Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Define a "Rich" Red Wine

A rich red with intense flavors earth, black cherry and cracked pepper, and maybe a hint of licorice or blueberry.  A full-bodied, sinewy red with dark fruits; blackcurrants, blackberries, superripe cherry, plum, chocolate and mint flavors.


“Rich” is subjective.  To me these wines have intense fruit flavors, often with generous helpings of earth and spice.  While these flavors might be found in lighter wines, they are found in much greater concentration here.   And concentration is a key word here.  Ripeness of the grape and intensity of flavor are directly related, so grapes grown in warm climates with lots of sun (think Australia) are more likely to produce rich reds than, say, grapes grown in Canada.  Tannin (one of the acids found in wine that leads to that great "puckery" reaction) is more likely in richer wines, and alcohol levels are also often higher here.

Two varietals produce wines that are almost always called rich:  Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel. Average tasting notes for Cabernet are loaded with fruity adjectives like black berry, black cherries, raspberries, and plums.  Interesting Cabernet adds chocolate, coffee, mint, and even bell pepper, all bound together with a firm seam of tannin.  My Zinfandel notes are filled with words like black cherry, coffee liqueur, licorice, and herbs. But if you like rich reds, don’t stop here…

Many reds from Southern France fill the bill.  Cotes du Rhone, Chateauneuf du Pape, Gigondas, and others offer charcoal, pepper, earth, black cherry and herb flavors. "Rhone Style" blends with Grenache, Mourvedre and Cinsault fall into this category.  But don’t stop here…

Shiraz (Syrah) brings flavors of blackberries, black currants, an intense purple color, and hints of black pepper, creosote and spice.  But don’t stop here either…

Malbec, the French grape adopted with enthusiasm in Argentina, is often a gorgeous combination of quality and affordability, and offers what many people consider to be the epitome of rich flavors, Chocolate, Coffee, cherry, and earth.

Petite Sirah
is one of my favorite varietals. Most wine stores only have a few in stock, but pick one up and see what you think (This is not to be mistaken for Syrah, which is a different grape).  At its best, Petite Sirah has opulent, jammy cherry and plum fruit flavors, along with cloves and other spices.   But keep going… 

Nebbiolo is the backbone of the famous Barolo wine of Northern Italy, a wine famous for its dark color and rich flavors of berries, spice and violets; and it's ability to improve for years in the cellar.  Sadly these wines tend to be expensive, and rarely fall into the Tasting Times price limits.  Nebbiolo is also grown outside of Italy.   But keep going…  Cabernet Franc from warm climates bring flavors of violets, raspberries, and blackcurrants.  But wait, there’s more…

Rich flavor characteristics can also be found in warm climate Pinot Noir from California. Some of these Pinots will be a better value than the Cab grown in the next vineyard.  And Merlot from warm climates (think California, Australia, and Chile) is rich by any definition.

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