Some grapes are famous, some are underappreciated but play a big part in the blends you may know and love. Regardless, these red wine grapes are stars.
Pinot Noir is the red wine of the Burgundy growing region and the Burgundian style has influenced winemakers around the world. It has found a second home in Oregon, particularly the Willamette Valley, and good Pinots can be found from the up-and-coming Washington vineyards and cooler regions of California.
Characteristics: berries (cherry, cranberry, raspberry), roses, currant, wet earth, tobacco, leather, smoke, barnyard
Basic Food Pairings: Mushrooms, Most meat with the exception of wild game (poultry, oily fish, roasted beef, pork) cheddar, Port Salut, Mexican & Italian food.
Fun fact - Pinot Noir is a major component of the best Champagnes and makes lovely Rosé wines as well.
Merlot is a grape that can trick the eye - its deep color hides a smooth, soft wine. Merlot brings texture and fruit flavors to traditional French blends, often partnered with our next grape, Cabernet Sauvignon. On its own, Merlot is fruit-forward, with grape, berry, and jam coming through and medium tannins.
Characteristics: Blueberries, grapes, plums, berry jam, chocolate, cedar, vanilla
Basic Food pairings: lamb, shellfish, salmon, camembert, Mushrooms
Fun fact - Merlot is the one red wine varietal that really can taste like grapes.
Cabernet Sauvignon is the main grape in Bordeaux wines and it's found a second home in Napa Valley. Cabernet boasts some of the highest tannins of any grape, which means it has huge potential for aging. Where Merlot has thinner skins and more juice, Cabernet has small berries with thick skin. It's among the most complex wine grapes.
Characteristics: Black currant, plums, mint, bell pepper, cedar, wet dog, vanilla
Basic Food Pairings: roasted meats, butter sauces, cream sauces, wild game, bleu cheese, aged cheddar
Fun fact - Cabernet Sauvignon was one of the wines that helped put California onto the world stage at The Judgment of Paris in 1976.
Barbera: Italian red variety that produces wine of medium body with good acidity & tannins. Very food friendly. Best examples are from the Piedmont region especially Barbera d’Alba & Barbera d’Asti.
Cabernet Franc: First used as a blending grape in Bordeaux, this grape produces dry red wine with herbaceous green bell pepper flavors. It is still primarily a blending grape with some of the best examples coming from Chinon & Saumur in the Loire Valley of France.
Carmenere: “The lost grape of Bordeaux” is one of the most important grapes in Chile. Once mistaken for Merlot, this grape produces structured, dry red wine with medium body & very earthy characteristics.
Gamay: The most important grape in Beaujolais produces light, fruit red wines that pair well with charcuterie. It is also grown in the Loire Valley & used as a minor blending grape in Burgundy.
Grenache or Garnacha: This grape favors the warmer climates of Spain & southern France. It produces wine with higher alcohol content & has jammy strawberry notes. It is the lead player in such famous blends as Châteauneuf-du- Pape & Côtes-du-Rhône, but can make wonderful single varietal wines especially if sourced from old vines. It is also known for producing world-renowned rosé wines especially from Tavel.
Malbec: Hailing from Mendoza and Cahors in its own right and appearing in classic blends from Bordeaux and Meritage in the US. This is an inky colored grape exhibits dark, juicy fruit with plush tannins in New World renditions while the Old World styles are a bit more herbal with a firmer tannin structure. A great wine varietal to introduce friends to red wine.
But don't just take our word for it! Take notes and follow along with our tasting guide to start picking out details of the wines you love. Or come in to chat with our sommeliers at any Louie's Wine Dive restaurant.
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