I remember the first time someone tried to convert me into a red wine drinker. I was just getting into wine and was loving my rich California Chardonnays and New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs. A friend of mine passed me a glass of deeply hued, incredibly dry and tannic red Bordeaux and said, "This is what great wine tastes like," as if I weren't already enjoying a great wine.
Since then, I have taken it upon myself to explore as many styles and regions as possible, but at the time, I was not ready for such a dramatic stylistic leap.
Here are some hints on selecting easily approachable red wines that, although delicious to the savvy red wine drinker, are also great transitional styles into the world of red wine. Why would you limit yourself to only half of the flavor profiles and pairing opportunities available in the vast spectrum of wine?
Why Doesn't Everyone Love Red Wine? The Tannins.
So, what component in red wine tends to turn off white wine drinkers? Tannins are the most likely culprit. Tannins are imparted from extended contact with the red grape skins during fermentation or from prolonged oak aging and are perceived as dryness on the palate (think black tea that has been steeped too long). High tannin content is what makes a red wine come across as too dry for the white wine drinker.
The First Step: Dry Rosé
Certainly, your first step on the road to red wine should be exploring the various expressions of dry rosé. Serious rosé, derived from red wine grapes, is made in the same fashion as most white wine and is a compelling halfway point. Now is the perfect time of year to try rosé.
The Next Step: Softer Reds
There are some red varietals that, in general, tend to be a little softer and less tannic. Try Pinot Noir, Grenache, Barbera, and Gamay for lighter options. Try Shiraz or Malbec for richer options. Try Lambrusco or Brachetto d'Acqui for sparkling options. Of course, there are always exceptions to the general rules, due to a winemaker's style or where the grapes were grown.
5 Approachable Red Wines for White Wine Drinkers
These are ranked from lightest to fullest in body.
- Talbott "Kali Hart", Pinot Noir, Monterrey, California, 2012, $15
- Michele Chiarlo "Le Orme", Barbera d'Asti, Italy, 2011, $12
- Alvaro Palacios, "Camins del Priorat", Garnacha Blend, Priorat, Spain, 2012, $18
- Ravenswood Sonoma County, Zinfandel, California, 2012, $15
- Penfold's "Koonunga Hill", Shiraz, South Australia, 2012, $11
Remember: Food Is Your Friend
When branching out into a different style of wine, keep in mind that food is your friend. If you find red wine really intense, make sure you have food around to soften the tannins. Cheese works wonderfully.
→ The easiest way to learn how to taste wine: Five 1-Minute Projects That Will Change the Way You Taste Wine
Temperature is another consideration: don't be afraid to chill your red wines.
I also advise researching classic pairings and enjoying red wine with a recipe suited for its characteristics. The perfect combination can change your mind about what you think about red wines.
Recipes from the Kitchn to Pair with Easy Drinking Reds
→ Drinking Red Wine on a Tight Budget? Try La Granja Tempranillo from Cariñena DO, Spain, 2012, $4. This Trader Joe's wine might not be typical in style of a Tempranillo, but it is drinkable and soft.
What was the red wine that expanded your palate? Do you have any go-to reds that a white wine drinker would enjoy?
(Image credits: Jayme Henderson)