For the majority of us, wine is wine. We can tell the difference between red and white, but beyond that, we have few real insights. Maybe we pretend to have cultured palates when among friends, but if it goes down well and makes us feel good, does it really matter?
The simple truth is that, if you don’t want to learn anything more about wine, there’s no reason you can’t enjoy it for what it is. However, knowing the differences between different kinds of wines lets you know what to look out for. While it won’t necessarily change your mind about what you like or dislike, it will give you a more interesting and enjoyable experience.
One of the most basic differences you can learn to spot is between two kinds of red wines: merlot and cabernet sauvignon. Red wines all have a couple of things in common:
- the grapes are crushed with their skins intact
- they are aged longer than white wines to reduce their tannin content so that they go down more easily
Red wine is most commonly served with meat dishes, although that’s not always the ideal pairing, depending on the type of red wine. It usually ages well, but that’s not always the case, and some red wines are actually better when they’re relatively “young.”
A defining factor in how the wine will taste is the tannins. Tannins generally make the wine taste harsh and bitter. By allowing the tannins to mellow for a while, the wine becomes easier on the palate. Certain wines take advantage of the harshness of the tannins to activate taste buds and give the wine a distinct feel, while tannin content can ruin some of the lighter red wines.
Now that we know a little bit more about red wine, let’s discuss the differences between merlot and cabernet sauvignon.
Merlot is a very popular type of red wine, although today it is not as popular as it was a couple of decades ago. You can generally recognize merlot for its light and fruity taste. It has medium tannin content and acidity, and the good merlots should be easy on the palate. Cheap merlots have given the wine a bad name, but the good varieties go down well with wine experts and amateurs.
Merlot is best paired with light meats like chicken, as well as lightly-spiced dark meats. It can also be paired with roast vegetables.
Cabernet sauvignon, the most popular red wine, is a blend between cabernet franc and sauvignon blanc. It has a higher tannin content than merlot, and therefore has a stronger taste and is harder on the palate. Its powerful flavors make it a good pairing with red meat, peppery sauces, and other dishes with strong flavors.
Cabernet sauvignon is hugely popular. It is at its best when it is significantly aged, but the cheaper varieties which are mass-produced can also taste great.
Getting to know the subtle differences between wines can be an exciting and fun endeavor. It will certainly increase the depth of your experience when drinking wine. If you want to experience a variety of red wines, consider joining the best red wine club. You won’t regret the time you spend training your palate.