The 28 August marks National Red Wine Day, so, there’s no better excuse to indulge in the intense, smooth, berry nature of this nectar. There are hundreds of varieties to try, the popular being Cabernet Sauvignon. Merlot, Pinot Noir, Malbec, and Shiraz, but whatever your type of red wine tipple, Richard Bigg, Founder/ Director, Bar Rioja and Camino is here to impart his guide to this variety.
There are certainly plenty of things to consider when choosing a red wine.
What are you in the mood for? Something lively and fresh on a summer’s day, or deep, velvety and comforting on an autumn or winter’s evening? Or something in the middle, fruit-forward with a good body, a little more complex but still easy to drink. Whatever style you’re after, it always needs to have a great balance of fruit, acidity and alcohol in perfect harmony, with no single element outweighing the rest.
Also take into account other factors such as what are you eating, what company are you with, and really just what you really fancy right now. Who cares if it’s Tuesday and you’re simply craving something special like a big voluptuous Ribera del Duero or Aussie Shiraz.
Take into account the ageing process. Do you want something young, fresh and charming, fermented in stainless steel and designed to be drunk young, that isn’t too challenging? Or something more complex that makes you think about all the emerging flavors?
Longer ageing and the type of vessel the wine is aged (or fermented) plays a hugely important role. Wines are typically aged in oak barrels. The oak generally comes from North America, France or Eastern Europe. Slower-growing European oak trees tend to give more finesse and restraint, whilst American oak can give more obvious flavours of vanilla and even coconut. The level of charring to the inside of the barrel also makes a difference, unsurprisingly adding toasty notes, tar, caramel and sweet spice into the mix.
These days innovative winemakers are increasingly trying out alternatives to oak to age their wines, for example using concrete tanks, concrete eggs, amphorae or a combination of several.
Altitude is making more and more of a difference as our world heats up. Wineries are seeking out higher altitude vineyards where the diurnal temperature range is greater, so the vine can relax at night. This way you end up with more structure and acidity and greater levels of freshness and balance. Altitude is one of Spain’s secret weapons being Europe’s second most mountainous country after Switzerland. Argentina is even more extreme with vineyards up to 3,000 metres above sea level.
And for places that lack altitude, you can substitute latitude, so countries like ours are in increasing demand for making wines, with land given over to vines set to double in the next 10 years. Established wine-growing regions are experimenting with different grape varieties that can handle the heat better.
Matching with food – if the dish is light, say chicken, pork, or roasted vegetables, then it will need a lighter wine that’s easy on the tannins – tannin is that mouth-drying sensation you get similar to drinking over-stewed tea. More robust dishes will be able to handle fuller-bodied wines with full tannins; the food will lower the tannin and increase the fruit to get just the right taste and texture sensation the winemaker intended.
The way the dish is cooked will also affect what style of wine works – lightly seared foods will need something more medium-bodied with no or low oak influence. Grilled or roasted dishes call out the need for a bigger type of wine that can stand up to the flavours these cooking techniques impart.
What if whoever you’re with wants a completely different style of wine to you? You might have different tastes or are having completely different dishes. In a restaurant just order different styles of reds by the glass so everyone can get the one they want. If you are inquisitive try smaller glasses – in UK law all premises with wines served by the glass must also have them available at 125ml, so this way you can get to try more styles. At Bar Rioja we go a step further – every one of our 40 + wines is available not only by the glass but also in a 75ml taster size too, even the very best ‘Big Guns’ which are kept in perfect condition with the use of the brilliant Coravin system.
The temperature of the wine is critical. You don’t need to be over-precise, but you do need to avoid ruining a great red wine by serving it at room temperature on a hot day when it will lose its freshness, structure and balance and feel like drinking a stew. At Camino and Bar Rioja, we chill all the red wines as well as the whites to about 17 degrees. Some reds work best at lower temperatures than this, and wines with low tannins such as a Beaujolais, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc or light unoaked reds in general, can be refreshing and more enjoyable chilled down, especially on a hot day. Just stick it in an ice bucket for 5 minutes or so. Let’s hope we get enough sunshine this year to try them out!