for beginners.
We have also provided some useful tips on which food to pair with the different types of red wine, so you can really bring out and compliment the individual flavor notes.
Keep reading to find out more about red wine, so you can impress your friends and family at your next dinner party.
What Is ‘Smooth’ Wine?
When you use the word ‘smooth’ to describe wine, it usually means it is easy drinking. Smooth is the opposite to ‘tannic’, which means that the wine has a bitter quality to it. Tannins are released into the wine from leaves, grape skins and from the oak of the barrels.
As a beginner, it is better to stick to smooth, fruity wines rather than tannic, oaky wines. The fruity flavor notes are also easier to pick out than some of the more floral or oaky flavor notes, which makes these types of wines ideal for beginners.
What Does ‘Body’ Mean?
When talking about wine, its ‘body’ refers to how it feels in your mouth. Light-bodied wines are less viscous, meaning they have a thinner consistency than heavy-bodied wines. There are also some medium-bodied wines that sit in the middle.
The body of wine tends to be directly related to the alcohol content, as alcohol is what makes the wine more viscous. So a full bodied wine will have a higher alcohol content and will feel heavier in the mouth than a light bodied wine.
What Temperature Should You Serve Red Wine?
There is a common misconception that all red wine should be served at room temperature. This isn’t the case. The general rule is, the heavier the wine the warmer it should be.
Full bodied red wines like merlot and shiraz should be served at just below room temperature, around 60 to 65 degrees fahrenheit. Put it in the refrigerator about 15 minutes prior to serving.
Medium bodied red wines should be served at cellar temperature, which is about 55 degrees fahrenheit. Light bodied wines should be served a little cooler than this, so should be kept in the fridge for up to an hour before being served.
As you drink the glass of wine it will gradually come to room temperature, unlocking the different flavor notes as it changes temperature. It is also more refreshing to have a drink that is colder than room temperature, especially when you are drinking wine with a meal.
Merlot is a medium bodied red wine. It is well known for its delicious and decadent flavor notes of cherries, rich plums and sweet vanilla. The Merlot grape is often used in Bordeaux wines. Merlot is a diverse wine that can be paired with many different foods.
Try serving it with grilled meat or fish. It also compliments dishes that include mushrooms or green vegetables like chard. Merlot pairs well with shellfish, especially when it is served with a salty meat like bacon or prosciutto.
Pan fried scallops wrapped in bacon would be a perfect meal to pair with Merlot. Avoid serving Merlot with strong blue cheese, or with spicy foods. These flavors can overwhelm the fruitiness of the wine and accentuate the alcohol, making it taste more bitter.
Check out Merlot vs Cabernet Sauvignon vs Pinot Noir for a direct comparison.
Shiraz is a full bodied red wine which has a reputation for being smooth and easy to drink, despite it’s bold flavors. The main flavor note is dark fruit, like juicy berries, with an additional layer of smokiness.
Australia and South Africa are known for producing the most popular types of Shiraz. This wine pairs very well with various types of meat. You can serve it with duck, chicken, beef, venison, veal, lamb and pork.
Shiraz goes particularly well with barbeque flavors, so smoky brisket or a rack of ribs would be a great choice. If you are looking for a cheese to suit this wine, stick to aged hard cheeses like gouda.
Cabernet Sauvignon is a full bodied red wine. It is easy to get hold of as cabernet grapes are very widely planted in many different areas. The main flavor notes of cabernet sauvignon are figs, dates and plums.
These bold flavors can overwhelm very delicate dishes, but this wine does go well with tasty meat seasoned with peppercorns, such as steak au poivre and ahi tuna.
Heavy, cream-based sauces will bring out the fruity flavors in the wine, and cooking methods that create a smoky flavor (such as grilling) will counteract any bitterness in the wine.
This wine also goes nicely with cheeses like brie and cheddar, but it is best to avoid blue cheese as this will compete too much with the strong flavors of the wine.
If you want to pair cabernet sauvignon with chocolate, go for a darker chocolate rather than milk chocolate, as this will be too sweet.
Related: Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon comparison.
Pinot Noir is a light bodied red wine with fruity flavors of raspberries, strawberries and cherries, with an additional earthy note. ‘Pinot’ comes from the French word for ‘pine’, which refers to the way the grapes form tight clusters on the vine which look like pine cones.
A light, fresh and fruity pinot noir will pair well with cold meats, terrine, and classic french dishes with a cream or mustard based sauce. This wine can also handle being paired with foods that have a touch of spice, like hoisin duck or char siu pork.
Avoid gamey dishes like grouse or pheasant.
Zinfandel is a medium to full bodied red wine with quite a high alcohol content. It is known for having bold flavors. The most distinguishable notes are fruity berries, cinnamon and pepper.
Other flavor notes include vanilla, liquorice, chocolate, leather and even tobacco. A full bodied zinfandel will pair excellently with barbeque pork ribs, braised beef, roast leg of lamb or even a tasty Italian sausage.
If you’re making pasta, then serve this wine with a rich tomato based sauce. This is also a great wine to pair with classic crowd pleasers like chilli con carne and pizza.
Malbec is a popular full-bodied red wine. It has delightful flavor notes of blackberry, plum and milk chocolate. It also has some savoury undertones of leather, coffee and black pepper, creating a balanced flavor overall.
Malbec grapes prefer a warmer climate and can be quite tricky to grow. Argentina produces some of the best Malbec wines, and this grape takes up two thirds of the country’s vineyards. Australia, Chile, South Africa and New Zealand also produce some nice Malbec wines.
This wine pairs best with lean meats rather than fatty meats- perhaps a fillet steak or roast turkey. This wine can also handle being served with a strong blue cheese, so is an ideal choice for cheese and biscuits.
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