Ordering Wine Out: Step Outside Your Comfort Zone – Reds

Part One – If you like Cabernet Sauvignon, try a Carmenere

cpl_wine_restIf you’re like me, you know which wines you like and are reluctant to take a chance on an unknown wine, even if you’re out for dinner and can buy it by the glass and not have to commit to a whole bottle. You go back to the same two or three choices every time. I’d like to encourage you to step outside your comfort zone and use dining out as an opportunity to expand your enjoyment and knowledge of wine by using the restaurant’s large cellar as an opportunity to sample different wines by the glass.

If you like reds, everybody knows Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Noir (remember Sideways). Of course if you prefer whites, Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio are the default choices. With the help of some wine industry professionals who taste and buy wine for a living, winecraze.com has put together a guide to help you branch out and discover new wines, based on what you know you like. Following a simple “if this, then that” logic string we’ll start with what you like and suggest other comparable wine choices for you to try.

Let’s start with reds. If you like the full-bodied, tannin-rich, spicy taste of Cabernet Sauvignon, you’re not alone. It’s the most consumed red wine in the United States and most of the world. Here are some other reds, with similar taste profiles, that you would probably also enjoy.

-Bordeaux wine is a red blend (there are also white Bordeaux blends) made by thousands of wineries making thousands of different blends in the Bordeaux region of France. That said, the taste of red Bordeaux wine can be quite similar, depending upon the the primary grape varietal used in the blend. Most red Bordeaux blends are dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot grapes and reflect their taste characteristics. Other grapes frequently used in Bordeaux wines include Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Carmenere. The wines are typically full-bodied, tannic and spicy, with a soft, silky feel.

-Sangiovese is the most grown wine grape in Italy, It features an earthy flavor profile, ranges from medium to full-bodied, has less tannins and is slightly lighter in color than Cabernet Sauvignon. Taste-wise it’s spicy and robust. It’s frequently used in red blends, such as Chianti and Super Tuscans, but is excellent on its own.

-Carmenere wine grapes are one of the main grape varietals grown in Chile, but can also be found in Europe. It has a deep, dark color, is full-bodied, with a velvety texture and heavy tannins. Carmenere is generally considered a little lighter than Cabernet Sauvignon and is not as widely available, but it is well worth the search.

Many prefer the less tannic, fruit-forward, deep red color and smooth texture of Merlot. It’s a little lighter than Cabernet Sauvignon, but still dry and robust, with a nice finish. Alternatives to Merlot for you to try are listed and briefly described below.

-Cabernet Franc is a hearty, cold-tolerant grape varietal often found in Ontario, New York and Michigan, but is also grown in France, California and other warmer climates. The wine is balanced and lighter in color, with moderate tannins and the flavors of berries and spice. It has a silky smooth finish, but taste can vary based on climate and region.

-Malbec grapes are generally used for blending in France, but it’s also Argentina’s signature wine. It’s a full-bodied dry red wine, with medium tannins, a dark purple color and a complex blend of ripe fruit, spice and smokey flavors.

-Syrah (also Shiraz) wine grapes originated in France (probably in Roman times) and are the dominant grape of the Northern Rhone Valley. Today, Syrah is one of the most popular and widely cultivated wine grapes in the world. Syrah’s many flavors make in a natural for food pairing. It pairs well with most types of roasted, grilled or smoked meats, so most anything you do on your grill pairs well with Syrah. It’s a full-bodied wine, with lots of fruit flavors, lower tannins and a smooth finish.

If you like a more light-bodied red wine, still dry but with a little more fruit and a softer finish, Pinot Noir is your wine of choice. Some alternatives follow below that you may also enjoy.

-Grenache is the most grown grape in Spain. It’s used in a variety of red blends, but also makes an excellent single varietal wine. It’s lighter in color and tannins and soft on the palate, with the taste of berries and spice. It’s relatively high in alcohol and should be consumed when it’s young.

-Gamay, while best-known as the grape of Beaujolais and Beaujolais Nouveau style wines, Gamay wine is also quite popular on its own. Gamay wine flavor profiles vary by terroir, but it is a lighter-bodied, lower tannin, fruit forward wine. It can be a nice alternative to Pinot Noir.

-Cotes-du-Rhone wines are red blends (there are also Cotes-du-Rhone white blends) from the vineyards along the Rhone River in southern France. The blends can include many different grapes (up to 22), but the principal grapes used are Grenache and Syrah. Flavors can vary depending on the grape varietals used, but the wines are generally lighter-bodied, fruity, very drinkable and usually under $20 per bottle.

So feel empowered. Try something new, but similar to what you already like. Sure, you’ll like some better than others, but one of them may become your new favorite wine. Part Two is coming soon and will feature white wines, with the same “if you like this, you’ll probably like that” logic process.

Disclaimer: Wines can vary greatly by vintage, weather, climate, terroir and winemaker. The wine descriptions described above are generalities, that can and will vary.

About the Author
Jack enjoys wine and visiting wineries whenever he can and wherever he is. If you read any of his posts, it's obvious he has no formal training in wine appreciation or viticulture. Despite numerous tasting experiences guided by experts, he still struggles to taste the appropriate notes of "vanilla and huckleberry" in his cabernet sauvignon. It is still a journey he enjoys.

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