For anyone new to wine, the sheer variety of grapes can seem confusing and even a little daunting. This is particularly so when it comes to red wine.

If you don’t know your Zinfandel from your Sangiovese, you’re not alone. There are some 350 different grape varieties that can be used in making red wine. To help you out, here’s our quick guide to the most popular and well-known.

Cabernet Sauvignon

When people talk about red wine, this is the first grape variety that comes to mind. Widely considered one of the best because it grows in many regions, it is also often blended with other grapes such as merlot.

You’re looking at a full bodied wine here that has the taste of black cherry as well as undertones of pepper and vanilla. The wine is prepared in oak and makes a great accompaniment to fatty and meaty food – ideal, of course, with a high quality, slightly peppered steak.

Merlot

It’s often seen as the poor cousin to Cabernet Sauvignon which is unfortunate and largely undeserved. It’s the kind of grape that offers a good hint of black cherry and plum with undercurrents of cedar, tobacco and vanilla.

A lot depends on where the grape is grown but you should generally expect a smooth, satisfying glass once you choose a quality Merlot. Because it tends to sit firmly in the middle of the red wine spectrum, it goes well with a variety of foods from chicken to red meat – avoid, however, drinking it with overly spicy food.

Pinot Noir

Matured in French oak barrels and with a taste of cranberry and cherry while carrying an undertone of vanilla and cloves, this is a wine grape that delivers subtlety and a refreshingly light colour compared to some of its rivals. If you want a red that actually goes with food such as salmon, this is the perfect choice.

Shiraz

Shiraz or Syrah produces a dark red wine and, if you want full-bodied, this is a pretty good option. You’ll get the taste of berries as well as tobacco and pepper all of which makes it a great accompaniment to meat.

There are quite a few myths surrounding Shiraz, most of which should be taken with a pinch of salt. It’s certainly a grape, however, that has taken well to a variety of soil and climate conditions around the world including Australia and the US.

Zinfandel

A fruity grape that delivers a light coloured wine, once you sip a good Zinfandel you should get a whole host of flavours including jam, plum, black pepper and liquorice. Light bodied but bold means this is the perfect wine to drink with spicy foods such as curries. It generally has a higher alcohol content than other grape varieties.

Grenache

Not a mainstream grape in any sense, Grenache is often associated with high end wines such as Châteauneuf-du-Pape. You’ll get a hint of strawberry and black cherry as well as undercurrents of citrus rind and cinnamon. While it has quite a light colour, it’s considered a medium bodied wine that goes well with spiced food as well as the traditional Sunday roast.

Malbec

If you want a wine that has a smoky finish and you’re on a budget, Malbec is a great choice and goes well with any lean meat. If you also like your cheese at the end of the meal, make sure you save some of your wine as it goes particularly well with varieties such as Stilton and Bleuchâtel.

Sangiovese

Mostly associated with Italy, it produces a broad range of wines that have their own individual taste, much depending on where the vineyard is located and the weather conditions. A slightly tart cherry taste it comes with various undercurrents ranging from tobacco and roasted pepper to oregano and thyme. While it’s a medium bodied wine, you’ll find a delightful variation in flavours and it’s a good all-rounder for red meats and herby meals.

 

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