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A Newbie’s Starter Guide to Red Wine

A Newbie’s Starter Guide to Red Wine

Don't know much about red wine and too embarrassed to ask? We've got the answers to all your red wine questions - from the basics, to styles, varietals and food pairings. When the weather cools down, red wine is just the ticket.

The basics: grapes and styles

Red wine. If you’re reading about it, you’ve no doubt had a sip or two before. But for those new(ish) to dipping their tastebuds into a glass of red, you’d be forgiven for saying, “It all tastes the same to me.”

The thing is, you’re not far wrong on that count. While the actual taste differs depending on variety (we’ll get to that to that in a sec) and region, most red wines are made from mutations of the same grape species - Vitis Vinifera – including many of the ones you’ve heard of like merlot, cab sauv and pinot noir.

Okay, so it’s all the same grape (kind of), so what makes them all so different? Well, generally, there are four styles that red wine falls into: sparkling, light-bodied, medium-bodied and full-bodied. ‘Body’ is all about how it feels in the mouth. A wine gets its body from the amount of alcohol present in it.

If you’re not familiar with red wine, full-bodied reds are probably what come to mind when you think of the drink. This means the alcohol content is over 13.5% and is what gives it that heavier and fuller feeling in our mouths. Shiraz, syrah, merlot, cabernet, zinfandel and malbec usually fall into this category.

But of course, these aren’t the only reds to enjoy. If something lighter is more your speed, at the other end of the spectrum are wines under 12.5% in alcohol (most whites are in this category), a common choice is pinot noir and gamay. In between light and full (more than 12.5% but less than 13.5%), you’ve got your medium-bodied reds, where grenache and sangiovese usually sit.

In terms of sparkling, there are popular styles like the frizzante – lightly sparkling – and sweet Italian Lambrusco and sparkling shiraz from South Australia’s winemaking regions, which has been getting quite the rep in recent years, particular those from South Australia and Victoria. Some of our favourites include Andrew Garrett Sparkling Shiraz and Seppelt Original Sparkling Shiraz.

What’s the deal with varietals?

A varietal is a wine made from a specific grape variety – which is usually what you read on the label. Varietals from different regions differ in taste due to the effect of local climate, soil and winemaking practices. Here’s a speedy tasting guide to the most common red wines:

Cabernet Sauvignon

Full-bodied with noticeable tannins (dry and tart taste) and acidity. Usually has blackcurrant and peppery notes.
Drink it with a mushroom burger and chips.
Try Taylors Estate Cabernet Sauvignon.

Malbec

Smooth and full-bodied, an Argentinian favourite, berry flavours and smells a bit like chocolate or coffee.
Drink it with a lamb souva.
Try Tilia Malbec.

Merlot

Medium to full-bodied depending on climate, raspberry and plum flavours.
Drink it with Berbere chicken.
Try Jamieson’s Run Merlot.

Pinot Noir

Light-bodied, paler in colour, cranberry flavours and rose aromas. A good starter red wine for newbies.
Drink it with a mushroom-topped pizza.
Try St Huberts Stag Pinot Noir.

Shiraz/Syrah

In Australia, shiraz is a more common name than syrah, though they are the same grape variety. Full-bodied shiraz is a bit spicy, and tastes of blackberries and cloves. Lighter-bodied shiraz is more savoury.
Drink it with a peppercorn steak.
Try Ingolby McLaren Vale Shiraz.

Tempranillo

The key grape variety in the Spanish classic style Rioja which is growing in popularity in Australia. Medium-bodied, it has bold flavours of blackcurrant and plum fruits.
Drink it with tapas like chorizo or albondingas.
Try Brown Brothers 18EN Tempranillo.