White into red: Some transition suggestions
First, some background.
As most American wine drinkers discover, drinking red wine is not something that comes naturally-there is a reason for this. Many people from outside the United States will tell you that everything here is sweetened-hence we have a palate that has been trained on sweetness. Just go through the cereal aisle at the grocery store and you will know what I mean (repeat after me: Frosted Cheerios, Frosted Flakes, Frosted Mini-Wheats).
But don't despair.
With our sweet palates in mind, think of something else that goes right along with sweet: fruit. Fruit is Mother Nature's own sweet. So now I am asking you to revisit that cereal aisle and look at the non-sweetened cereal ... what do they show with the cereal? Fruit, of course!
Now we get to the good part. This is what you need to keep in mind for the transition.
First, it's time for a new taste paradigm. You need to anticipate that red wine will taste different than white wine - you don't expect Granny Smith Apples to taste like Red Delicious. White wine tends to have a certain crispness to it, and in some cases it is refreshing like a soft drink. We, as Americans, are used to cold drinks on the table. In fact, we are used to drinks that are cold and sweet (think of Coke's sugary, syrupy taste). Red wine is generally not meant to quench. The thing to remember is that you can't judge red on the same criteria.
Next, turn again to our friend Mother Nature. Wine is made from fruit; fruit is nature's sweet. The point? When you drink fruity red wines your palate is tricked into thinking it's tasting sweet. Mother Nature is constantly playing tricks on us.
Third, when you go hunting for wine, be sure to ask the wine store personnel which wines are fruity and request that they steer you away from heavy tannin to start. Simply, tannin is that "dry" pucker that you probably find offensive. Avoid this. The No. 1 reason people swear off red wine is because the tannin is too strong for them. Tannin takes getting used to.
It's thrilling if you like red wine right away, but if you don't just adore it upon your initial sips that is all right, and normal. Try and try again, and as you try, your palate will adjust itself to be red friendly. It's like sleeping in a new house-the first few nights you hear it every crick and creep, after that it's nothing.
Here are a few suggestions to for the transition, the strawberries in your Total, the bananas on your Wheaties:
#1 Beaujolais. This is a great wine from the Beaujolais region of France, a section of Burgundy. Light-bodied, fruity, you can even chill it for a bit. George DeBouf offers the best value for Beaujolais in my opinion; and if you are willing to spend a bit more I suggest Louis-Jadot. Look for Beaujolais or Beaujolais-Villages.
#2 Valpolicella. This is an Italian wine from a region near Verona. Valpolicella comes in a wide variety of styles, from the light and fruity to the fuller, more tannic-so be sure to ask about what wine to get. I recommend Allegrini or Bolla.
#3 Red Zinfandel. This is "California's own." Like Valpolicella, it comes in a wide variety of styles, so be sure to ask. Try Bayliss and Fortune 1997 (the '98's have more tannin), the fruit is explosive, so explosive it's sweet. Gallo of Sonoma Dry Creek Valley also makes a great quaffer.
Other wines that I recommend include Tempranillo, Barbera, and even some Merlots. Go for fruit, be adventurous, this is fun! And don't be afraid to ask ... personnel at wine stores are paid to know the difference between All-Bran and Fruity Pebbles!
July 12, 2000