Many bottles of wine on a table top.

The Great Big Reds: Grapes and Blends

We’re after “big, bold, luscious” wines. If you love Great Big Reds, have you tried all of these grapes?

We think this is a good starting point for people interested in Great Big Reds, even if the list is somewhat arbitrary, and somewhat US-centric.

Pretty easy to find at a grocery store or even a non-chain convenience store:

shiraz / syrah
petite sirah / durif
monastrell / mourvedre
zinfandel / primitivo
red blends with the above grapes

Much harder to find, but on the treasure map:

aglianico
amarone (and ripasso)
petit verdot
pinotage
sagrantino
tannat
touriga nacional

[Editor’s note: We’ll write up each of the grapes. Stay tuned!]

See below for a brief intro to each.

Now, it’s not only about the grapes: the wine-making matters a lot, and so do the climate, weather, and soil. You can have a syrah as big and bold as Molly Dooker’s The Boxer, but you can also have thin, acidic, undrinkable swill made from syrah grapes. Conversely, a good winemaker with grapes of good ‘terroir’ can surely make bold, interesting wines from many other kinds of grapes.

Our baseline is that 13.5% alcohol starts to feel luscious in the mouth if it isn’t overwhelmed by tannin and acidity. 14% to 14.5%, even better. You can get that alcohol level from a lot of grapes, but the list above will tend to give you bold flavors at any given alcohol level.

What we’re looking for:

lots of flavor!
high alcohol content (especially >= 14% ABV)
in some cases: pretty high tannin
generally: not too much mouth-puckering acidity
deep, dark color… for the fun of it.

Again, we point to Molly Dooker The Boxer as evidence that you can have a really good wine with pretty high alcohol, low tannin, and low acidity.

Special, honorary members of the family:

brut Champagne (‘methode traditionelle’)
port

Yes, maybe this is cheating a little. But the brut sparkline wines we like the best are made from red wine grapes, and we think the bubbles justify calling them ‘big’ and ‘bold’. Port, meanwhile, really is red wine plus plus: They make brandy out of red wine, and add the brandy to the blend of reds they use in the port. A little sweet, maybe, but definitely big and bold and luscious. (And, goes great with chocolate!)

So there you have the semi-official Great Big Reds grape list. Stay tuned as we do the hard, hard work of testing the wines of each grape. We’ll report back on the Great ones, so you can enjoy the best and skip over the not-so-goods.

Quick notes on each grape/blend

Shiraz / syrah: It’s the same grape, simply referred to as ‘shiraz’ in Australia. In hot climates, you get high alcohol / low acidity. In much cooler climates, you get lower alcohol and higher acidity. We like both styles, but we like the cool-climate flavors in a wine that still manages to have 14% alcohol.

Petite sirah / durif: Known for big flavor, big tannins, and sometimes processed with a lot of oak.

Monastrell / mourvedre: Super common in Spain, less so, elsewhere. Lots of flavor.

Zinfandel / primitivo: Found popularity in California. The style has varied over the decades, but we especially like plush zinfandels with fairly high alcohol.

Red blends with the above grapes: Some are great; some, not so much.

Aglianico: Italian.

Amarone (and ripasso): Italian, made from light red blends, but enhanced by drying the grapes. Ripasso re-uses the amarone grapes to add flavor.

Petit verdot: Velvety. Strong, unique flavor. Used in tiny amounts in Bordeaux wines but grows better in warmer climates. The world needs much more petit verdot!

Pinotage: Lots of flavor. A lot of people in South Africa love it. A lot of people elsewhere are not as thrilled. Intense ‘minerality’ is common.

Sagrantino: May be the great-biggest of all. Loads of tannin, loads of flavor. Drink with a bite of steak or spicy food, and the tannin effect disappears. Mostly grown in one town in Italy. #NeverFearTanninAgain

Tannat: Lots of tannin in the grapes themselves, but often blended and massaged to lower the tannin. Popular in Uruguay. Madiran, France is the French epicenter of tannat.

Touriga nacional: A very flavorful grape used in many Portuguese blends. It’s rare, but rewarding to find a wine that’s 100% touriga nacional.

We may update this list.

Find and Enjoy Big, Bold, Luscious Red Wines