Red Wine

Friday, 14 November 2008 | Tags:

The innate complexities and sophisticated structures of red wine create a wide variety of tastes and aromas. Since wine can change the way your food tastes, and vice versa, we learn more about how to enjoy red wine to the fullest.

The Basics

  • In North America, red wines are named for their grape varietal:

    • Cabernet Sauvignon is a thick-skinned grape with lots of tannin, a full body and big structure. With blackcurrant overtones, this wine is excellent with red meat, especially roast beef. Avoid pairing with tomatoes and fish.

    • Merlot, with the deep colour and smooth taste of black cherries, is often higher in alcohol than other grapes. Good with simply prepared red meat and lamb, it sometimes has a hint of mint. Avoid pairing with sweets.

    • Nebbiolo is high in tannin and acid and should be aged before consumption. It’s mainly grown in the Piedmont region of Italy.

    • Pinot Noir is a fussy grape producing the largest range of flavour and quality. The best have an almost silky quality and the aroma of truffles and decaying leaves. It’s lighter in colour than Cabernet and Merlot and pairs well with subtly seasoned salmon, chicken, ham and lamb dishes. Avoid pairing with spicy foods.

    • Syrah/shiraz is a deep-coloured, full-bodied, rich, bold, and spicy wine with lots of tannin. The flavour sweetness of blackberries is best paired with peppered meats, stews, sausage, and BBQ. Avoid fish.

    • Tempranillo is a popular, lower alcohol Spanish wine that tastes of strawberries and plums.

    • Zinfandel ranges from light and fruity to bold and spicy. Californian Zins are enjoying a lot of popularity.vGamay is from the Beaujolais district of France, is lower in tannin, and tastes distinctly of grapes.

  • In Europe, wines are labelled according to their region. Some popular European examples include:

    • Barolo, from Italy, is made from Nebbiolo grapes.

    • Beaujolais, from France, is made from Gamay grapes.

    • Bordeaux, from France, is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc grapes.

    • Burgundy, from France, is made from Pinot Noir grapes.

    • Château Nuf du Pape, from France, is a blend of Grenache, Mourvèrdre and Syrah grape varieties.

    • Port, from Spain, uses a variety of grapes, including: Tinta Borroca, Tinta Roriz, Tinto Cão.

  • Don’t be concerned with aging your wine at home. 98% of wines are already aged and ready for drinking when they hit the stores.

  • “Estate wine” means that the company that grew the grapes also bottled the wine.

  • “Reserve” on North American wines is pretty meaningless. On Italian and Spanish wines however, it means the wine was extra-aged before release.

Other Considerations

  • At your local wine store, look at the information cards often attached to each type of wine to learn about its vintage (the year the grapes were picked), characteristics, and what food goes best with it.

  • If you find a wine you really like, consider purchasing an entire case, and ask for a discount. Some retailers give up to 20% off when you buy in bulk.


We recruited a book club to help us test a selection of the popular and bold-flavoured Shiraz variety:

  • Ernest & Julio Gallo (California): $8.99
  • Yellowtail (Australia): $12.99
  • Cline Syrah (U.S.): $19.99
  • Mission Hill Reserve (Canada): $21.99
  • Les Meysonniers (Hermitage Region, France): $27.90
  • Rosemount Estate Balmoral (Australia): $69.99

Taste Test

  • The two Australian wines, Yellowtail and Rosemount Estate, were the most popular for their rich and bold flavour. Both were fruity, smooth and full-bodied.

  • A narrow victory put the Rosemount as the favourite until the price was revealed.


With so many red wines out there, the small selection we sampled is just the tip of the iceberg. Of the Shiraz wines we tasted, we enjoyed the fruity Yellowtail, both for its rich, bold flavour, and its price.


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