As promised with my earlier post on white wine, here is a write up on red wine.  Full disclosure – as with white, I drink a lot of red wine too.  But, red wine is extremely varied and complex, more so than white wine, and my palette isn’t all that sophisticated.  On the Sideways scale, I’m much closer to the Thomas Hayden Church character than the Paul Giamatti character, but maybe that’s a good thing, because Church got an Oscar nomination, and Giamatti didn’t.  So there you go.  But back to the topic at hand.  I am not the most official oenophile, but perhaps I can provide a few tidbits of info.  Bottom line, wine is good, pretty much no matter what you choose.
Red wine isn’t typically associated with summer (and I drink it most frequently in colder months), but there are a few good ways to think of red wine during warmer months.  Red wine goes perfectly with grilled meats, particularly red meat, so that’s a no brainer.  Also, some reds go really well with pork, and of course, tomato based dishes, like pasta.
You may want to try to serve reds with a slight chill to them.  “Room” temperature was referring to rooms in castles, which are usually damp and cold, Lord knows my castle suffers from those issues.  That doesn’t mean you have to put them in the fridge overnight, but maybe for 30 minutes or so.  But no one will balk if it isn’t served a bit chilled, so don’t worry.
This is my favorite red varietal of late.  When in doubt at a restaurant, I look for this, because I know it will be something I’ll enjoy.  Malbecs, particularly from Argentina, are usually full-bodied, but lower in acid and tannins than Cabernets.  They usually feature blackberry or plummy notes and my favorites also have a chocolate undertone to them.  (I’m a chocolate fiend).  I pair it with pretty much anything, but grilled red meats and poultry are a good place to start.  Sometimes, I’ll also have a glass with some dark chocolate.  My favorite mid-priced bottles are Tapiz and Zolo.
Syrah is the French varietal; Shiraz is the Australian.  I used to drink this quite frequently, particularly those from Australia.  They are very reliable, and not too expensive, which is always nice.  Syrahs tend to be on the peppery/spicier side, and they frequently have tobacco notes as well.  You can’t go wrong pairing this with a steak, particularly a steak au poivre (steak with crusted pepper).  A couple of good ones to try:  Coppola and Robert Oatley.
I had the opportunity to drink a lot of this when I visited Napa; it seems to be their #1 product.  You’d think I’d remember more about them.  Zins can be extremely varied, but most have a red berry fruit profile, and some can feature an anise (slightly licorice) taste.  This is great with grilled veggies, chili or just generally hearty meals.  My favorites are from Napa, and not cheap, or easy to find, but I might as well show off my trip up there:  Paraduxx and Chateau Montelana (the vineyard in the movie Bottle Shock).
Cabernet is frequently what you’ll get when you ask for a house red or just “a glass of red wine”.  In my opinion, cabernets are the most tannic of the reds, they grip your tongue more than other reds, and are generally the most full-bodied.  Along with zins, they respond well to oaking (similar to a chardonnay) so you will frequently get an oaky or vanilla quality to them.  In addition, those grown in Northern California can have a green pepper note, which is really interesting to me, but not something I crave.  These too pair well with red meats cooked in any fashion.  Main and Geary and The Buccaneer are worth your dollars.
I used to drink a lot of merlot, but as my tastes have evolved, I don’t order it as much.  In my opinion, it is usually very fruity or jammy, and as a result, I don’t find it as tasty.  Merlots are more medium in body than zins or cabs, so they can pair well with cheese and fruit, but they also cross over to fatty meats, even including duck.  Try Stags’ Leap (also featured in Bottle Shock) or Clos Pegasse (a unique winery that I also got to visit when I was in Napa).
Pinot noir got Virginia Madsen an Oscar nomination.  Her monologue in Sideways about the virtues of pinot is the clip they showed over and over during awards season that year.  Now this is probably going to cause some controversy, but I’m generally not a fan of pinot noir.  My main concern is that it varies so wildly that I’m never totally sure what I’m going to get.  I have had more than one bottle of really weak pinot noir without any discernable taste, and that’s no fun.  Having said that, however, I have had a couple of really good bottles from Oregon, thanks to my friend Mark, and I’ve come to appreciate it more.  One of my favorite meals of all time was paired with a pinot so good that my friend and I went way out of our way to find the winery.  Pinot pairs really well with pork, and some chicken dishes.  I would even pair it with some full-bodied ethnic food as well, like Thai or Greek.  My absolute favorite is Copain, which is the winery we visited in Napa, definitely pricey. In absence of that, gravitate toward an Oregon pinot, probably a solid bet.
I’m including it just because it goes so well with desserts, particularly chocolate, and as a result, must be mentioned.  You can’t go wrong just looking for a tawny port.  My favorites are Taylor Fladgate and Warre’s.  
I hope you all have a nice summer – drink up – and if you run across any wines that you absolutely love, drop me a line!  I want to try too!


Whitney Holland is a longtime lover of TV, chocolate, architecture and snark.  Her slightly more recent loves include wine, Central Park in the fall and Sugarbang.com. You can reach Whitney at: whitney@sugarbang.com