the ultimate red wine guide: mastering pairing, storing and serving

Red wine, a timeless beverage steeped in history and bursting with flavour, is more than just a drink. But where do you begin when faced with a seemingly endless array of bottles? Fear not, fellow wine explorer! We're here to guide you through the wonderful world of red, from the basics to the bold.

HOW IS red WINE MADE?

It all starts with the grapes, carefully picked at peak ripeness.

The juicy grapes are gently de-stemmed and crushed, releasing their vibrant pulp and precious juice.

Skins infuse the juice with colour, tannins, and flavour compounds.

The skins are gently pressed, separating the precious liquid gold – the young wine.

Fermentation is the heart and soul of red winemaking. The yeast transform sugars into alcohol and release carbon dioxide.

During the malolactic fermentation, another set of bacteria converts harsh malic acid (think green apple) into softer lactic acid (think creamy yogurt). This adds smoothness and complexity to the wine.

Some red wines spend time maturing in oak barrels to add complexity, structure, and ageability to the final product. New barrels impart more intense oak character, while used barrels offer softer, more subtle influences. Young, fruit-forward reds might see minimal barrel time, while powerful wines like Barolo can slumber for years.

  • Bordeaux, France

    The undisputed king of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blends, Bordeaux offers everything from bold, age-worthy First Growths to charming village wines.

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  • Tuscany, Italy

    Sangiovese reigns supreme here, bringing the magic of Chianti Classico and the Super Tuscan blends. Think vibrant acidity, earthy complexity, and food-friendly charm.

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  • Mendoza, Argentina

    Malbec's kingdom awaits! Imagine juicy, jammy wines with velvety tannins, perfect for those who like their reds rich and expressive.

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  • Rioja, Spain

    Tempranillo takes center stage in Rioja, offering full-bodied wines with notes of spice, leather, and black fruit. Look for Crianza, Reserva, and Gran Reserva styles for different aging expressions.

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  • California, USA

    From the Napa Valley's iconic Cabernet Sauvignons to the Zinfandel magic of Sonoma, California is a red wine playground. Explore bold fruit-forward styles and age-worthy complexity.

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food pairing

Salads

Light-bodied reds: Think Pinot Noir or Gamay. Opt for salads with berries, goat cheese, or grilled chicken for a harmonious match.

Medium-bodied reds: Sangiovese or Merlot can work well with salads containing heavier dressings, roasted vegetables, or grilled meats.

Sauces

Tomato-based sauces: Sangiovese's acidity cuts through the richness, making it ideal for pasta with marinara or pizza.

Creamy sauces: Consider lighter-bodied reds like Pinot Noir or Gamay to avoid clashing with the creaminess.

Spicy sauces: Embrace bold reds like Zinfandel or Syrah to stand up to the heat and complement spices like chipotle or black pepper.

Beef

Grilled steak: Cabernet Sauvignon's boldness pairs well with grilled steak, especially with chimichurri or peppercorn sauces.

Beef stew: Merlot's smooth tannins and dark fruit notes complement the richness of stews like bourguignon.

Ground beef: Sangiovese or Barbera add acidity and cut through the richness of burgers or pasta Bolognese.

Chicken

Roasted chicken: Pinot Noir's delicate fruitiness complements the flavors of roasted chicken, especially with herbs like rosemary or thyme.

Grilled chicken: Gamay's light body and acidity pair well with grilled chicken with lighter sauces or marinades.

Chicken piccata: Choose a medium-bodied red like Barbera or Chianti for its acidity to balance the lemon sauce and capers.

Seafood

Salmon: Pinot Noir's delicate fruitiness enhances the flavors of grilled or roasted salmon, especially with creamy sauces.

Tuna: Grenache or Syrah's peppery notes complement the richness of grilled or seared tuna steaks.

Shellfish: Consider lighter-bodied reds like Pinot Noir or Gamay for mussels, clams, or shrimp scampi.

Fish

White fish: Opt for light-bodied reds like Pinot Noir or Gamay for delicate whitefish like cod or sole.

Swordfish: Look to medium-bodied reds like Sangiovese or Merlot for their acidity to balance the richer flavour of swordfish.

Salmon: Pinot Noir remains a versatile choice for salmon, regardless of cooking method.

Cheese

Bold wines for bold cheeses: Powerful Cabernet Sauvignons and Malbecs crave equally bold flavours like aged cheddar, Gouda, or Manchego.

Medium-bodied reds for medium cheeses: SangioveseMerlot, and Pinot Noir shine with semi-firm cheeses like Gruyere, Emmental, or Comté.

Light-bodied reds for delicate cheeses: Gamay and Beaujolais complement milder cheeses like brie, chèvre, or mozzarella.

Don't be afraid to go beyond the classics! Some unique pairings to try:

Pecorino Romano with Chianti: The salty, sheep's milk cheese perfectly complements Chianti's acidity and herbal notes.

Brie with Pinot Noir: The creaminess of brie balances the delicate fruitiness of Pinot Noir, making for a smooth and luxurious pairing.

red wine cheat sheet

  • Temperature

    Coolness is key. Aim for a consistent temperature between 10-13°C. Avoid extremes and fluctuations.

  • Light

    Darkness is your friend. Light can damage wine. Store bottles in a dark place, like a cellar or wine fridge.

  • Position

    Keep it horizontal. Lying down keeps the cork moist, preventing it from drying out and letting air in.


  • Vibration

    Vibration is the enemy. Constant movement can stress the wine. Opt for a stable storage location. Avoid storing near appliances or high traffic areas.

  • Light-bodied reds

    E.g., Pinot Noir and Gamay: these wines shine slightly chilled, around 13 to 15°C.

  • Medium-bodied reds

    E.g., Merlot, Sangiovese, and Rioja: aim for a comfortable cellar temperature, around 15 to 18°C.

  • Full-bodied reds

    E.g., Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and Zinfandel: these wines love a bit more warmth. Shoot for 18 to 21°C.

  • Decanting isn't mandatory, but it can enhance your red wine experience.

    Decanting isn't just for fancy occasions. It allows the wine to
    "breathe," softening tannins and releasing aromas.

  • Young, fruit-forward wines: These generally don't require decanting.

    Full-bodied, age-worthy reds: These benefit greatly from decanting. Pour gently into a decanter 30-60 minutes before serving.

  • Sediment?

    No worries: It's natural in aged wines. Tilt the bottle and pour slowly, leaving the sediment behind.