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The ‘Whats’ of Reds

Further to Robert Parker’s fantastic article introducing ‘The Three Ws of Wine‘, here Mr. Parker goes into a little greater detail exploring the ‘Whats’ of various red wines. Learn more at

Cabernet Franc

What: Cabernet Franc
Color: Dark ruby to purple
Body: Medium
Character: Best used as a blending grape as it often lacks body
Flavours: Flowers, menthol, red and black fruits
Tannin: Low to moderate
Where it’s Best: Loire Valley, Bordeaux, occasionally California and New Zealand
With: Vegetarian dishes, fish with red wine sauces or brown stocks, veal and chicken in white wine sauces

Cabernet Sauvignon

What: Cabernet Sauvignon
Color: Dark purple to black purple
Body: Medium to full
Character: Tannic, muscular, wines with gravitas
Flavours: Black currants, cedar wood, cigar tobacco, licorice, smoke
Tannin: High
Where it’s Best: Bordeaux (Médoc), California (Napa Valley, Santa Cruz Mountains), Argentina, Chile, Australia (Barossa, McLaren Vale, Margaret River)
With: Roast beef, leg of lamb, classic European cuisines, grilled steaks, Waygu beef


What: Gamay
Color: Medium ruby to dark ruby
Body: Medium
Character: Very fruity/expressive in a relatively straightforward, simple style
Flavours: Strawberries, cherries, raspberries, and occasionally spring flowers
Tannin: Very Low
Where it’s Best: Southern Burgundy, Beaujolais
With: An all purpose light red served chilled that works well with everything from American hamburgers, pizza, and barbecue, to relatively sophisticated red meat and fish dishes such as tuna, along with an assortment of Asian cuisines


What: Grenache
Color: Medium ruby to dark plum
Body: Medium to full
Character: Silky and voluptuous
Flavours: Kirsch liqueur, essence of cherries, raspberries, licorice, pepper, Provençal herbs, lavender
Tannin: Low
Where it’s Best: Rhône Valley of France and Spain (Garnacha)
With: Very flexible, all poultry (turkey included), meats, vegetarian, pizza, most Asian cuisines, especially Chinese, Cantonese, Shanghainese, and Korean kalbi ribs


What: Malbec
Color: Very dark to purple
Body: Medium to full
Character: Largely a failure in France where it produced rustic and coarse wine
Flavours: Dark berries, blackberries, cassis, plums, figs
Tannin: Moderate and high
Where it’s Best: Argentina
With: Roasted and grilled meats, charcuterie, duck, patés


What: Merlot
Color: Dark ruby to dark purple
Body: Medium to full
Character: Usually soft
Flavours: Black cherries, mocha, coffee, black tea, tomato skins, plums
Tannin: Moderate
Where it’s Best: Bordeaux (Medoc), California (Napa Valley, Santa Cruz Mountains), Argentina, Chile, occasionally Australia
With: Roasted or grilled vegetables, pork, duck

‘Red Grapes’ via . Used through Creative Commons licence.


What: Mourvèdre
Color: Dark ruby to dark purple
Body: Medium to full
Character: Earthy, tannic, and ruggedly constructed
Flavours: Tree bark, fresh mushrooms, damp soil, forest floor, licorice, blueberries, and raspberries
Tannin: Medium to high
Where it’s Best: Southern France, Spain, and a few selected microclimates of California
With: Relatively flexible with food, it can work with numerous Provençal dishes such as eggplant and tomato-based sauces as well as barbecued birds, and beef, pork, and chicken roasts. It does not match well with any type of seafood.


What: Nebbiolo
Color: Medium ruby to dark garnet
Body: Medium to full
Character: Very fragrant, noble, rich, powerful, but surprisingly light/elegant
Flavours: Pure cherry liqueur infused with licorice, herbs, roses and tar
Tannin: High
Where it’s Best: Northern Italy, particularly Piedmont
With: Mushroom and vegetarian dishes, pastas, goat, lamb, various risottos, dim sum

Petite Sirah

What: Petite Sirah
Color: Opaque purple to nearly blue/black
Body: Full
Character: Forbiddingly tannic, backward, and nearly impossible to fully appreciate until it has had 8-10 years of bottle age
Flavours: Blackberries, incense, acacia flowers, tar, pepper, and creosote
Tannin: High
Where it’s Best: Hot climates such as coastal areas of California and southern Australia
With: Meat-based or pungent game dishes, including intensely flavored wild birds and other heavy foods; hence it has a reputation as a wine for winter drinking and eating

Pinot Noir

What: Pinot Noir
Color: Light to dark ruby
Body: Light to medium, occasionally full
Character: Cherries, forest floor, strawberries, fresh mushrooms, herbs
Tannin: Moderate
Where it’s Best: Burgundy, California (Russian River, Sonoma Coast, Santa Barbara), Oregon, Champagne – sparkling Blanc de Noirs
With: Salmon, tuna (especially toro), roast chicken, lamb, veal, Mediterranean and Vietnamese dishes, Peking duck, smoky BBQ


What: Sangiovese
Color: Medium ruby
Body: Medium
Character: Leafy, earthy, medium-bodied
Flavours: Tart, crisp, strawberries, often herbal and acidic
Tannin: Low to moderate, but acids are often high
Where it’s Best: Southern Italy, particularly Tuscany
With: Tomato-based pasta dishes, rabbit, chili, grilled beef

Syrah / Shiraz

What: Syrah / Shiraz
Color: Dark ruby to black/purple
Body: Medium to full
Character: Fleshy
Flavours: Blackberries, cassis, pepper, tar, coffee
Tannin: Moderate
Where it’s Best: Northern Rhône Valley, Southern Australia (Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, Clare Valley), California
With: Grilled meats, patés, smoked foods, wild game, charcuterie, Kobe/Wagyu beef


What: Tempranillo
Color: Dark ruby to opaque purple
Body: Medium
Character: Silky
Flavours: Sweet cherries, black currants, loamy soil, earthy undertones
Tannin: Moderate
Where it’s Best: Spain
With: Spanish tapas, paella, roast lamb, chicken, smoked or Peking duck


What: Zinfandel
Color: Dark ruby to dark purple
Body: Medium to full
Character: Tart, spicy, peppery, herbal
Flavours: Cherries, earth, spice, pepper, and dark wild berries
Tannin: Low, but acidity is moderate to high
Where it’s Best: California, and a handful from Australia
With: Grilled meats, pizza, hamburgers, Korean BBQ, Kobe/Wagyu beef

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