There are about 10,000 varieties of wine grapes and, of those, only about three to four dozen are consumed regularly. In this article, we’re going to cover some of the more popular red wine varieties in Australia and abroad, explore how best to buy and store red wines, and offer some beginner advice on decanting and drinking.
Exploring Red Wine Varieties
When you're talking about red wine in particular, the number one sellers would be Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Pinot Noir. These three are followed closely by Merlot, due to it having a bigger audience in the older demographics, then Grenache is also attracting a larger drinking audience.
There are, of course, many other varieties of red wine which are worth exploring when given the opportunity. The wonderful inheritance of different cultures in Australia has resulted in migrants bringing their own favourite wines and grape varities from the old country and sharing them with the rest of the population.
For example, there are a lot of Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and Greek people now living in Australia and drinking their own wine styles. As an example, due to Italian influence, Sangiovese has now become a big player. It’s especially ubiquitous with Italian pizza restaurants. You know that bottle of wine in the basket? That’s often Sangiovese or a blend containing Sangiovese.
With this cultural shift, we get more exposure to older European varieties and wine styles. Such as wines like Rioja, which is either Grenache-based, Tempranillo-based, or a blend depending on where specifically it’s from. As time goes on, the mainstream grapes are still holding their own but the lesser-known varieties are starting to access a larger foothold in the Australian marketplace.
Choosing a red wine is actually a lot simpler than most people think. First, take a glass of wine, see if you like it or don’t like it, and then progress from there.
Every time someone hands you a new glass of wine, try to pinpoint what you like and dislike while drinking it. Next time you’re in a wine bar, try something different, something new, and remember that a specific wine that you may have disliked in the past could have just been a poor wine.
Experiment with different wineries and different vintages. Keep an open mind.
You need to recognise that wine varieties are different depending on where they’re produced and who makes them. You may have disliked a certain wine but may like that same varietal made by someone else. A great example is our friend, Sangiovese. Originally from Tuscany, Sangiovese is famous as the grape that’s used in Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino. Due to our vibrant Italian community in Australia, Sangiovese has planted itself firmly in the Australian wine market.
Sangiovese made in Australia is quite different to Italian Sangiovese. Both are great wines in their own way but Australian Sangiovese is brighter and more approachable at a younger age. So you might prefer Italian Chiantis but not like Australian Sangiovese or vice versa.
Your wine budget can naturally factor as well but, and I hate to say it, once you get past a certain level of budget, wine does tend to get a whole lot better.
Another factor to consider when trying wine is that your own personal taste will likely evolve and shift over the years.
One example that I always like to give is my own experience with oysters. I ate my first oyster when I was eight years old and I hated it. Spat it right out. But, over time, I kept on trying oysters and then, around my 31st birthday, I finally started to really enjoy and appreciate them.
Drinking wine can be the same as eating food where you don’t always like everything on the first go. Sometimes you’ve got to be willing to go back and give a wine another whirl. Give it a go again. Maybe you’ll like it.
Our palates change over time and with that we change what we drink and collect. You may be a dyed in the wool Barossa Shiraz drinker but, as your palate changes, you might find that style too much for your enjoyment.
Sometimes it helps to change your wine choices incrementally, you might try shifting from a warmer climate Shiraz to a cooler climate Shiraz. For example, you might switch out from a Barossa Shiraz to a Canberra Shiraz. Or, of course, you could try changing variety altogether. Maybe enjoy a Pinot Noir or another lighter style red wine like Australian made Cab Franc. You could try a red wine that has only subtle differences with some more tannins or maybe shift from a heavier red to a lighter red and then progress to some more delicate reds. Or even go for something that’s completely contrary to what you’re used to drinking.
The wine world is your oyster. When starting any journey with wine, it doesn’t hurt to have an open mind and try something new.
Try to avoid wine clubs though.
How To Buy Red Wine
I’m a massive supporter of Australian wineries and cellar doors and will happily go to any cellar door but wine clubs are an anathema to me. You go to the cellar door, and you get to pick your first case of wine, which is usually pretty great (because you chose it). But then, as you get your second, third, and fourth case of wine, and you begin to end up with all of their bin-ends, the wine they need to get rid of.
You end up with a cellar full of wines that you don’t want to drink and simply don’t want in general. You wouldn’t have chosen them if you had bought each bottle individually.
Some wineries are wisening up to this and providing more options with their selections but generally wine clubs will just ship you their bin-ends.
I'm not trying to pitch my wares here, but if you’re looking for some kind of service to help expose you to more types of red wine that you’ll actually like, it’s worth looking into offers and plans like those offered by The Right Drop you can mix your own box or our try our wine subscriptions which check to make sure that you don’t get the same wine again and again.
When comparing these types of wine services, it’s important to find out if they allow their customers the chance to explore, discover, and find new things. Don’t just sign up for the first service you see.
Now, after buying some new bottles of wine, you’ll naturally want to try them either by yourself or with some friends and family. There are some things to keep in mind. Especially when drinking red wine in a warm region like Australia.
How To Drink Red Wine
Don’t add ice to your red wine. Just don’t. Find another way to ruin your red wine. Add Coke to it for God’s sake.
With ice and wine, people do this as it’s a really quick way to chill something down on a hot day. I can honestly understand that if it’s a really hot day and you want some red wine that’s been chilled. I get that. But it dilutes the wine greatly and upsets the flavour profile completely.
For instance, if we sat down to drink a bottle of 2010 Grange and you added some ice cubes to your glass, I’d suggest that you’ve never actually tried a 2010 Grange because you’ve never experienced what it actually tastes like.
What can you do to chill your red wine? Place the bottle in an ice bucket. You may even want to do this when you don’t necessarily want an icy or cold wine. Why? Because there’s a huge misconception in Australia about the general recommendation to serve red wines at room temperature.
The room temperature recommendation isn’t referring to actual room temperature in Australia which is usually around 18 degrees Celsius. It’s referring to the average room temperature in France which is closer to 14 degrees.
The best type of red wine to drink on a hot day is one that’s on the light side such as a Grenache, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, or Pinot Noir. Chill it over ice and then, as you’re drinking it and it warms up, the flavours will evolve.
Best of all, you’ll still be able to enjoy the wine and appreciate its complexities without diluting the flavours.
Decanting is another strategy that can be used to experience more of a wine’s potential flavour profile.
Does Decanting Wine Improve It?
There are two main reasons for decanting red wine.
The first reason people decant wine is to filter out the sediment. If you’re in a restaurant, usually a fine dining restaurant, quite often you’ll see a wine waiter or sommelier decanting a bottle of wine.
They’ll be holding a bottle of wine over a lit candle and pouring the wine out of the bottle slowly in one fell swoop into the decanter. The shoulder of the bottle sits above the flame, but not too close, and the flame provides enough light at the shoulder of the bottle to see sediment as it collects.
What they’re doing is attempting to remove the sediment from the wine. Sediment comprises all of the wine crystals and bits and pieces (such as yeast lees) that have fallen out of the wine during the aging process.
The second reason to decant wine, and the one that most are familiar with, is to evolve the wine by exposing its surface area to as much oxygen as possible. Although decanting is primarily used for removing sediment from older wines, it’s the older wines that you also need to be more careful with as the process introduces the wine to an increased amount of oxygen.
You need to be particularly careful if the wine has been sealed under cork. This is because, if the wine bottle has a cork, it’s already started to evolve in the bottle and has developed to a certain point. A big rush of oxygen could send it over the edge, taking it from superb to heavily oxidised. Decanting is useful for removing sediment from aged wines though you may find yourself in a race against time to experience the wine at its fullest once the decanting process has finished.
For younger red wines? Absolutely, there is less likelihood of sediment in young wines, but it can happen. Decant to open up the red wine’s flavour profile. Exposing it to air will make it more accessible to those about to enjoy it.
How To Store Red Wine
Red wine, if it’s made really well, will last for an extended period of time. Some red wines, such as Bordeaux, are considered by many to be made not for the current generation's enjoyment but for the generation that follows.
You have red wines such as the 1945 Château Mouton Rothschild or the 1986 Château Lafite Rothschild, which are two of the most collectable wines in existence. The Mouton Rothschild is nearly 80 years old but it’s still drinkable. It’s because of the quality inherent to the wine, the quality of the grapes and the winemaking that creates such long-lasting reds.
Most red wines lose their primary fruit characteristics after about eight years. After those first eight, the secondary flavours (those like leather, tobacco, notes such as these) begin to develop.
Now, just because a red wine has longevity, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to, or should, keep it for the next generation. If you prefer the primary fruit flavours, it makes sense to open it early. Of course, if you’re more curious about seeing how it develops over the years, you’ll need to be patient and wait.
When storing wine, it can also be worth paying attention to the sort of closure system the bottle uses as this can affect whether you store a wine horizontally or vertically but also what the wine will be like on opening.
Stelvin or Cork? What’s the Difference?
Stelvin, the aluminium screw cap closure system that’s commonly used in place of traditional cork, has greatly impacted how we consume wine now. Corks allow for a small amount of oxidation to occur over a very long period of time which enables the wine to evolve more in the bottle. A Stelvin seal, however, doesn’t have that capacity and completely seals the wine bottle until it’s opened.
This doesn’t mean that Stelvin-sealed red wines don’t age, however. In fact, they develop very quickly once opened. That first glass of red wine is still going to taste young and youthful but the longer the bottle is opened, the more complex and evolved the wine’s flavour profile will become. This is why the last glass or two out of a bottle often tastes the best.
Stelvin seals were developed in response to what was believed to be the main cause of cork taint (other causes have also since been identified in further studies) also formally known as TCA (trichloroanisole) which could only be identified after storage and opening. Cork taint is identified by mouldy damp odours and an obvious flattening of the aromas and flavours. Cork taint occurs in parts per million and most people would not be aware of it, though some people are quite sensitive.
Begin Your Red Wine Journey
The world of red wine is a big one and it can be rather intimidating when it comes to choosing the right red wine to drink, where to buy it, and how to prepare and drink it. The good news is that you technically can’t go wrong as, even if you don’t enjoy a wine that you chose first, the experience will likely help steer you in the direction of a red wine that is more to your taste.
On the flip side, if you rather enjoyed your first wine or you already have a type of red wine that you know that you like, now’s your chance to experiment with more subtle differences within the same area.
Keep an open mind with your exploration into red wines and don’t be afraid of trying something different.
Quick-Fire Red Wine Questions & Answers
Here are some common questions people have when researching, buying, and sharing red wine.
What Are the Main Red Wine Types?
The main types of red wine are Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Pinot Noir, and Merlot.
What’s a Good Red Wine for Beginners?
A good red wine to start with is something bigger in style like a Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon or a blend like Cabernet Merlot. A red wine with big flavours that the palate will notice.
What Is the Smoothest Red Wine?
There isn’t really such a thing as a smoothest red wine as it depends on who’s drinking it. Each person’s palate is different.
What Red Wines Are Served Chilled?
Red wines that are best served chilled include Pinot Noir, Gamay, Cabernet Franc, Grenache, and Grenache blends.
Can You Put Ice in Red Wine? Why Do Some People Do This?
Some people put ice in red wine on hot days to quickly chill it though this isn’t recommended as it can upset the flavour profile of the wine. Chilling a wine in an ice bucket or fridge is a much better option.
What Red Wines Are Used for Sangria?
Sangria is a Spanish drink so ideally it’s best to use some Spanish wines when making it. Grenache (Garnacha,) Tempranillo, or a blend of the two wines.
What To Eat With Red Wine?
Everything! White meat/white wine, red meat/red wine, does not necessarily apply any more. It’s more about using judgement. Lighter or more delicate food, use lighter style red wines. With richer, heavier foods match them with bigger richer wine styles.
What Is Red Wine Best Paired With?
Red wine can be matched with almost any food, but has a certain affinity for red meat, or anything that has been caramelised in the cooking process. Red wine also matches quite well with braises and stews, or rich pasta dishes. For afters, red wine pairs nicely with chocolate, coffee, and cheese (particularly hard cheeses.)
What Red Wine Goes With Lamb?
The best red wines to pair with lamb dishes include Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Primitivo (Zinfandel), and Tempranillo.
What Red Wine Is Sweet?
Red wine is not necessarily sweet, often what you are tasting is fruit sweetness. Especially sweet red wines that are often shared with dessert are actually some kind of fortified wine.
How Long Does Red Wine Last?
Red wine lasts anywhere from 10 minutes after purchase to over 30 years. The length of time a Red wine lasts is down to patience and the quality of the wine being stored. The better the quality, the longer the ageability of the wine.
What Glass To Use With Red Wine?
The best glass to use with red wine is a glass with a large surface area at the bottom. This glass design allows a larger amount of wine to be exposed to the air which will help it evolve in the glass.
How Do You Drink Red Wine Properly?
To drink red wine properly, open the bottle, pour the wine into a glass, and take a moment to smell the aromas of the wine. Then, slowly drink the wine while taking time to notice flavours that become apparent as the wine crosses the palate. Rinse and repeat.
How Long After Opening Should You Wait Until Drinking Red Wine?
How long you wait before drinking a red wine will depend on the wine. For an older bottle, one that’s over 10 years, as little time as possible. For something younger or intended as a “drink now” style wine, give it an hour to open up and then enjoy.
Is It Worth Investing in a Red Wine Decanter?
Red wine decanters may look impressive but they aren’t necessary. Decanting can be done in a jug or saucepan and even by just leaving the wine bottle unscrewed for an hour or so before drinking the wine.
How Do You Store Red Wine at Home?
Red wine, like most wine, can be stored in a wine cellar, wine rack, or any other location that’s out of direct sunlight and isn’t exposed to dramatic temperature changes. Red Wines sealed with a cork closure are best stored horizontally so that the wine touches the cork while Stelvin screw cap bottles can be stored either horizontally or vertically.