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According to Ernest Hemingway, “wine is one of the most civilized things in the world…it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing.”
We agree with Ernie. Whether you’re basically a sommelier or you just like pouring yourself a nice glass of red—any red!—on a Friday evening, you can enjoy wine wholeheartedly.
However, sometimes the world of wine can feel overwhelming. If you’re a beginner and you’re ready for Hemingway-level wine appreciation, we’re here to help. Check out our beginner’s guide to choosing the best red wine for you.
First things first: What are the types of wine out there?
You might just think there’s red, white, and, if you’re feeling indecisive and/or especially summery, rosé.
As for red wine, you might assume that all reds are similar and pair perfectly with a romantic night complete with spaghetti, candlelight, and maybe even a red-and-white checkered tablecloth.
We hate to break it to you, but there’s actually 9 types of wine out there. (Don’t worry—a lot of them do go well with a date at a cozy Italian restaurant!)
The types of wine can be broken down into:
When you say you like “red wine,” you’re likely referring to numbers 6-8 on the above list.
The red wine basics
Red wine is crafted from red or black grapes; the dark grape skins give red wine its signature ruby or violet color. While white wine can be made from red or white grapes, red wine can only be made from dark-skinned grapes.
There are so many types of red wine available. If you added up all the types of red wine available in the world, there’d be hundreds. Red wine is known for its variety and its ability to be paired with stronger flavors in food.
Red wine is also known for having more tannins than white wine. Tannins are natural polyphenols found in fruit skins. Grape skins, seeds, and stems, as well as oak barrels, release these tannins into the wine. If a wine is aged for a longer period of time, it will taste more tannic, or drier and astringent.
The spectrum of red wine
Light-bodied red wine
Light-bodied red wines are paler in color. When poured into a glass, you can typically see through the liquid. They are also less tannic and tend to have a fruitier taste.
Light reds go best with simple foods like bread, cheese, and appetizers.
Pinot Noir is a classic light-bodied red wine that’s low in tannins and can pair with almost any type of food.
Medium-bodied red wine
Medium-bodied red wines are a great balance of flavor, acidity, and tannins. They’re darker in color than light reds and are a bit more viscous.
Merlot and Zinfandel are medium-bodied reds that pair well with pasta, pizza, and roasted vegetables. You might want a medium-bodied red for that date night with the spaghetti and checkered tablecloth!
Full-bodied red wine
Full-bodied red wines are dark in color and are often totally opaque when poured into a glass. They’re the most vicious, which gives them their “full body” mouthfeel. Full-bodied reds also have the most tannins.
They pair best with rich meats like steak and barbecue.
Syrah, Malbec, and Cabernet Sauvignon are wonderful examples of full-bodied reds.
Red wine flavor notes
Have you ever felt totally stumped when someone asks you what notes a wine has? Never fear! When you’re tasting a wine, that wine’s “notes” include qualities about its aroma, flavor, and texture.
Knowing if a wine is light or full-bodied will help you identify its texture and mouthfeel. As for aroma and flavor, here are some traditional red wine notes to keep in mind:
Of course, it’s rare that red wine will taste exactly like the Starbucks you had earlier. These are just notes, after all! Simply keep your mind open and pay attention to any aromas or flavors you particularly like or don’t like.
If you like a wine that evokes cranberries and rose, you might like a lighter-bodied red. Or you might discover that you’re into a jammy flavor with peppery notes, you could be more into full-bodied reds.
Tasting tips for beginners
When you’re trying to learn what you really like, it’s recommended to try varietals. Tasting a single-varietal wine ensures that you’re just drinking one type of wine as opposed to a red blend.
Keep in mind that American wineries can blend up to 25% of another grape variety into a wine. This means that you may think you’re trying a Cabernet Sauvignon, when it could be made up of 25% Merlot. This may be a lovely wine, but it won’t give you a clear insight you can get when tasting a single varietal.
If you’re not sure where to start, try a Pinor Noir. It’s lighter, less viscous, and less tannic, which can make it more beginner-friendly. We recommend the Plunder California Pinot Noir has notes of blackberry, cola, and sandalwood. It’s one of our best sellers for a reason.
Once you’ve chosen your red wine, it’s time to drink! Don’t put it in the fridge; red wine should never be chilled.
When you’re ready to open the bottle, let it breathe for about fifteen minutes after uncorking it. This exposure to air helps the wine open up and unfold its full flavor profile. You can also use an aerator or decanter.
Now it’s time for the fun part. Pour yourself a glass and give it a swirl. This helps release the aroma and gives you a better opportunity to take in the “bouquet,” or aroma. Notice any notes of cinnamon or leather? Good for you!
Take a sip and swish it around in your mouth before you swallow. Observe the flavor, acidity, tannin levels, and mouthfeel. If you’re a super dedicated red wine student, you might want to take notes of what qualities you like about the wine and what you don’t. This will help you figure out what you love!
Now that you know a bit more about wine, we hope you can take Hemingway’s words to heart and truly appreciate your next glass of red.
Ready to pick your next bottle? Check out our selection of red wine and maybe even create your own personalized label.