The best red wine
While the debate continues as to whether drinking red wine in moderation is good for your overall health, there's certainly no question that it tastes good. But if you want to try a good-quality red wine or you're asked to bring a red wine to a dinner party, it helps to know what to choose. Some red wines are an acquired taste, while others are easier on the palate.
No matter the occasion, our buying guide, which includes reviews of a few of our favorites at the end, can help you pick a fine red wine with confidence. Our top pick is the balanced and smooth Halpin 2015 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.
Considerations when choosing red wines
A varietal is defined as a wine made from one type of grape. Wines made from various grapes are blends. The most popular varietals include the following:
Cabernet sauvignon: This is a heavy wine with a strong flavor of black fruits best served with fatty dishes and meats.
Merlot: This medium-bodied wine has a fruity taste; it's easy, smooth, and goes with just about any food.
Pinot noir: A light-bodied, fruit-flavored wine that's easy to drink with any meal or alone.
Syrah: A rich, bold, full-bodied red, also called shiraz from the Australian grape; it goes well with spicy food.
Zinfandel: Considered medium in tannins, acidity, and dryness, it still has a fruity taste and goes well with just about any food.
There are three different types of "bodies" red wine can have: light-bodied, medium-bodied, and full-bodied. A light-bodied wine is lighter in color, tastes less bitter, and has less tannins and alcohol content than a full-bodied red wine. A full-bodied red wine is heavier with more tannins, which means it's bold, intense, and pairs well with fatty meats. A pinot noir is a light-bodied wine. Merlot and zinfandel are both medium-bodied wines. Cabernet sauvignon is a popular full-bodied wine. Fuller, bolder red wines have a higher alcohol content.
There are really no hard and fast rules on pairing red wines with food. As a loose guideline, red wine with high acidity has a zesty taste that best cuts through the richness of fried and fatty foods to balance tastes. High acidity wines also pair well with citrus foods, tomatoes, and sauces. Less acidic wines are fuller and smoother and may be best for wine drinkers who experience heartburn or stomach acid issues.
Do you prefer a dry or sweeter red wine? Most red wines are dry, except when it comes to dessert wines. Sometimes, a fruity red can come across with a little more sweetness. The driest, tartest red wines are cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, and Syrah. The sweetest reds are merlot, zinfandel, and Beaujolais up to port wine.
Prices depend on the brand, region, vintage, and if the wine is a rare find. For $15 and under, you can find a basic red table wine of any type that is newer. Higher-quality bottles of red wine made within the past five years or more can be found in the $15 to $50 range, while top-quality, older reds from regaled vineyards can be found for well over $50 and up to $100 a bottle.
Q. What's a tannin?
A. A tannin is a nutrient found in all plants, leaves, bark, and fruit skins. A tannin in red wine is what adds the bitterness, dryness, and complexity to the wine. Red wines have more tannins than white wines because of how the two wines are processed. Red wines ferment longer while in contact with grape skins that are packed with tannins. Not all tannins are bitter, but the ones in grapes are highly tart. If a wine is described as having "fine-grained tannins," that means the tannins are soft, which gives the wine a silky texture as it's swallowed. Tannins are also considered antioxidants, which is why red wine is promoted for its health benefits.
Q. How do I correctly store red wine?
A. It depends whether the bottle is opened or unopened. If the bottle is open, keep it away from any sources of light and store it at room temperature. You could store it in the refrigerator to keep it fresher longer and slow down its exposure to oxygen. Regardless, it'll turn to vinegar in a few short days, even when chilled. Unopened red wine should always be stored in a cool, dark spot. If it has a natural cork, place the bottle on its side to keep the cork moist. If it has a synthetic cork or screw-top, upright is fine.
Red wines we recommend
Best of the best: Halpin's 2015 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
Our take: A smooth and earthy cab with notes of plum and blackberry that makes a quality red that's easy to drink every day.
What we like: It's balanced enough to pair with beef or poultry, but backs off slightly to serve nicely with hard cheeses as well. It has moderate tannins to make it a middle-of-the-road red for most wine drinkers.
What we dislike: A bit pricey for an everyday cab.
Best bang for your buck: Kinfolk's Napa Valley Red
Our take: A classic, solid, and bold Bordeaux blend with tastes of red fruits, vanilla, and oak at a fair price.
What we like: A good pick for meals of red meat and poultry and goes well with mature and hard cheeses. It has a full body and silky texture thanks to its fine-grained tannins. The wine has a distinctive aroma that includes a hint of tobacco, mocha, and black fruits.
What we dislike: Nothing.
Our take: An elegant, conservative choice from an iconic vineyard if you need a special gift or a single bottle of red to bring to an important event.
What we like: Nicely blended and smooth cab that most red wine drinkers will appreciate, especially when paired with a juicy steak dinner.
What we dislike: Wildly expensive. Many oenophiles say the wine is ordinary.
Marilyn Zelinsky-Syarto is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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