What to Look for in a Great Red

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How to pick a great wine that will have everyone cheering (otherwise known as the Official Important Wine Word Guide)

The festive season is here, and we all know what that means – Christmas parties, family BBQs, and more food than our poor tummies can handle. And, as any foodie, amateur wine connoisseur or party animal will tell you, no December gathering is complete without a few dozen bottles of great vino.

However, with so many different regions and grape varieties out there, finding the perfect red wine can be a real challenge. You’ve got to find the perfect balance of sweetness, acidity, tannin and alcohol content, and of course, the price has got to be right.

It sounds daunting, we know, but fear not – you don’t have to be a sommelier to pick a great red. All you need to do is follow our simple guide!

Acidity

The mark of a great red is the balance of acidity and sweetness. For example, when you take your first sip of Pinot Noir and experience a similar, refreshing mouthfeel to that of a fizzy drink, that’s the acid coming through, complementing the fruity sweetness of the grape. If you enjoy a more acidic red (like Pinot), try a Grenache for something a little different. On the other side of the scale, lower-acidity wines (great for heartburn sufferers) tend to be produced in warmer climates, so most Aussie wines are ideal for those who aren’t keen on acidity.

Tannin

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It’s easy to get acidity confused with tannins, so let’s clear some things up. For the uninitiated, tannin is the most important term used to describe red wine. Tannins are naturally occurring compounds found in plants, leaves, bark, wood and fruit skin which arise during the growth of the grape and the ageing process of the wine, typically in wooden barrels. Higher tannin content produces a more bitter aftertaste, like that of over-steeped tea, while a lower tannin content results in a smoother, velvety finish.

Body

‘Body’ is the term used to describe the overall feel and weight of the wine in your mouth. It can be a little difficult to define, but generally speaking, a bold, rich red tends to be fuller-bodied while delicate, subtle reds are typically light-bodied, and medium body sits somewhere in the middle. A good way to think of it is to consider the difference between how cream, whole milk and skim milk feel in your mouth. Warm climates, a higher alcohol content (usually 13.5% or more), fermentation and maturation result in fuller-bodied wines like Merlot, Shiraz and Cabernet.

Region

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Familiarise yourself with the regions best known for producing quality wines. In Australia, Margaret River, the Barossa Valley and the Yarra Valley produce some of the country’s most acclaimed reds. Across the Tasman, the Kiwi regions of Marlborough, Hawke’s Bay, Central Otago and Wairarapa are world-renowned wine regions. As for the rest of the globe, Burgundy in France, Tuscany in Italy, La Rioja in Spain, Mendoza in Argentina and the Napa Valley in the USA are your best bets.

Appearance

When it comes to wine, it seems you can (and should) judge a book by its cover. The better the wine, the better the bottle it comes in. Look for a thick, heavy bottle with a deep indent in the base – the hallmark of a cheap wine is a flat bottom. Pay attention to the label, too. The description on the back should give you a decent indication of the body, tannins, sweetness and tasting notes.

Pairings

You might’ve picked the best red in the store, but that doesn’t mean it’ll pair nicely with the meal you’ve got planned. Check out this great infographic from Wine Folly for a general idea of which wines match which foods. Light reds (like Pinot Noir) are fantastic with rich seafood like crab and lobster, roast veggies and white meats. Medium-bodied reds (e.g. Merlot) suit roast veggies, hard cheeses and red and white meats. Bold, full-bodied reds (Malbec, Shiraz) go best with hard cheese and red meats. For a fail-safe meal, keep in mind that all three pair well with starches and cured meats. Charcuterie board, anyone?

Price

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Remember – a high price tag doesn’t necessarily guarantee a high-quality wine. You can grab a truly great bottle for a bargain-basement cost. That said, you shouldn’t be afraid to treat yourself every now and then to something a little fancier!If you’ve made it this far and still feel stumped, relax! We’ve got you covered. Here are some of our top recommendations that are sure to impress the wine snob in your life.

  • Yallingup Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon: With its delicate mouthfeel, velvety tannins and floral aroma, this reserve cab sav pairs perfectly with brie, garlic and rosemary-infused beef fillets and a good old-fashioned Aussie BBQ.

  • Tyrrells Stomping Ground Shiraz: For a medium-body red with bright fruit scents and soft, savoury tannins, you can’t go past this Hunter Valley Shiraz, which tastes incredible with red meat and roast vegetables.

  • Emmetts Crossing Reserve Shiraz: Dark chocolate flavours shine through this Margaret River Shiraz, which boasts soft tannins and rich aromas of dark berry, the ideal accompaniment to barbecued and roasted meats.

  • Nugan Estate Third Generation Merlot: This Riverina-produced merlot offers notes of plum and cherry with nuances of dark chocolate, pepper and earth and a silky tannin finish, perfect with red meats and seafood.

  • Ferngrove The Stirlings Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz: Hailing from Frankland River, this mouth-coating cab sav shiraz showcases aromas of blackberries, dark plums and spice with long-crafted tannins and goes beautifully with roasted duck, mature cheeses and osso bucco.

  • McWilliams JJ McWilliam Shiraz Cabernet: A medium ruby red Riverina blend, this shiraz cabernet offers enticing aromas of black pepper, coconut, chocolate, prune plum and spices, suiting it to steaks, BBQ and stews.