Read why we chose powerful red wines during autumn and winter. What defines a powerful red wine. Some examples of grapes and wines.
When autumn comes and we are heading towards winter, we long for some warmth. We switch on the heating and we put on our sweaters. In the taste, we also want more warmth and power. We start making stews and shepherd pies. We spice it up a bit. Partly because we’ve always done it like this. If our mothers did it that way, why change it? But could it also be our body’s natural reaction to withstand the wind and cold?
We see the same thing happening regarding our wine preferences. In the spring and summer, we prefer white wine, sparkling wine, or rosé. When autumn comes, we increasingly opt for powerful red wines. One of the reasons will probably be that those wines combine better with the firmer and spicier meals that we make. The ingredients of the meals also change. In autumn, for example, the game season starts and the supply of mushrooms (apart from the usual mushrooms in the supermarkets) is larger. And that gives a different bite and taste sensation than the light summer dishes we made.
What is a powerful red wine?
To keep it simple, you can say that a powerful red wine is a red wine with 13.5% alcohol or more that has a lot of color and structure. Besides, they need time for wood and/or bottle aging before they are ready to drink. With these powerful red wines, the tannins stand out. These are the substances that ensure that you get a tight and drying mouthfeel.
To get that 13.5% or more alcohol, the grapes must be able to build up a lot of sugars. After all, sugars are converted into alcohol. This requires grapes that are well ripened. That is why powerful red wines mainly come from relatively warm regions or vineyards with a warm location.
A lot of color in powerful red wines
The red color of wine comes from the skins of the grapes. Only grape varieties with a lot of red coloring in the skin are therefore suitable. To get the color out of the skins, the winegrower ensures that the fermentation takes place at a slightly higher temperature. (28-32 degrees Celsius). The more time the winemaker allows this process of soaking the skins to take place, the more extraction will be the result. There are also ways to speed up this process. The winemaker can use a stick to immerse the floating grape skins mass at set times (pigeage) or pump wine from the bottom of the barrel onto the shell mass (remuage). As a result, controlled oxygen is added and this process is accelerated. Enzymes can also be added to speed up the process.
What role do tannins play?
Tannins are substances that, like the red dyes, are released during maceration and fermentation. When the tannins are extracted from the grape skins, they will rearrange and attach to the dyes. This is very important to maintain a stable color. The tannins provide astringent and bitter taste. How astringent they depend on the concentration and composition of the tannins and the number of dyes. So if you use grapes with fewer dyes, the wines will be more astringent and take longer to drink. The Nebbiolo grape and the Mourvèdre are good examples of this.
A little later in the soaking and maceration process, tannins also come from the seeds from the grape skins. They are more astringent and bitter than tannins from the skins. It is up to the winemaker to determine how long he will allow these tannins to be extracted.
Examples of powerful red wines
Which grapes can produce powerful red wines? There are many grape varieties, but I will give some examples of wines that are commonly known and available.
The Tannat, Sagrantino, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Aglianico are good examples. When you buy wine made from these grapes, you know you can expect a powerful red wine. Pay attention. If other grapes were added and used to make a blend, it will of course affect the taste. Usually, this is to make the wine more accessible and softer. A good choice if you prefer this style. If you only want to taste the wine from this particular grape and from that particular region/country, choose a wine made only from that grape (monocépage).
A few more examples of grape varieties and regions where the grapes ripen well due to warm conditions and good powerful red wines can be made: Malbec from Mendoza (Argentina), Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley (USA), Shiraz from Barossa Valley (Australia), Syrah from southern Rhône (France) and try the Merlot from St. Emilion (France).
The Nebbiolo and Mourvèdre (in Spain: Monastrell) are also grape varieties that yield powerful red wines. The Nebbiolo does not have that many dyes in its skin and they are difficult to extract from the Mourvèdre. As a result, the tannins get the upper hand because there are not enough dyes to bond with. You do not expect this power immediately when you look at the color. These wines are quite a translucent ruby red. These wines are not intended for drinking young. They will taste quite astringent at that point. They take years to mature and develop. Even when they are in the bottle.
There are also powerful red wines that can be drunk a bit younger. When properly ripened, the Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile and the Touriga Nacional from Portugal have a lot of coloring agents and therefore soften the effects of tannins. These wines are already accessible younger despite the tannins present.
Powerful red wine can be stored well
Besides the fact that powerful red wines taste delicious and are excellent food combinations, it is also an advantage that these are wines suit for storage. This is due to the combination of high alcohol, acidity, tannins, and dyes.
Usually, the wine shop ensures that the wines that are sold are ready for consumption. So you don’t have to put them away for years to wait until you can drink them. However, if you have bought several bottles, you can safely store them for 5 to 7 years. But it does not mean that the older the wine, the better it is! Look at how many old wine bottles are offered on the Internet by sellers who think they own a gold mine, but those wines are only fit to go right down the drain. So make sure you enjoy your delicious wine on time.
If you have good wines of very high quality that are made in a style that needs aging and are intended for that, then those bottles can be stored for 10 to 20 years or much longer. There is little chance that these wines are in your cellar or cupboard unless you buy those expensive bottles. When in doubt about the storage time of your wine, just ask in the wine shop.
You know a little more about powerful red wines now and which wines you can choose this autumn and winter. Cheers.
And if you are a fan of this wine style, be my guest to use them all year-round.