When someone is tip-toeing into the wine world, the storyline often goes something like this. There’s an initial rush to sweet, welcoming white wines… maybe a Moscato or German Riesling, then they venture out a bit more and run into a rosé or easy going, low tannin red preferably with a bite of food. Their curiosity is piqued and they realize that red wines handle well with many of their favorite dishes, so they scout for good introductory red wines – not too heavy, not too dry, not too expensive, but just right. This is where the red wine hunt gets hairy.
Good Red Wines for Beginners
Opt for a young tannic Cabernet Sauvignon that needs a moment or two to chill out and first impressions print the palate with stronger wine profiles that may be a bit abrasive to the red wine beginner. So where is a would-be wine fan supposed to start down the red wine road? Hands down, the best red wine to woo the newbie oenophile is the well-priced, subtle spice and silky structure of Spain’s Tempranillo.
Next up, would be a fruit-driven Australian Shiraz and then the friendly plum and pepper profile of California’s Zinfandel (not to be confused with White Zin, a pseudo cousin). Have a few more pennies to spend on the red wine introductions? Then take a spin with Pinot Noir, an elegant light to medium-bodied red with fairly forward fruit to tannin ratios and exceptionally food friendly.
Good Grapes for Red Wine Introductions
This delicious Spanish grape comes in three pricing categories: Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva. Opt for the entry-level Crianza (on the label) and pay often less than $12 for the Tempranillo meet and greet. Expect higher acid profiles and lighter alcohol levels, making Tempranillo a remarkably food-friendly wine option. Ripe red fruit, rustic nuances, and often a bit of herb and even leather-like components find their way into Tempranillo.Rioja and Ribera del Duero are the dominate Spanish wine regions for this delicious grape.
Also called Syrah (especially in France), this particular red wine grape creates ripe wines that lean heavily on red and black fruit flavors (think blackberry, blueberry, and raspberry), with a dense, jammy character when grown in the warmer regions of Australia (and California). Expect a full-body and rich flavor profiles with a propensity to pair well with all sorts of red meat finds.
Producers to look for: d’Arenberg, Greg Norman, Jam Jar, Layer Cake, Lindemans, Penfolds, Shoofly, Yalumba
Thought to be originally from Croatia, the Zinfandel grape has found solid roots in California’s warm, sunny climate. Juicy dark fruit, spicy splashes of pepper and tobacco leaves carry a medium to full bodied red wine. Perfect for pairing with the real deal barbecue, Zinfandel fans find delight in the wines easy-going attitude and fruit forward nature.
Producers to scout: Gnarley Head, Ravenswood, Ironstone, 7 Deadly Zins
An often elegant red wine grape that goes easy on the alcohol and tannin levels with precise fruit and finicky growing habits. Pinot Noir is one of the most versatile red wines around and woos red wine newbies with a lighter-bodied styles and red fruit flavor profiles at the entry-level price points. However, Pinot Noir makes some of the world’s most elegant and complex wines as seen in Burgundy, Oregon and California.
Entry-level Pinot Producers to Find: Cono Sur, Cupcake, Hahn Estates, Mark West, Mirassou
Are Red Wines Really Good for the Heart?
This is often the second question that comes up after someone decides to venture headfirst into the world of red wine. Is there really any health benefit to the new found red wine? Yes, in moderation, red wine may offer some protective benefits in terms of heart health, helping to quell inflammation, and may help decrease insulin levels. Curious to know more? Check out the studies for yourself here.
By Stacy Slinkard, Wine About