One of the best things about drinking wine versus any other beverage is the almost limitless amount of flavors, styles and experiences available to enjoy and explore. That’s why it makes me a little sad for people when they tell me that they only like white wines, or reds, or especially pink wines (I’m only kidding about the pink wines). Not that I’d ever force an orthodox white wine drinker to try a spectacular glass of red wine, but for someone who is open to the idea of branching out a little and giving something new a chance, I’d love to help.
In this article, I thought I would address the issue of why some wine drinkers just don’t like red wines. It probably has very little to do with the color, and a lot to do with the basic make-up of the red wines they’ve tried, as opposed to the white wines they enjoy. The basic components that define any wine are its sweetness, alcohol, fruit, tannins and acidity. It’s largely the balance of these attributes that determine how pleasant a wine is to drink. Let’s consider each one.
Assuming we’re only considering dry wines, we can forget about sweetness as a factor. Since white wines can be as alcoholic as any red (think about a typical California Chardonnay), I think we can eliminate alcohol as a stumbling block to red wine appreciation. When a white wine drinker says he can’t stand a young Zinfandel he never mentions the Port-like finish, nor would he ever say he couldn’t abide a red Bordeaux because of its blackcurrant flavors, so we can probably strike fruit as the culprit as well.
Now we have eliminated everything except tannins and acidity. I think the problem white wine drinkers have with reds is related to these two components. Tannins are members of a chemical family that, in wine, come mostly from grape skins. Although they contribute to a wine’s taste and smell, they are often experienced more as a texture. It is the tannins in a wine that give us that astringent, gum-puckering sensation that we experience in, for example, a young California Cabernet. Compared to red wines, there are very little tannins in whites. To make up for the focus that tannins lend, white wines will often have more acidity. The fewer tannins a red wine has, the more acidity it will need to give it shape and appeal, and the more it will resemble a white wine in structure and balance. So, with all this in mind, let’s try some red wines that fit this description to one degree or another and might serve as a pleasant introduction to the vast realm of red wines.
The first wine I’d recommend is not red, but pink. It is the Domaine Thomas & Fils Sancerre Terres Blanches 2000 ($18). Sancerre, from the Loire in France, is one of the world’s quintessential Sauvignon Blancs. This pink version is made, rather oddly, from Pinot Noir. It is bone dry (no sweetness), bracingly crisp, and has a lovely violet finish. It is all you could want in a white wine, plus a little more. It is a perfect aperitif.
Our next wine is also pink, but less so. It is a beautiful, transparent garnet and is my favorite rosé. Château d’Aqueria Tavel 1999 ($16) is from the Rhône in France. Tavels are generally considered France’s best rosés, are unusually high in alcohol and are made from a blend of Grenache, Clairette and Cinsault grapes. This wine has rich, fresh red fruit on the nose, clean, lingering berries on the palate with a great acid backbone, and no aggressive, unpleasant tannins. It’s practically a full-blown red wine, with none of the “bad” red wine attributes some might find offensive. On a picnic with ham sandwiches and cold fried chicken, it can’t be beat.
Now for our first red wine, a Chateau de La Chaize Brouilly 2000. Brouilly is one of ten Cru Beaujolais, which are the most serious wines of this least serious part of Burgundy, France. It is made from the Gamay grape. Its nose is fruity, fun, clean and alcoholic. On the palate, it has a solidly crisp but full feel, with winsome red fruit (plums, berries…) and the slightest trace of friendly tannins. It’s best served a little chilled.
Pinot Noir often depends more on acidity than tannins for its focus and shape. A nice one, especially for the money, is Edna Valley Vineyard Paragon Pinot Noir 2000 ($17). It has a nice, typical red hard candy nose and taste. It’s squeaky clean, has soft tannins, and lots of fresh, uncooked fruit. It’s a party wine anybody could like and goes great with Bar-B-Que.
For the French version of Pinot Noir, one would try a Red Burgundy. A nice one for the price is the Jayer-Gilles Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Nuits 1999 ($32). Its nose is redolent of rare game and cooked red fruit. When you take a sip, the game and cooked fruit continue, framed by equal amounts of acidity and warm fuzzy tannins. This wine has more of everything, including tannins, than the preceding selections, but it’s also the first Real Red Wine.
Another very real red wine that is approachable by even fervent white wine drinkers is the Pio Cesare Dolcetto d’Alba 2000 ($25). From Piemonte in Italy, it is made from the Dolcetto grape. Dolcetto, loosely translated, means “sweet little thing”. This is only in relation to the Nebbiolo grape, which produces the historically gargantuan Barolos and Barbarescos of the same region. On the nose, this wine delivers unctuously attractive black tar and candied violets. On the palate, silky smooth plumy fruit all wrapped up in, dare I say it, a cozy duvet of warm, soothing tannins. Wine appreciation, like anything worth pursuing, is a progression and this is a wine worth progressing to.