Chart illustrates spectrum from full to light body and from luscious to 'craggy' red wines.

Understanding Red Wine: Three Categories

These three categories make red wine easier to understand:

– Big, luscious

– Big, craggy (‘structured’)

– Light-bodied

By ‘big’ we mean 1) lots of flavor, and 2) full-bodied, usually due to higher alcohol levels.

By ‘luscious’ we mean smooth and easily approachable — not high in tannin or acidity.

By ‘craggy/structured’, we mean high tannin — leaves your mouth feeling dry after you swallow — and high acidity — puckers the lips like eating citrus fruit.

At Great Big Reds, we are especially fond of the ‘luscious’ category, but frequently enjoy wines that are more toward the ‘craggy’ end of the scale.

Wine Grapes

Luscious wines we love are frequently made with syrah, mourvedre, or zinfandel.

Craggy wines we love are frequently made with petite sirah, tannat, or sagrantino.

Many people (not us) are very enthusiastic about cabernet sauvignon and Bordeaux blends. These fall in the craggy category.

The grape variety alone is not the final word on where a wine falls in the luscious-craggy spectrum. Winemakers have many options to make a syrah — for example — more luscious or more craggy.

See below for a complete breakdown of the Great Big Reds grapes and blends.

Light-bodied wine can be made from many grapes. Syrah grown in cool climates will have lower alcohol, for example, but is still ‘big’ in terms of flavor.

Ultimately, a wine can fall anywhere in the spectrum, either full to light-bodied, or luscious to craggy.

Food Friendliness

People who say light-bodied reds are ‘food friendly’ don’t eat the same food as I eat.

Big, luscious wines are great on their own, but they also match well with spicy-hot foods. A medium-bodied red that is acceptable with modestly-spiced food will likely not keep up when you increase the spice level… by piling on the harissa, for example.

Big, craggy wines are commonly associated with steak, because the tannin effect disappears completely with a bite of juicy steak.

Light-bodied reds are said to pair well with foods using salt and butter/fat as flavorings.

Hat Tip: “Passion for Wine”

These categories were articulated well — and more romantically — in a book called “Passion for Wine” by Jean-Charles Boisset and Marnie Old. They called the categories “seductive”, “powerful”, and “elegant”, and illustrated them with glamorous photos of Sophia Loren, Liz Taylor, and Audrey Hepburn.

Great Big Reds Grapes and Blends by Category

We have a very specific point of view: we want big, bold wines with lots of flavor. “That’s a great red wine, but I wish it had less flavor,” I said, NEVER!

In the luscious category, it’s pretty easy to find:

– syrah, aka shiraz

– mourvedre (aka monastrell, matarro)

– zinfandel (same as or similar to primitivo)

– blends with the above

You should also be on the look-out for:

– petit verdot (100% or added in w/ syrah, mourvedre, etc.)

– touriga nacional (100%)

– amarone (Italian blend)

– ripasso (Italian blend)

In the craggy (or potentially craggy) category:

– petite sirah (one of our favorites, and often fairly smooth)

– sagrantino (craggiest of craggies; never fear tannin again!)

– tannat

– aglianico (more on the acidic side of craggy)

– pinotage (often an acquired taste; often unacquired)