Intro to Red Wine

by Abigail

Red wine is the drink of the season. It’s cold, snowy and you need some hearty vino to get you through the January blues. The tricky thing about wine is knowing what you want and what to look for.  It’s a challenge to roam through a wine store after a grueling work day/week, and having to really think about what to look for; Knowing certain Domains or Chateaus and their signature flavours, or knowing certain varietals and which ones to go for and which ones to avoid, or even knowing if you want old world earthy vs. new world fruity. So many questions, but so little time.

Lucky for you, you have come the right place. Our little crash course in Red Wine will teach you the fundamentals, and then it’ll be easy to build from there. We will be covering all the basics, from how red wine is made, what the ageing process is, and focusing on the Noble Red Grapes.

So…What is red wine?

Red wine is wine made with red grapes, and that the juice has had some serious contact with the skins, seeds, and maybe even the twigs. Skin holds most of the power found in red wine, it contains colour, tannin,  and certain flavours and aromas. To extract this, the juice and skin macerate together. This can last from hours to weeks, depending on the winemakers’ preference, and the grape varietal involved.  Fermentation also happens at this time, and much to everyone’s disbelief, most red wines are fermented until dry, leaving very little, if any sugar behind.

Okay, now what?

This is where the waiting game comes in. Depending on the varietal or decisions made by the winemaker, this is the part where the wine is ready for some malolactic fermentation and some ageing. Malolactic Fermentation is simply turning the malic acid (astringent) into lactic acid (smooth).

There are many ageing options to use, but the primary choice comes down to wood vs. stainless steel. Wood, mostly seen as American or French Oak, is a beautiful thing. There are so many decisions going into the barrels; How big are the barrels going to be? Are they neutral(used) or new? French or American? Toasted to what degree?  These two types of oak have different impacts on the wine. American oak adds notes of coconut, vanilla and cream soda to the wine, whereas French oak is more subtle with spice and adding a satin or silky texture. Wood is also porous, so the wine can interact with oxygen during it ageing, where it tends to relaxes the wine in a way.

Stainless steel is another option. It’s reliable, temperature controlled and doesn’t add any flavour to the wine. Typically they are used for younger, fruitier wines.

And the wait is over…

After ageing, the wine is simply filtered and transferred into bottles, where there are then either aged some more (to meet certain appellation regulations) or sent right to our shelves.

Noble Grapes

Noble Grapes are kind of the stars of the wine world. They are the most popular and most planted, which has made them into to royalty. The Noblest of the Reds are listed below (with the exception of Cabernet Franc, which isn’t always seen as a noble grape, but is pretty important so needs to be included here):

Pinot Noir
Pinot Noir is the lightest of the Noble Grapes. It’s typically is a light ruby colour, with notes of cranberry, raspberry, cherry, and mushroom, with a medium body and medium tannins. Burgundian Pinot is considered to be quintessential (with a price point to match), but areas such as California, Washington, Oregon and most of Germany are doing a pretty fine job of making some delicious Pinot Noir.

What we tasted: Domaine A.F Gros Bourgogne 2014 $41.99

A touch darker than Pinot Noir, Grenache is a hearty grape found in the warmer regions. Expect notes of raspberry, strawberry, black cherry, with anise and sometimes even some citrus rind, all accompanied by medium tannin and a touch of alcohol. Grenache, predominantly found in Southern France, is one of the grapes used in Chateauneuf-du-Pape but is widely grown in Australia, Spain, and Italy.

What we tasted: Big Easy Radio Perpetual Holidaze Grenache 2016 $32.99

Merlot can be made into a lighter or bolder wine depending on the winemaker’s preference. It is full of character,  with black cherry, plum and raspberry taking centre stage with other notes of graphite, cedar, and mocha whirling everything together to make a delicious wine. It is one of the top grapes in France, where it is used in the prestigious region of Bordeaux, but can be found almost anywhere else.

What we tasted: Ex Nihilo Merlot 2015 $44.99

Think Pinot Noir, but with more tannins and more tart cherry. It also has other aromas of plum, red pepper, dried herbs, and potpourri. This is a high acid, high tannin grape, so ageing is almost always necessary, especially in Italy, where there are regulations around Sangiovese. Tuscany is where you can find the two of the most gobsmacking delicious Sangiovese regions, Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino, with very little plantings seen in other areas other than experimental small plots in Australia, California, and even British Columbia amungst. others..

What we tasted: Il Palagio Chianti Classico Riserva 2013 $39.99

Unfortunately not on our list of wines to try this evening, but another fantastic flavour bomb coming from Italy. It is another high tannin, high acid wine that always suits at least a touch of ageing. It is found mostly in Northern Italy, making up the juice in Barolo and Barbaresco. Notes of cherry, blossom, and clay are the most predominant features of Nebbiolo, and the colour is almost always light like Pinot Noir, but can also develop a garnet colour in youth.

The Grape of Spain.  It’s rare to see this grape planted anywhere else, which is unfortunate. It’s a medium body wine, with high tannin and lower acidity, with notes of cherry, plum, tomatoes and maybe even a touch of dried fig. If you know Rioja, Spain,  you know Tempranillo. Normally it is seen with some oak ageing due to appellation regulations, but we are seeing more Tempranillo that are produced in a modern style.

What we tasted: Conde Valdemar Reserva 2009 $29.99

Cabernet Franc
The father of the infamous Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc is one to get familiar with.  The wine is full of red berries, roasted bell peppers, crushed gravel and maybe even a touch of a chili pepper note. It’s medium body, with a touch high acid and tannin. This wine is mostly produced in France, Italy and the US.

What we tasted: Chateau de Chaintres Saumur Champigny 2011 $39.99

Cabernet Sauvignon
Probably one of the most famous grape varietal, and one of the most widely planted. Cabernet Sauvignon can be some of the most well-balanced, full-bodied wines on the market. Another grape of Bordeaux, France, this wine produces notes of black cherry, black currant, black pepper, bell pepper, and blackberry, with higher tannin levels and a higher acidity.

What we tasted: Rabble Wine Co. Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 $31.99

Think purple. Syrah oozes purple. Its full-bodied powerhouse with a range of styles. Syrah is full of blueberry, blackberry, pepper and floral notes, whereas Shiraz (same grape) focuses mostly on those overly extracted fruity characteristics.  Along with the fuller body, this wine has higher tannin and higher acidity.

What we tasted: Saint Cosme Crozes Hermitage 2015 $47.99

Another grape we are missing out on tonight. One of the newest additions to the Noble List, Malbec is actually a French grape! Mostly seen in South America, this grape is quite similar to Grenache, but instead of those red berry notes, think more blackberries and blueberries.

These are only a few of all the amazing red varietals we see in the world. There’s so much to explore and too much to know! Hopefully, this tasting and these notes will help you towards a fuller understanding of your favourite red wines, and how they came to be.

- Abi
Twitter: @babiller_de_vin
Instagram: @abigailjsayer


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