At its very core, red wine is an alcoholic beverage made by fermenting the juice of dark-skinned grapes. Winemakers leave the grape skins to ferment with juice, which imparts not only color but tannins and flavor.
One of the most noticeable characteristics of red wine is its color. From pale ruby to inky purple, every varietal has its own uniquely beautiful red hue. Due to the winemaking process, red wines are also notably higher in tannins than white varietals. These are the compounds that give many red wines their mouth-drying astringency. with some being more tannic than others. Acidity levels, which provide balance for the bitter and tannic components, also vary, with fuller-bodied reds being less acidic than lighter ones.
Another notable characteristic of red wine is its range of flavors. Along with fruity and floral notes, red wines can also feature notes of damp earth, spices, tobacco, and leather.
Types of Red Wine
Let’s start with a quick look at some different types of red wine:
Cabernet Sauvignon is the most planted grape in the world. The full-bodied wine is also one of the most popular reds. It’s high in tannins, acidity, and alcohol content, and it contains notes of dark fruits (black cherry, black currant), baking spices, and cedar.
Zinfandel, a grape popular in California, is a bold red featuring higher tannins and good acidity. It’s also very dark fruit-forward with notes of black currant, black cherry, blackberry, and plum. The prominent fruity flavors (many describe them as “jammy”) give the wine a perceived sweetness when it’s actually fairly dry.
Like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot originated in the Bordeaux region of France. While not as full-bodied as Cabernet Sauvignon, it is drier. It’s also more fruit-forward, with hints of plum and black cherry. Other notes include vanilla, chocolate, and bay leaf.
Chianti is a Sangiovese-dominant wine hailing from Tuscany, Italy. It’s a medium-bodied wine with high acidity and high tannins. While the exact flavors depend on the type of Chianti you’re drinking, the wines do have a few similar tasting notes of red fruits, dried herbs, tobacco, and leather.
Pinot Noir is one of the most popular light-bodied red wines, featuring lower tannins and a decent acidity. A longer finish accentuates the wine’s pleasant red fruit, flower, and spice notes. These traits make it a versatile wine that pairs well with many foods.
Other Red Wines
What to Eat with Red Wine: 5 Classic Red Wine Food Pairing Suggestions
There’s a reason “classic” food and wine pairings have stood the test of time — they work incredibly well together. Here are a few tried-and-true red wine food pairing suggestions sure to please:
1. Cabernet Sauvignon and Steak
It doesn’t get much more classic than a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon alongside a beautifully cooked steak. The tannins, acidity, and alcohol of the wine allow it to slice through the fat content of the meat and keep it from coating your palate. The magic doesn’t stop there, though. The fat in the steak quells the bittern tannin components of Cabernet, smoothing out its taste.
Not sure what cut of steak or preparation method to choose? The beauty of this pairing is that you have plenty of options. You can never go wrong with a grilled ribeye or New York strip. A porterhouse or T-bone steak with a buttery rich béarnaise sauce is an excellent choice, too. If you’re feeling adventurous, try the wine with steak Oscar.
2. Pinot Noir (Burgundy) and Coq au Vin
Traditional wine pairing wisdom would lead you to believe that red wine doesn’t go with poultry (reds with red meat, whites with white), but coq au vin is one of several dishes that show the saying isn’t a hard-and-fast rule. The recipe already calls for a generous pour of red wine in which to braise the meat. Ideally, that wine is a Pinot Noir from Burgundy, as coq au vin originated in the same region. So it makes sense that Pinot Noir from this area would pair alongside it, too.
The wine in the stew isn’t the only reason this classic combination works. Pinot Noir is a light- to medium-bodied wine with fewer tannins and good acidity. Unlike fuller-bodied reds, it won’t overpower the chicken. Mushrooms, a typical ingredient of this hearty stew, bring out the earthier notes of the wine, while the wine’s fruity characteristics provide a freshness that lightens the dish.
In keeping with the “if it grows together, it goes together” theme, another classic pairing with a Pinot Noir from Burgundy is boeuf bourguignon. Typically you might think the heavy beef stew would need a fuller-bodied red wine, but the fruity, earthy notes of the Pinot Noir make this particular wine a perfect choice. However, should you want to go a bit bolder with your wine selection, Merlot works nicely with this delicious stew, too.
3. Zinfandel and Barbecue
For a classic American combination, pour a glass of Zinfandel at your next barbecue. The tannins and dark fruit flavors pair beautifully with grilled meats of all kinds, especially those slathered with a fruitier barbecue sauce.
For a winning combination, drink Zinfandel alongside some saucy ribs. The wine’s tannins and acidity will cut through the meat, leaving you with the oh-so-pleasant blend of fruit, spices, and smoke.
4. Chianti and Spaghetti with Meatballs
The mouthwatering acidity and rustic herbal aromas of Chianti make it an ideal accompaniment to higher-acidity foods, particularly tomato sauce-based ones like spaghetti and meatballs. In addition to matching acid for acid, the herbal notes of the wine match the herbs in the dish. While the tannins would typically dry your mouth, the fat from the meatballs provides the perfect counterbalance.
Chianti would also work well with other tomato-based Italian dishes, including pasta with ragù, spaghetti Bolognese, and lasagna.
5. Port and Stilton
Stilton typically isn’t a cheese for the faint of heart. It’s pungent, funky, and, to many people, a little off-putting. You might think there isn’t a wine in the world that would make this cheese work, but Port would prove otherwise. The incredibly sweet (often cloying on its own), acidic, fortified wine tones down the cheese considerably. At the same time, the cheese reigns in Port's sweetness. Somehow, opposites attract and turn one another into something amazing.
Discover Why Some Red Wine and Food Pairings are Considered “Classic”
There are many types of red wine, each of which pairs well with a variety of dishes. While experimentation is encouraged (you find some incredible matches that way), there’s nothing wrong with sticking with a time-tested combination. Whether you’re dining on your own or sharing a meal with your closest friends, you’re sure to have a dining experience you won’t soon forget.
To find the best red wines for a classic pairing (or to try out some new combinations), visit JJ Buckley Fine Wines today!