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. The most popular is Cabernet Sauvignon, but there are many other varieties. 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.
Red wine is a great choice, but there are many things to think about.
What do you want to listen to? Something lively and fresh on a summer’s day, or deep, velvety and comforting on an autumn or winter’s evening? You can also choose something in between, with a fruity, full-bodied wine that is complex, but 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.
Consider other factors like what you’re eating, who you’re with, and what you want to drink 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.
Consider 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? You might prefer something more complex, which makes you consider all the flavors emerging.
The length of ageing (or fermentation) and the type vessel in which the wine is stored play a major role. Wines are usually aged in oak barrels. Oak comes from North America and France. The slower-growing European oaks tend to have a more refined and subtle flavour, while American oaks can be more pronounced in their vanilla and coconut notes. It is also important to consider the level of charring on the inside of barrels. This will add toasty notes and caramel, as well as sweet spices.
Innovating winemakers are now increasingly using alternatives to oak for aging their wines. For example, they use concrete tanks, concrete egg, amphorae, or a combination.
The altitude of our planet is becoming more and more important as it heats. Wineries look for vineyards higher up in the mountains where the temperature fluctuation is more pronounced during the day, allowing the vine to relax at night. So you get more structure and acidity as well as greater levels of freshness. Altitude is one of Spain’s secret weapons being Europe’s second most mountainous country after Switzerland. Argentina’s vineyards are even higher, reaching 3,000 meters above sea level.
In places without altitude you can use latitude. This is why countries like ours have a growing demand for wine, and the amount of land dedicated to vines will double over the next 10 to 15 years. In established wine-growing areas, grape varieties with better heat tolerance are being tested.
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. Full-bodied wines will work better with robust food. The food will reduce the tannin and increase fruit in order to achieve the desired taste and texture.
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, roasted or baked dishes require a wine with a higher alcohol content to stand up to their flavours.
What if whoever you’re with wants a completely different style of wine to you? You may have different tastes and/or be having different meals. Order different reds for everyone to enjoy. 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.
It is important to keep the wine at a certain temperature. 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 both the whites as well as all reds down to around 17 degrees. Reds with lower tannins, such as Beaujolais or Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, or lighter unoaked wines in general can be enjoyed chilled, particularly on hot days. Put it in a bucket of ice for about five minutes. Let’s hope we get enough sunshine this year to try them out!