Wine, the sweet nectar of the gods, enjoyed by ancient civilisations, paupers; Marie Antoinette and the bourgeoisie and today by sophisticated and even Big Mac munching, KFC loving palates with smart phones in hand. Most have explored and ventured into drinking wine but as with everything in life we all drink it differently and for different reasons.
There is a great taboo about box wines among most urban South Africans- and no urban in this context does not mean black, don’t read what’s not written. This mistrust of box wines stems from a “Pap sak” and cheap wine culture in University or College that had most whaling in bathrooms on many a night. Now for those who are not familiar Pap Sak is a cheap wine, often white that was sold in boxes. In recent times they even done away with the box probably to save costs and as a result have made it even less appealing- rightfully so! It should however be noted that one can buy good quality box wines that can be enjoyed by even the most sophisticated palates; this option can be a reasonably priced entry point into your wine journey with friends.
However before you boldly step out and venture into the world of box wine or any wine for that matter let me begin by taking you through the different wine types and for purposes of clever banter at the dinner table also present you with some wine history and facts to impress any wine snob. Given that neither you nor I are going to be wine farmers we just need to be equipped with the basics to tell one type from another. I will point out some easy to remember basics and leave the rest to the barrels and farmers of Stellenbosch and Franschoek; South Africa’s prime wine region and home to Beyerskloof wines famous for their Pinotage and the beautiful Anthonij Rupert farms that produce the most amazing Pinot Grigio under the name Tera Del Capo or take your pick from their signature Anthonij Rupert wines portfolio. One farm that is well worth a visit is the Leopard Leap Family Vineyards in Franschoek, great wine paired with amazing food and at a reasonable cost. It is an occasion that will truly fill you with joie de vivre!
I digress, back to the matter at hand wine types; below is a list of the different varieties of wine beginning with the red ones and followed by the white, quick note: as a rule of thumb the darker the wine the darker the meat thought there are exceptions.
Syrah (or Shiraz)
(Sah-ra or Shi-raz) Syrah and Shiraz are two names for the same variety. Europe vintners only use the name Syrah.
Food pairings: Meat like steak, beef, wild game, venison and stews. Cold winter night warmer
Typical taste: aromas and flavours of wild black fruit (such as blackcurrant), with overtones of black pepper spice and roasting meat. The abundance of fruit sensations is often complemented by warm alcohol. Toffee notes if present come not from the fruit but from the wine having rested in oak barrels.
(Mare-lo) Easy to drink. The softness of Merlot has made it an “introducing” wine for new red-wine drinkers.
Food pairings: Lamb chops and stews, a great wine for slow cooking red meat.
Typical taste: Typical scents include black cherry, plums and herbal flavours. The texture is round but a middle palate gap is common. The Merlot type of wine is less rough than Cabernet Sauvignon.
(Ca-burr-nay so-veen-yaw) Widely accepted as one of the world’s best varieties.. It usually undergoes oak treatment.
Food pairings: Best with simply prepared red meat.
Typical taste: Full-bodied, but firm and gripping when young.
With age, polyphenols polymerize: the grip fades away. The rich currant qualities of the Cabernet Sauvignon wine change and bell pepper notes remain. Vanilla notes if present come not from the fruit but from the oak treatment.
Food pairings: All types of meat-based meals like Spaghetti Bolognese. Malbec suits Mexican, Cajun, and Indian dishes.
Typical taste: Malbec’s characteristics vary greatly depending on where it is grown and how it is transformed. Generally it produces an easy-drinking style, well coloured wine that tastes of plums, berries, and spice. Malbec is often blended with other varieties such as cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and petit verdot to make Bordeaux style wines
(Pee-know na-wahr) One of the noblest red wine grapes. Pinot noir is difficult to grow, rarely blended, with no roughness.
Food pairings: Excellent with grilled salmon, chicken, lamb and Japanese dishes (notably sushi rolls). PS: The exception
Typical taste: Very much unlike Cabernet Sauvignon. The structure is delicate and fresh. The aromatics are very fruity (cherry, strawberry, plum), often with notes of tea-leaf, damp earth, or worn leather. Yes damp earth or “earthy undertones”
(Zin-fan-dell) Perhaps the world’s most versatile wine grape, making everything from blush wine (White Zinfandel), to rich, heavy reds.
Food pairings: Very much depends on the freshness/heaviness of the wine; tomato-sauce pasta, pizza, and grilled and barbecued meats.
Typical taste: Often a zesty flavour with berry and pepper.
Food pairings: A good choice for Italian and other Mediterranean-style cuisines.
Typical taste: The primary style is medium-bodied with fresh berry and plum flavours.
(Bar-bear-a) Not as popular as Merlot but with similar attributes.
Food pairings: Barbera wines are versatile they match many dishes, including tomato sauces based dishes.
Typical taste: Juicy black cherry and plum fruit, a silky texture and acidity.
Red wine is an acquired tasted and my advice is that you acquire the taste as soon as possible as few things give the palate such illustrious pleasure. You are now better equipped to pair red wine with food and know the different types, I rather hope that is the case because next time we delve into the world of white wines; do join me as we conclude this figurative journey.
Mpho has always had a passion for food, being a self taught cook with a keen sense for flavours. He now embarks on a journey that will see him combine his entrepreneurial business experience with his passion for food through his iCookArt brand.
You can get in touch with Mpho through Twitter & Instagram: @iCookArt