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Wine Tasting - Big Bold and Bodacious Reds

 

In the article “Do Try this at Home” we introduced the concept of expanding your choices in wines through exploration of alternate grape varieties that you might enjoy based on your wine profile.  This type of exploration can be fun for the adventuresome, and you may be rewarded with the discovery of a less expensive new favorite.  The world offers thousands of grape varieties and hundreds of thousands of wines – why get stuck in a rut!

The styles of wine to be explored include full, medium, and light bodied white and red wines.  In this article we explore the choices in the category of full bodied red wines.  Perhaps typified by tannin rich Cabernet Sauvignon, this category offers a wide variety of alternatives.  Full-bodied reds are characterized by higher alcohol concentrations (usually greater than 14%), intense fruit flavors, deep dark nearly opaque colors, lots of tannins and often a noticeable oak component. When it comes to common aromas from full bodied reds, the general rule applies – dark wine, dark fruit - blackberry, black cherry, black raspberry.  Other common aromas include vanilla (from the oak), spice, tobacco, earth, and pepper.




If you are trying to place full bodied reds on the map, think hotter climates, as the grapes need lots of time on the vine to produce the high sugar levels that yield higher percentages of alcohol.

Cabernet Sauvignon – The quintessential full bodied red, Cabernet Sauvignon has universal appeal to vintners, critics, and consumers. The grape produces a high amount of sugars and tannins, which result in ample alcohol and protection against oxidation. This combination usually produces long-lasting, full-bodied wines with rich flavors and textures. Cabernet Sauvignon produces an array of aromas including black currant, black cherry, eucalyptus, cedar, and tobacco. These characteristics made the wine quite food friendly, another reason for its attractiveness.

Syrah – Following closely behind Cabernet Sauvignon on the full bodied red wine popularity list is Syrah, or Shiraz as it is known in Australia.   In much of the old world, Syrah is used in red blends, its largesse often softened by its blending partners.  However, in Australia, and much of California, Syrah frequently stands by itself, yielding full-bodied wines full of fruit and aromas of black pepper, dark berries, chocolate, violets and espresso.

Zinfandel – The last of the more common grape varieties that can be vinified into big reds is Zinfandel.  Here however, the influence of the growing region and vintner can play a significant role in the outcome, and not all Zinfandels would make the full bodied red list.  Zinfandel is usually a robust red wine with an abundance of juicy fruit characteristics. Sometimes more extracted styles are referred to as “jammy”, with a powerful and rich texture. The high concentration of sugars, especially in warmer areas which achieve maximum ripeness, often leads alcohol levels to climb above 15%. If not properly balanced with acidity and the usually medium to high tannins, the wine may be off-putting. But when balance is struck, the overly fruity characteristics of raspberry and blackberry are intertwined with black pepper, anise, and spice notes

Nebbiolo - Its color is quite unique, exhibiting an almost orange shade near its peripheries. The body is quite dark, sometimes described as blackish ruby. Nebbiolos also exude a powerful and aromatic perfume, filled with floral components of roses and violets, earthy tones of forest and smoke, and dark fruits. The wine contains a relatively high amount of acidity, which helps lengthy maturation. In fact, some argue that traditional Barolo and Barbaresco wines should not be consumed for at least ten years after bottling - just another emphatic part of the grape's individuality.  Delicious wines, but don't expect to save any money here.

Negroamaro – A somewhat lesser known grape variety from the Apulia region of Italy, Negroamaro has become increasingly popular in recent times as wine consumers look for big, fruit filled reds without the big price tag. Negroamaro fits the bill. Negroamaro is a very dark wine that for years was used as a blending wine to add color to wines from Northern Italy. Only in the last several decades has Negroamaro emerged on its own – the result of a handful of local vintners focusing on producing high quality single variety wine.

Nero d'Avola – The “black grape of Avola (Sicily)” this Italian red grape produces an affordable rich, full bodied red wine.  Pronounced "Neh-roe Dah-voe-lah", and known locally as Calabrese, this grape is often characterized aromas of perfume, dark berries, and licorice.  Very intense, this wine can need some time in the bottle before consuming.

Carmenere – With roots in France, Carmenere has come into its own as a single variety wine in Chile. The South American contingent has shown that the grape can make fine red wine, with some understandable similarities to the prominent Bordeaux grapes Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Many wines display a roundness usually equated to Merlot with cedar and berry aromas attributed to Cabernet Sauvignon. Yet there also seems to be a spice component to many Chilean Carmeneres and many display softer tannins as well.

Mourvedre – Best known as the “M” in Rhone GSM blends (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre) this grape variety can be challenging to find as a single variety.  Native to Spain, where it is known as Monastrell, Mourvedre (moor-VEHD-rah) Mourvedre is known for intense colors and resulting high tannins along with high alcohol from the warm climates where it is grown.

Malbec – Malbec is a purple grape variety used to make very dark (think ink) red wine.  The wine's profile is markedly different depending on its origins.  French Malbecs, specifically those from Cahors, tend to be bigger more powerful reds, rich with tannins and earthly aromas including tobacco and garlic.  Argentine Malbecs however, have a longer growing season and “hang time” allowing the tannins in the grapes to soften before harvest.  Fruit flavors are more pronounced, and acidity levels slightly higher, producing a lighter, fresher mouth feel than their French counterparts.

Touriga Nacional – Known best for its role in fortified wine from Portugal, Touriga Nacional when vinified as a single variety still wine can produce very aromatic wines, high in alcohol content and rich with tannins.

Tempranillo – In Spain, Tempranillo is usually associated with savory characteristics such as leather or tobacco leaves, although it can display aromas of chocolate, currants, prunes, or strawberries. Those aspects result in vintners using oak barrels to age the wine, adding the woody aspects oak can lend to the wine. In Rioja the grape is used as the backbone to their famous blends while in neighboring Ribera del Duero it is bottled by itself, due to the region's ability to make deeply concentrated offerings

Tannat – Want to go way out on the experimentation limb?  Your fist challenge may be to find a single variety Tannat as it is used primarily for blending.  Single variety still wines are produced in France, Uruguay, and on a limited basis in the United States.  Tannat as you might guess is very tannic, nearly black in color, and has aromas that can include smoke, plum, tobacco, and ripe berries.  This intense wine needs an equally strong partner in food pairings – think roasted meats, sausages and strong aged cheeses.

Barbera – Barbera is an Italian wine made from grape of same name.  A common grape variety in Italy, styles range from medium to full bodied.

As you experiment with these new wines, remember that the most important element of your wine profile is that you enjoy the wine! As your tastes become more focused by finding a wine you like, then explore wines that are similar in smell, taste, feel and price.

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