Navigating noir, merlot and more: Picking a red wine doesn’t have to be a mystery

National Red Wine Day is Aug. 28

If the sight of a red wine section is mind-boggling, here are some ways to demystify your selections. (Christie Zizo, Copyright 2022 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

ORLANDO, Fla. – In wine, there is truth. But getting to that truth is a lot tougher when you can’t get past the first swallow.

Wine, in general, can be daunting, and for some, red wine is more so. Trying to bring a bottle of red to a dinner and staring at the endless dark bottles in the supermarket aisle can make anyone question why they didn’t offer to bring cookies instead.

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But you don’t have to be an oenophile to enjoy a good red wine. There are dozens of varieties, and you just have to find the one that’s right for you.

Carl Bond at Tim’s Wine Market in Orlando says trying a red wine is all about preference, but if you are making your first entry, go for something light.

“Most of the wines people are familiar with when you say red wine, probably the first one they think of is cabernet sauvignon,” Bond said. “And that one (is) most certainly not going to be a lighter-bodied, lower alcohol-by-volume wine.”

Bond said lighter-bodied wines tend to come from cooler climates, have lower tannins, higher acidity and low alcohol-by-volume — below at least 14%. The higher the percentage, the fuller the wine. That information is usually on the wine label.

For a good entry to red wines, Carl Bond at Tim's Wine Market recommends a Beaujolais, from the southernmost region of Burgundy. It's a gamay varietal of grape with a lighter body that's fruity but not sweet. (Copyright 2022 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

These wines tend to feel more refreshing; they aren’t necessarily going to coat your mouth the way a fuller-bodied wine would.

Bond says a great entry wine is Beaujolais, from the Burgundy region of France. It’s a lighter body with a fruity style, but not sweet.

“They are so versatile,” Bond said. “You can go to a dinner party, and not know what they have on the menu, and if you take a bottle of Beaujolais, it’s almost certainly going to work.”

Another way to tell if a wine is light-bodied is the flavor notes. Stores that sell wine will often include flavor descriptors on shelf tags to help people pick wines.

“I believe that the wines that we’ve all been talking about so far, their primary flavor descriptors are going to be fruit-driven, and they’re going to be red fruits rather than black fruits,” said Bond, who listed red plums or cherries as examples of fruits to look for. “Heavier wines generally tend toward black fruits.”

Bond also suggested wines styled as “low intervention” or “natural wines,” which are wines made without additives or chemicals. They can be found all over the world, and tend to be lighter-bodied.

Stratum pinot noir from New Zealand has 12.5% alcohol-by-volume, which gives it a lighter body. Beware — climate can change the style of this wine, Bond said. (Copyright 2022 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

Pinot noir, a very popular wine grown all over the world, is also a possibility, but Bond says be careful — not all pinot noir is the same.

“Pinot noir is generally a lighter-styled wine, but some of them from warmer climates can be fuller-bodied as well,” Bond said.

Remember that the cooler the climate, the lighter the body of the wine. But pinot noir can be a versatile grape.

“There are some places in California that are cool, like the Russian River, compared to places that are warm, and you can grow the same grapes in different places, both in California, and they are going to be stylistically very different,” Bond said.

Ready to start your red wine adventure? Bond and Tim’s Wine Market owner Tim Varan have these suggestions.

Find some professional to guide your learning and experience

“We get to know you and your palate and when you come back in you say, ‘I had a bottle of this, and I liked this about it, but not so much this,’” Bond said. “Then we can guide you to the right bottle, and sort of establish that relationship with someone and help to grow.”

This is where finding a wine store that offers tastings, or even classes, may be helpful. Tim’s Wine Market offers tastings on the weekends of featured wines.

Ercole Barbera from Italy has a 12.5% ABV and lots of red fruit notes. It comes in a one liter bottle. 'It’s very approachable and very, it’s not far from center in terms of style. It’s fun to share with friends,' Bond said. (Copyright 2022 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

When you taste a wine you don’t like, find a descriptor to explain why and pass that along

You don’t need to know much about wine to know what you like or don’t like. Just find a way to explain that.

“You might say that wine seemed to make my mouth pucker a little too much or that one seemed a little too sweet to me, whatever those descriptors are, and they don’t have to be fancy wine terms,” Bond said.

Also, find a way to write down or take pictures of the wines to help you know what you like, and find that wine or something similar in the future.

Be open-minded, that what you like may be different from others

“We sell certainly a lot of California red wines, and some whites as well,” Bond said. “If you say, go to a party, that might be what you often times find. You may decide in your discovery here that you like Beaujolais, which is generally a lighter, drier red wine than most, but not all but most California red wines would be. Be open and surprised at what you find you like, but be OK with not necessarily what the crowd likes,” he added.

In other words, don’t feel uncomfortable not liking your friend’s merlot. It’s just not for you, and that’s OK.

Zweigelt from Austria is called a "chillable wine" because you can keep it in the fridge. It's medium to light-bodied. 'Not too funky or different,' Bond said. (Copyright 2022 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

Temperature and air can change a wine

“Most people understand that red wine should be served at room temperature,” Bond said. “But what that really means is room temperature coming out of a basement in France. So, I like to serve, generally, about 55 degrees or so is a great place to serve red wine. And it will certainly warm up over the course of the glass and maybe change a little bit and evolve as you enjoy it.”

Bond also suggests opening the wine and letting it “breathe” for a bit. This means allowing it to be exposed to the air, which can help bring out the wine’s aromatics.

But this doesn’t require a fancy decanter. Bond says if you don’t have a temperature-controlled wine area, you can open the bottle, pour it into a pitcher or even just leave the wine in the bottle, and put it in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes to get it cooler.

Then pour yourself a glass (not a full glass!) and give it a swish before you sip.

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About the Author:

Christie joined the ClickOrlando team in November 2021.