EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT RED WINE
A VISUAL GUIDE TO RED WINE
WRITTEN BY M. COLE CHILTON
French wine tastes horrible until it tastes perfect, and it only tastes “ok” if you spend more than $20.
Beaujolais is secretly a region within Burgundy that uses Gamey grapes to make wine that tastes like pomegranates and cranberries. Beaujolais “Nouveau” is horrible. Otherwise, think of it as Burgundy that doesn’t need aging.
You get what you pay for in Bordeaux, and it is mostly Merlot grapes with Cabernet Sauvignon grapes incorporated only to make the wine appear fancier.
That being said, all Burgundy sucks because it is light.
Burgundy, or if you want to ignore 4 billion years of geological evolution, “French Pinot Noir” is classified acre by acre to help represent how the land affects the wine. Burgundy is unique and compelling if it comes from a single
vineyard, and it will generally suck if the grapes come from all over the region and the bottle is labeled as just “Burgundy” or “Bourgogne.” Each village in Burgundy tastes different. Wine from vineyards classified as Premier Cru or
“ler” will be great, and wine from Grand Cru vineyards can be life-changing.
The Cotes-du-Rhone is a huge region that blends Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre grapes to make crappy wine that tastes like dark berries sprinkled with topsoil. The more you spend, the darker and fuller it will be. Cotes-du-Rhone
wines only get serious if you see “Villages” and/or the name of a specific village on the label, e.g., Valreas or Chateauneuf-du-Pape.
The south and southwest of France are a mashup of the Rhone and Bordeaux in both grape choice and final flavor. Closer to Bordeaux wines tastes more like Bordeaux. Closer to the Rhone wines tastes more like Cotes du Rhone.
The Loire: is too good to discuss here. “Good” means light, nuanced, and smells like things you shouldn’t put in your mouth. The Loire loves Cabernet Franc, and every Cabernet Franc tastes like a smarmy, monocled grasshopper is
swimming in your glass.
Oregon wines are slightly fuller and fruitier versions of their European counterparts.
Oregon, like New Zealand, could soon overtake France.
Oregon’s expensive wines are amazing values, but Oregon’s cheap wines are a waste of money.
Red wine does not pair with blue cheese, chocolate, or fish, and rarely does it pair with spice.
You don’t serve it cold, hot, or room temperature; you serve it cool or “air conditioned room temperature.”
All red wine is dry and grapes are the only ingredient no matter how “sweet” the description sounds (i.e., it might smell like cinnamon, berries, and caramel, but it is still dry and made with nothing but grapes).
All else equal, the more sunshine on the vine, the fuller and fruitier the resulting wine.
Washington reds taste like a cross between French wines and Australian wines.
Red Mountain has America’s best “terroir.”
New York reds taste like fish, and one day will be lauded for this.
Woe to the man who underestimates Idaho.
Chocolate, green peppercorns, and roasted vanilla beans.
Carmenere is the long-lost grape of Bordeaux, and it can makes wines as good as anything in Bordeaux if done well.
Napa Valley makes overpriced wine that tastes like dessert.
California Pinot Noir ALWAYS tastes like cooked/stewed/or preserved fruit.
All Australian red wines are fruity, but each great Australian red wine is fruity in its own, intriguing way.
The farther west and the farther south you go, the more complex the wines get. This includes Tasmania.
The more you pay for it, the greater the depth of flavor it will have, and the deeper the breath you will have to take after tasting it.
$17-$25 is the sweet spot for “value.” Cheaper and it is party wine. More expensive and it is for braggarts and experts.
Malbec grapes are always chuggable, but the longer they spend in oak, the more robust they will be.
Bonarda grapes taste like tart red fruits.
Good Israeli reds smell like they were aged under an active volcano.
Anything not produced by a cooperative has the possibility of being amazing.
Portuguese reds often taste like Ports vinified to dry perfection.
AUSTRIA AND GERMANY
Saint Laurent grapes taste like red fruits and dried meats.
Blaufrankisch is fruity, but with notes of herbs, spices, and underbrush.
Blauburgunder, Spatburgunder: other names for Pinot Noir.
Zweigelt tastes like cherries and spices.
South African red wine tastes smokey, and if it is made from Pinotage grapes, it will taste like a smokey, peaty Scotch.
Spain worships oak barrels.
Spain is too sunny to make horrible wine.
Rioja is a place in Spain that uses Tempranillo grapes to make wine that tastes like cherries and beer burp tempered by the aforementioned designations of oak.
Wine gets weird in Bierzo. Rust, herbs, and smokey flint are not unusual tasting notes in the aroma of wines of Spain’s northwest.
Spain’s geologic and geographic circumstances force its vines to produce astoundingly low yields per vine: lower yields mean more concentrated flavors!
The Priorat exudes jammy fruits, hot spices, crushed stones, and graphite. It is expensive, opulent food wine.
Terra Alta and Montsant are basically Priorat without the hype.
Italian wine is all about nuance. Within this ocean of cherries, each appellation, vineyard, and bottle presents its cherries differently.
The cherries can be baked, fresh, or raisined...covered in chocolate, herbs, or wood...or even buried under stones, sand, and tar pits!
The Zen of Italian red wine is how every bottle simultaneously tastes exactly alike and completely different.
Chianti is made from Sangiovese grapes grown in a
region of Tuscany called “Chianti.” Think sour cherries.
Barbera d’Asti v. Barbera d’Alba: Barbera is a grape. Asti and Alba are towns, “d’” means “from” Barbera grown in either town taste like bright, mouthwatering cherries.
Italian red wine tastes like cherries. All else equal, Italian red will be lighter-bodied the farther north the vines are grown, fuller-bodied the farther south the vines are grown, and fuller-bodied the more you spend. What grape it’s made
with rarely changes these trends.
Reds from the “Toe of the Boot” smells like cherry potpourri.
Montepulciano is a grape. Abruzzo is a place. Montepulciano d’Abruzzo means both “Montepulciano grapes from Abruzzo” or “I want wine to drink with pizza, and I don’t really care if the wine is bad.”
These designations indicate how much time a wine spent in an oak barrel: Joven: no oak. Reserva: lots of oak, lots of aging. Gran Reserva: oaked and aged to the point of absurdity. Crianza: just enough oak to give the wine a scent of
roasted vanilla beans and soft earth. Crianza is the sweet spot.
The Ribera del Duero is a region that tastes like Rioja on steroids.
Primitivo is how you say Zinfandel in the heel of the boot. It tastes like cherry pie filling.
In 25 years, New Zealand might make better wine than France, but the vines need time to mature so most New Zealand wine tastes like a fruitier version of its French counterparts.