Great Big Reds Spotting
At your neighborhood grocery store, or even a convenience store, how do you spot full-bodied Great Big Reds?
Most large grocery stores near me have wine sections. The red wine section is usually endless shelves of cabernet sauvignon, then merlot and pinot noir, and some even have shelves of malbec. It can feel lonely for the Great Big Reds shopper.
But there may be one small section that has everything else… syrah, zinfandel, petite syrah, and blends.
It’s also common to sort by country, so you may find some shiraz in an Australia section, and if you’re lucky you might find a monastrell or even a bobal in the Spanish section. See below for the list of Great Big Reds by country/region.
So that’s the first step, hone in on the right grapes.
But knowing the grape alone is no guarantee that a particular wine is full-bodied.
So what clues can you see on a bottle?
- Alcohol content (ABV) of 14% or more.
- The label may say “full-bodied” — but check the ABV!
- The label recommends the wine with grilled meat, barbecue, spicy food, hard cheeses, etc.
- Price: fact is, on average you get more flavor for your extra dollars.
- Marketing: for example, “Sledgehammer Zinfandel” has a lot of flavor — but check the ABV!
- Exchange value: due to economic conditions, we may get a little extra value for our money on wines from South Africa, South America, and Spain.
A positive trend lately is to see many more California red blends using syrah and zinfandel as the base. Many of these blends tell you on the label what grapes are used, and sometimes even the percentage of each. A safe approach is to choose the one with the highest percentage of Great Big Reds in the blend.
See the Top 5 Great Big Reds.
A somewhat dubious trend is to give extremely aggressive-sounding brand names. I was just at a grocery store looking at zinfandels next to each other on the shelf: “Predator” and “St. Francis”. Hmm. There was also “Ravage, Knight Fall, Dark Red Blend”, and “Primal Roots”, and “Dead Bolt” (with kind of a scary-gothic design), and “Besieged”. They were out of “Apothic Inferno”, that boasts on the label of two months aging in used whiskey barrels. I say ‘somewhat dubious’ because while I like wines with lots of flavor, I have no need or desire for my wine to be a dramatic display of machismo… a label with an armored knight on horseback with sword about to strike, for example.
If your wine supplier sorts by nation and/or region, here are the Great Big Reds you might see in each section:
- Australia: shiraz (syrah)
- Chile: syrah
- France, northern Cote du Rhone appellations: very expensive syrahs from Cornas, Cote-Rotie, Crozes-Hermitage, Hermitage, Saint-Joseph, and Saint-Peray. Probably not available in your neighborhood convenience store.
- Italy: aglianico, amarone (a blend), primitivo (zinfandel), sagrantino
- Portugal: blends… look for more touriga nacional and touriga franca, and less tinta roriz (tempranillo) — and check the ABV!
- South Africa: pinotage, syrah
- Spain: monastrell (mourvedre), bobal, some blends labelled Priorat
- Uruguay: tannat
One hardly ever sees 100% petit verdot wines, but if you spot it blended in at 10 or 20%, that wine is likely to have a lot of flavor. You might see it in Spanish or Chilean wines.
Note that some of these wines can be quite an adventure, with extreme tannin and acidity (aglianico, petit verdot, sagrantino, tannat) or unusual in terms of mineral flavors (pinotage). Amarone ramps up the flavor by drying the grapes.
[Editor’s Note: Coming Soon! We will describe each of the grapes in detail, and review specific wines that meet the Great Big Reds standards.]