I often have friends come and ask me for wine recommendations. Mind you, I love wine, but I am not a Somm. My thoughts and recommendations come from the wines that I have tasted and most of those come from places I have traveled. And for me, the story behind the wine is part of what makes it taste special to me. But when you just need to go out and pick up a bottle and you don’t have the luxury of being anywhere near a vineyard as you are landlocked in Las Vegas…well, you have to look at this in a different light.
Most often people tell me that they like red wine, and quite often I also here that they don’t want it too dry. For me of course dry is the opposite of sweet in a wine, but I think they often mean more than just that. Often they are talking about astringency and tannins that “dry” your mouth out. So, I’m hear to brainstorm on what type of wine they would like. I know they often wish I could give them a name of a bottle to search for at the wine or liquor store, but usually I end up giving them a grape variety to look for. California wines were where I first started delving into my wine education, so grape varieties are my way into deciphering what a wine will taste like.
Typically I start with Zinfandel. California grows alot of Zinfandel. Paso Robles Zins can be warm and jammy (and likely high in alcohol) with blackberry jam, chocolate and smoky tobacco. It is big and fruity and a crowd pleaser, medium bodied, but it does have medium tannins, so I thought I would dig deeper to find a few other suggestions.
There is Gamay for a lighter fruitier wine, with berries on the nose this is the primary wine from Beaujolais in France and you can find this almost anywhere.
Into medium bodied wines Barbera is a good bet. It can be rich with cherry, blackberry, plum and licorice. If it has been aged in oak you will also get some chocolate in there. Of course the oak may strengthen the tannins also. If you like all that big fruit, go with a Barbera from a warmer climate like California or Argentina.
When you move into fuller bodied reds most have pretty heavy tannins. Malbec often is a little lower in tannins and has delicious red plum, blackberry and blueberry notes. Look for these with little to no oak aging to keep them juicy. Most of the Malbec in the world comes from Argentina, and much of that from the area around Mendoza. Higher end Malbecs “Reserva” will have time in oak and you will get chocolate, darker fruit and tobacco notes on these. I say grab one of each style and try them together! See what you think!
I often mention Petite Sirah, which yes, can be high in tannins, but it’s just so tasty! The blueberry and chocolate notes blend with black tea and make such a delicious wine to pair with cheese. I say take the plunge, see if you like it! And those tannins are healthy and full of antioxidants! If you are looking at a big wine store (big box wine store), you will likely find these with “alternative reds”. I had an amazing Petite Sirah in Paso at Vina Robles. If I close my eyes I can still taste it!
Now onto Syrah. This wine can be made in so many different styles (see our series on the multiple styles of Syrah in Santa Barbara County) It is typically lower in tannins and a warm climate Syrah is rich and jammy. You can find many of these from California, Argentina and then of course the Shiraz from New Zealand.
There are lots of wines out there. Dive into the comments and give me your suggestions for your favorite “red wines that are not too dry”.