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Beginner's Guide to Red Wine

Beginners Guide to Red Wine

It is easy to fall in love with wine. In fact, people have been doing it for thousands of years. The first wines were made in China almost 9000 years ago from a mixture of grapes and rice, and humans have been infatuated since then. Ancient Greeks even had a god of wine (Dionysus), and even Benjamin Franklin had an infamous wine collection. Wine makes appearances throughout history, but it also just tastes great.

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Table of Contents

Red wine is a world unto itself. It can be sweet and approachable – even incorporated into mixed drinks like Sangria or a Kalimotxo. On the other end of the spectrum lies robust, complex wines that can be velvety smooth or mouth dryingly tannic.

When made by a quality producer, red wines can tell the history of the land and families that create them. Heritage, immigration, drought, and more all show up in the flavor of a finished wine. The beauty of wine is that there is always more to learn and a greater depth at which it can be appreciated. 

With such a range of wines available, where do you start when you want to start learning?

How is Red Wine Made?

Most Red Wines are made following the same general process. A skilled winemaker can make adjustments to this process or add and remove steps to influence the finished product.

Step 1: Press Grapes

While wine can be made from just about any fruit, the overwhelming majority of quality wines are made from grapes. Winemakers crush grapes to extract the grape juice. Red wine gets its color from leaving the grape juice in contact with the skins and stems of the grape plant. This process is called maceration, and the winemaker may vary the amount of time the juice macerates to influence the flavor in a number of ways.

Step 2: Ferment Grape Juice

Fermentation is the process of allowing yeast to eat the sugars in the grape juice. When yeast eats these sugars, they produce alcohol as a byproduct. Sometimes, a bit of the naturally occurring sugar is left in the wine, adding to the sweetness and body.

Step 3:  Age in Cask (Optional)

Some winemakers choose to age their wines in casks. While this is common for red wines, many white wines skip this process. Cask aging allows the wine to absorb some of the wood’s flavors (often oak and tannin), resulting in a fuller-bodied wine. This wood flavor can also be expressed as vanilla, spice, and clove.

Step 4: Filter & Bottle

Once the wine has been fermented (and aged if necessary), it is then filtered and bottled. At this stage, the winemaker will make final modifications, such as adding sugar or sulfites to the wine. The bottle is stopped with either a cork or screw top and then labeled. Many wines are drinkable immediately after this! Some reds are intended to be stored in a cellar, allowing the wine to mature in the bottle for several years before they’re ready to be drunk.

Of course, this process has many nuances. Winemakers have many ways to control the outcome through every stage of the process. From the way the grapevines are pruned at the beginning to the final treatment of the wine before it’s bottled, every action impacts the wine.

Where is Red Wine Made?

Red wine is currently produced all over the world, but different regions have become known for certain types of wine. North America, South America, Europe, and Australia all have notable red wine-growing regions. 

The climate of each location allows that area to excel at growing certain types of grapes. For example, the dryer, hotter climate of Napa Valley in northern California is well known for producing complex reds made from the Cabernet Sauvignon grape. The more mild climate of Oregon’s Willamette Valley has allowed softer, lighter-bodied wines made from Pinot Noir grapes to be successful.

Wine-producing regions become synonymous with the specific types of wine produced there. The term “Bordeaux” refers to the Bordeaux region of France and world-famous red blends made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and other red grapes. Learning about the locations where red wines are made can help you better understand many different aspects of wine.

Red Wine Grapes

How to Serve Red Wine

Serving red wine correctly is crucial to enjoying the full experience that a quality wine has to offer. The temperature of the wine, the shape of the glass, and how long the wine has been opened all influence whether or not you’re able to pick up on the more delicate qualities of the wine. Even among different types of red wines, there may be slight variations in how each of these is controlled. For example, light-bodied red wines like Pinot Noir are served a bit colder (55˚- 60˚F) than a full-bodied wine like Tannat (65˚F). While we’ll discuss a few of these differences in the sections below, we’ll also lay out the general rules of thumb to remember so that you can be successful with just about any bottle you open.

 

Should red wine be served at room temperature? We talked to several expert sommeliers on this topic since it’s one widely circulated piece of (mis)information about red wines.

 

Matt Woodburn-Simmonds, a head sommelier at a Michelin starred restaurant and one of the founders of homecoffeeexpert.com shares a bit more information about this:

 

” There’s a tendency to serve red wine too warm. Reds should be served at ‘room temperature’ but not what we think of room temperature now. Most reds should be served between 64-68F (18-20C) with pinot noir benefitting from being served slightly cooler at 61F (16C). If the wine is too warm the alcohol taste will be overly pronounced, spoiling the wine.”

Many of our sommeliers also mentioned the importance of letting a wine “breathe”. Most red wines benefit from having contact with the air prior to drinking. You can use an aerator, decanter, or even just open the bottle about 30 minutes before serving the wine. This lets the flavor and aromas of the wine open up and easier to discern.

Glassware

When it comes to wine, we’re big proponents of drinking it whatever way makes you happy. For many wine drinkers, elegant stemware is part of the experience of enjoying wine. Red wine glasses tend to have a larger bowl than white glasses, exposing more of the wine’s surface area to the air. This allows more wine to evaporate and the subtle aromatic qualities to be distinguished as you smell the glass. 

Stem vs. Stemless Wine Glasses

Wine glasses fall into two general categories: stemmed and stemless. Stemmed glasses are likely what you think of when you picture a traditional wine glass. The bowl sits atop a pedestal that allows your hand to be positioned away from the wine itself. This prevents your body heat from warming the wine as you drink it. These glasses make for the best drinking experience, but they’re delicate. As a result, many people prefer stemless glasses. People who have children or pets often opt for a stemless glass with less chance of being knocked over. These glasses are also an excellent option for parties where they’re prone to being bumped throughout the evening. 

Varietal Specific Glasses

Varietal-specific glasses are designed for the unique properties that wines have when made from different grape varietals. For example, wine made from the Pinot Noir grape has a different shaped glass than wine made from the Cabernet Sauvignon grape. Varietal-specific glassware is not essential by any means but can make a noticeable difference in the smell and flavor of a wine

Wine glass diagram

For the Love of Wine

This article was just a brief introduction to the vast world of red wine. It can take a lifetime of learning to truly master the knowledge of wine, but the learning process sure is fun. Each section above deserves its own deep dive that breaks down the subject and completely covers it. Sign up for our email list at the bottom of this page to be notified when new wine articles are released! In the meantime, we hope you enjoy some of the other wine info we have to offer.

 

 

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