Seeing Red

Red wines offer more intense aromas and flavours than white wines. To the beginners, red wines may be overpowering, particularly if they have a fuller body, higher alcohol and tannin content, such as Cabernet Sauvignon. Beginners, who are simply seeking great flavours at good value, are often intimidated but if they start on the right note, they will uncover a trail of exciting flavours and a much more interesting drinking experience!

Colour Through its Ages
The reds are more intense than whites because in the wine making process, the reds rely on fermenting the juice with their grape skins to extract the colour, flavour and tannin. The anthocyanins, produced in the grape skins to protect the grape from ultraviolet light, give the skin its dark colour. The development of the anthocyanins accounts for the range of predominantly red shades in the wines. Young wines have free anthocyanins that manifest as intense elements of blue. These eventually blend with red to create shades of purplish-blue. Gamay primeur wines and six- to 18-month-old Beaujolais Nouveaux will have this colour. With age, the anthocyanins combine with the tannins to create elements of yellow as seen in a wine that is starting to age (three to seven years). The colour later turns deeper overall, verging on brown.

The grape variety from which the wine is made determines the depth of the colour. Cabernet Sauvignon yields a deep ruby colour while a same-aged Gamay is of a lighter cherry shade.

Assault of Inexperienced Palates
A beginner having a go at a Cabernet Sauvignon for the first time may find his taste bud under assault. Tannins, found in the grape skins as well as the seeds and stalks, are the culprits. They can also be derived from the wood of the casks used to age the wines. Tannins have a characteristic astringency that puckers the mucous membranes of the mouth. They thicken the saliva and can make the wine seem dry on the palate. Excessive tannins lead to bitterness that can sometimes turn off the beginning wine enthusiast.

In future articles, we will introduce some lighter-bodied red wines that are ideal for newbies. Lighter-bodied wines with their smooth, soft texture and a fresh tangy finish are a gateway to fuller-bodied wines. These light reds can also lick the wounds of those buffeted by the astringency of heavy reds.

Tannin Content from Place to Place
During fermentation, if the winemakers leave the grape juice in contact with the skins for a longer time, the wine becomes more tannic. The grape’s tannin content is influenced by sunlight intensity which is strongly related to latitude – French grapes will have different amount of tannins compared to Spanish or Italian ones. Therefore, Spanish reds tend to be thicker textured and more tannic with a spicy edge, and French red varietals show herbaceous, sweet red fruit and round tannins, while a lean, less overt fruit with an extra note of dry tannin finishing in a chalky tannic manner is associated with Italian reds. Australian reds increase in tannins as you move inland, away from its coast.

The length of day also determines the grapes’ tannin content. Winemakers, through canopy management, can control the amount of light to achieve a certain amount of anthocyanins and tannins in turn impacting on the wine quality produced.

The fruit character is one of the key components to look out for in a red wine. A young red wine is marked by its youthful fruit and impetuous tannins. Depending on the type of wine, the floral and fruit series are first to emerge in a young red – scent of roses mingling with aromas of cherries and strawberries. Carbonic maceration can add an aroma of bananas. This wine can be a source of immediate pleasure or pleasure in store depending on whether the wine is destined to be drunk at once or to be laid down.

Youthful reds have more fresh fruit flavours while an aged wine has a complex bouquet of wood, vanilla, cedar and toast because these wines are often cask-matured. Beginning wine tasters are often less attracted to these flavours in an aged wine. But over time, wine enthusiasts will learn to appreciate the complexity of aged wine, particularly when paired with the appropriate food.

Wines from different regions will also display different fruit characters. New Zealand has fresh bright fruit wrapped in medium body and intense fruit flavours. South America offers fresh, intense, fruity flavours and tannin that is easy on the gums. South Africa sits halfway between the new and old worlds with the medium-bodied nature of Europe and the bright fruitiness of the new world.

Food Pairing
To pair a red wine successfully with food, the easiest approach is to look at France, Italy, Spain and Germany where food and wine have developed in tandem over centuries. Some classic pairings will be osso bucco with Barolo (made from Nebbiolo), lamb with Merlot (a right-bank Bordeaux such as Pomerol or St. Emillion), filet mignon with Béarnaise sauce and a left-bank Bordeaux (which are Cabernet Sauvignon intensive) such as Margaux or Pauillac. A red Burgundy (Pinot Noir) is classically paired with duck.

For the festive season, a turkey that is served cold is good with Beaujolais (made from Gamay). For a lighter palate, a fun choice is Chianti (made from Sangiovese) and pizza or pasta with marinara sauce. If you like tapas and more seasoning, Rioja (a Spanish Tempranillo blend) is great with skirt steak and roasted red piquillo peppers.

In future articles, we will highlight Asian foods that go well with the various reds which we would be exploring – from light, smooth reds to full-bodied reds.

Red meats are suitable with tannins which are normally present in younger reds such as Shiraz, Carbernet or a blend of both.

Health Benefits
The French experience low levels of coronary heart disease despite a high-saturated fat diet. Many nutritionists have speculated this French paradox to be the result of red wine consumption which is integral to their culinary culture. The source of red wine’s health benefits appears to be the proanthocyanidins which are the most abundant flavonoid polyphenols in red wine – up to one gram per litre is found in some traditional style red wines, particularly the deeply coloured reds.

Proanthocyanidins, also known as OPCs, are found in many plants, and grape seeds and skin. Their effects include neutralising oxidants and free radicals, depressing blood fat and inhibiting destruction of collagen. These influences, along with other mechanisms, are beneficial in venous and capillary disorders, including venous insufficiency, capillary fragility, diabetic retinopathy and macular degeneration. Some research indicates that the vascular benefits of red wine drinking depend on the presence of oligomeric proanthocyanidins.

Additionally, studies have shown that OPCs may prevent cardiovascular disease by mitigating the negative effects of high cholesterol on the heart and blood vessels.

Although the OPCs content in red wine differs from each grape variety and the vineyard environment, the winemaker holds the key to what ends up in the bottle. The OPCs content is affected by the contact time between the liquid and the grape seeds during fermentation when the alcohol concentration reaches about six per cent.

Depending on the fermentation temperature, it may be two days or more before the slow extraction begins. Grape skins float and seeds sink, so the number of times they are pushed down and stirred into the fermenting wine also increases extraction of OPCs. After fermentation, many reds are left to macerate with their seeds and skins for days or even weeks in order to extract all the colour, flavour and tannins. Wines that have a contact time of less than seven days will have a relatively low level of OPCs. Wines with a contact time of 10 to 14 days have decent levels, and those with contact times of three weeks or more have the highest.

Grape skin also contains resveratrol where studies on rats have also shown that it can reduce tumor incidence by targeting different stages of cancer development – inhibiting certain enzymes, promoting cancer cell death and preventing the development of blood vessels needed to feed a tumor.

Although no beverage can supplement the perks of daily exercise and a well-balanced diet, moderate wine consumption (one 5-ounce glass a day for women, two 5-ounce glasses day for men) can confer a host of the above-mentioned benefits. Over-imbibing carries a greater risk of heart disease and stroke. Therefore till you read our subsequent articles, eat well, exercise and drink moderately. Salut!