While many of us look to the changing leaves for the approach of Fall, I look to the change in wine menus. With the falling leaves comes the reduction of refreshing white wines and the appearance of bold, warming red wines. Each harvest I find myself falling back in love with my favorite classic red wines. When thinking of the classics, three red wines instantly come to mind; Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Pinot Noir. These wines have all made their unique impressions and long-lasting appearance in the wine world.
Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the most well-known grape varieties. Originally from Bordeaux (specifically Medoc), where it is either produced as a single varietal or as a blend. Cabernet is grown world-wide, but can be a difficult grape to for cool climates due to its late ripening. This means that for Cabernet to truly flourish it needs a warmer climate than other wines, such as a Pinot Noir. Cabernet has captured the hearts of many wine drinkers due to its remarkable characteristics. Perhaps most notable is it’s high concentration of phenolics, a class of chemical compounds that are responsible for color, taste, and aging properties. Combined with Cabernet’s common characteristics of black currants, sweet and jammy flavors and higher alcohol levels, these factors make Cabernet Sauvignon easy to savor.
Merlot, now coming back into style, has long been a classic red wine. Merlot is also originally from Bordeaux (specifically the St. Emilion and Pomerol region) where it is the most planted black grape variety. Merlot is an early to mid-ripening grape, making it easier to produce than Cabernet Sauvignon. It also responds better to damp and cool soils. Like Cabernet, Merlot is produced as a single varietal and as a blend. While Merlot and Cabernet are very different, they are great partners and are often blended together. Merlot is not as easily identifiable as Cabernet because it can have numerous different characteristics, but one thing that is commonly agreed upon is that it is a smooth wine typically with a full mid-palate, which is what makes it loved by so many.
Pinot Noir became, and still is, famous for its production in Burgundy. In America, the Willamette Valley in Oregon has made a name for itself by producing high quality Pinot Noirs. While Cabernet and Merlot have their minor requirements for climate and winemaking styles, Pinot Noir is known as their demanding cousin. To thrive it must be grown in a cooler climate where it can ripen early although it is susceptible to many pests and diseases. Even so, many love to try their skills with this sensitive grape and even more love to drink it. Depending on region, Pinot Noir can either portray a more earthy characteristics or a more fruit forward wine. Compared to Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, it is a lighter styled wine with low to medium tannins.
From a smooth Merlot to a full bodied Cabernet Sauvignon or a light-styled Pinot Noir, all three of these classic varietals bring something different to the table. So this Fall as you prepare to take the rake to your yard full of leaves, decorate for the upcoming holidays, or to merely enjoy a warming glass of red wine in the cool night air, remember there’s always time to embrace a classic.