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Food & Beverages

Your One-Stop Beginner's Guide to Red Wine

By Somdutta Mazumder

Updated - June 24, 2022 7 min read

In the wide, wide world of alcohol aficionados, there are a few specific breeds you'll encounter more often than most. First is the kind to yell "one scotch on the rocks, PLEASE" right from the bar door. Then there's the "let's do shots, guys!" person who very clearly needs anything, but more alcohol in their system. And then come the wine drinkers, carrying their unique dictionaries along, throwing words that you can only respond to with a polite smile and a nod. Because you have no idea what in the world "tannin" means. Isn't that what you do under the sun? 



Hmm, I reckon we should solve that. Much like coffee, red wine is an acquired taste. And a lot like coffee, once you go the red wine way, you probably wouldn't want to turn back. Most people who develop an infallible love for the ruby liquid, tend to describe it as relaxing, soothing and stress-busting, along with corroborating the various heart and general health benefits red wine has been linked to and its ability to amplify the simplest of dinner meals. Now, whether it is to become an expert at all things red wine, or just to curl up on the couch with a bottle and a rom-com, we have listed everything you need to know about the beverage before you reach for a glass brimming with it. 



First off, a glossary of red wine terms you should know 



It's an elegant word used to indicate that drying, coarse and rough sensation wine leaves in your mouth, and makes it feel puckery. When someone says a wine is "smooth" it usually means its low on this astringent sensation. 



Simply put, it's the degree of freshness, tartness and sourness in a wine. If the acidity is too high, it makes your wine too sour, and when the acidity is too low, your wine tastes flat and flabby. 



In simple layman terms, tannins are naturally occurring, complex chemical substances present in grape skins, seeds and stems in the case of wine, and a host of other organic matter like wood and leaves in the general environment. Tannins fall under the scientific category of water-soluble polyphenols, responsible for adding the bitterness and astringency that balances the sweetness in a wine, and adds complexity to its tasting experience. 



The word body indicates the texture or weight of the wine in your mouth. There are a number of elements that determine how "bodied" a wine is, including the alcohol content, the depth in the colour of the wine, and density of the coating it leaves behind in your mouth after you take a sip. There are three categories under this factor, namely: 


  • Light-Bodied - Low alcohol, bright, light & delicate, fruity & aromatic. Easy to drink, and pairs well with light and lean food like salmon or chicken


  • Full-Bodied - Dark, rich and comes with complex bold flavours as well as a powerful aroma. Meant to be sipped on slowly, and paired with hearty food flavours like those in red meat and mushrooms. 


  • Medium-Bodied - The middle point between easy-going light-bodied red wines, and bold full-bodied red wines. This category comprises of an array of different wines that can be paired with a variety of foods. It's basically the Switzerland of boldness in red wine. 



It indicates if a wine was made from more than one variety of grapes. 



I don't know why they can't just say consistency instead, but it is exactly that. High viscosity makes your wine thick and syrupy while low viscosity makes it watery. This wine element is affected by factors like the concentration of sugar and alcohol. 


Wine Legs 

It refers to how quickly you can run after downing one glass too many. I joke. The term "wine legs" is related to the viscosity of the wine, and denotes the droplets or streaks running down the side of a wineglass when you swirl the liquid around. The higher the alcohol content, the more legs, so to speak. 



Image Courtesy: Pexels



How many kinds of red wine are there? 

To give you a simple, straight-forward answer, way too many. But there are 5 most popular types of red wines, that you're likely to encounter, classified on the basis of the grape variety used to make the wine. 


  • Cabernet Sauvignon (full-bodied; notes of cherries, currants and spices) 


  • Syrah/Shiraz (full-bodied; peppery, spicy and rich fruity flavours like blackberry) 


  • Zinfandel (medium to full-bodied; juicy, spicy, fruity) 


  • Pinot Noir (light-bodied; light, delicate with bright flavours like raspberry and cranberry) 


  • Merlot (medium-bodied; fruity, yummy and low on tannins, easy to drink) 


Additionally, red wines are also classified on the basis of the geographical region where the grapes were grown. Bordeaux (a region in south-west France), Port (Douro valley in Portugal) and Chianti (a region in Tuscany), for instance. 



Image Courtesy: Pexels 



Wait, why are there other fruits when wine is made of grapes? 

The fruity flavours in red wine, like that of blackberry, cherry or strawberry, don't emerge because that fruit is literally in the wine. Instead, these flavours are picked up by the wine taster, because when grapes ferment, they give rise to chemical compounds that can be identical to the compounds we associate with the taste, flavour and smell of other fruits.

Broadly speaking, the tasting experience of a wine is affected by numerous factors resulting from the decisions taken by the wine-maker in the process of making it, such as farming, storage barrel, and exposure to natural elements. 


Image Courtesy: Pexels



Sacred rules of drinking red wine 

Research indicates that the glass you drink your red wine out of, can impact the quality of the taste. So your university coffee mug is NOT what you should be drinking red wine out of if you want an authentic wine experience. There are specific kinds of glasses that are meant for specific kinds of wine, but as a general rule of thumb, it's recommended that you pour your red wine into a wide-bowled glass, which allows the ethanol vapours to evaporate thereby making your wine smoother in taste. 


Image Courtesy: Pexels 


Turns out, swirling your wine in the glass, isn't just meant for looking fancy, although it certainly helps the cause. But on a serious note, swirling is a necessary step considering it can actually make your wine taste better, owing to a principle in physics called orbital shaking. Essentially, swirling causes the alcohol to evaporate and your wine to come into contact with oxygen, which leads it to open up, and subsequently heightens the aroma reaching your nose. There are two types of common swirls in wine tasting etiquette, namely the handheld swirl (hold the glass by the base of your with your thumb and index finger, and gently flick your wrist for 5 to 10 seconds) and the table-top swirl (pinching the base of your glass with your thumb and index finger while the glass rests on the table, followed by gently drawing circles on the said table). Do remember, there's a stark difference between appropriate swirling of the wine and violently whirling your alcohol to look fancy, and the latter is generally looked down upon by serious wine drinkers. 


Image Courtesy: Pexels 



Lastly, there is a correct way to clink wine glasses, and most of us tend to overlook it. The proper manner prescribes clinking the bowl of your glass with the bowl of your fellow drinker. On the other hand, clinking the rims can potentially cause your glass to shatter since the rim is the most fragile part of the glass. And red wine exploding all over your face isn't a pleasant prospect, so its best avoided. 


Image Courtesy: Pexels 



If you made it to the end, congratulations, you can now impress your friends with your expert knowledge on all things red wine! 


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