A Crash Course in Red Wine
Red wine is made from ripened grapes that are picked when the level of sugar and acid has reached the correct balance. Once picked, the grapes are crushed and the juice is placed in a vat along with the skins, the pulp, and sometimes the stems. Yeast is also added to initiate fermentation. This mixture is called the "must" and typically ferments in the vat for 4 to 14 days. When the fermentation process has finished, which means that all of the sugar in the grapes has been converted to alcohol, the juice is separated from the solids and placed in wooden barrels or metal casks so that it can age. It takes anywhere from 9 months to 2 1/2 years before the wine is ready to be put into bottles and then sometimes numerous years after that before the wine is ready to be consumed.
Red Wine Varietals
Wine can be made from a single type of grape varietal, a blend of varietals, or a blend of unspecified grapes. Each varietal or blend of varietals imparts different flavors to a wine. Often wines are recognized by their standard blends and taste profiles, such as Bordeaux wines, which are always a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. Wines from a single grape varietal, on the other hand, taste like that particular grape (Pinot Noir, for example) but differ from one another based on which region the grape was grown in and how the wine was produced. Wines are either labeled by the varietal used or a geographic name that dictates the grape type, such as Chianti. If neither of these is specified you generally won't know which grapes were used to make the wine. These types of wines are often called "house wines" or "table wines."
Storing Red Wine
How and where you store your wine greatly affects how long it lasts and what condition it will be in when you decide to open it. Wine is at its best when stored between 45 and 65 degrees and should be kept away from bright light, particularly ultraviolet light, which can cause it to prematurely age. Drastic fluctuations in temperature cause a wine to expand and contract, which can ultimately affect the integrity of the cork and allow wine to seep out. A bit of humidity is good for wine so the corks do not dry out and shrink. Constant vibrations and poor ventilation also adversely affect a bottle of wine. Most wine is intended to be consumed when it is sold, or soon thereafter, and unless you have adequate and proper storage space you are best off purchasing wines that are ready to be consumed. Red wines should be stored horizontally so that the wine stays in contact with the cork and prevents it from drying out.
If you do not finish a bottle of wine the same day that you open it, do not dispose of it. An open bottle of wine lasts longer than many of us have been made to believe. Re-cork the bottle to prevent any oxygen from getting in and put it in the refrigerator. Residual sugars, acidity, and tannins all act as preservatives in wine as does the low temperature of the refrigerator. When refrigerated, an opened and re-corked bottle of wine will last for 3 to 5 days after opening. If you prefer your wine at room temperature, simply take the bottle out of the refrigerator an hour or so before you intend to drink it.
Popular Red Wine Varietals, Recipes for Success
Some of the most common types of red wine varietals are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Syrah (also called Shiraz), Sangiovese, Grenache, Barolo, Cabernet Franc, and Zinfandel. Check out the recipes to the right for some fantastic red wine pairings!