Whenever I meet someone who’s interested in wine, I’ll often ask about their favorite styles. Some people respond with particular grape varieties or regions, but many simply say something like, “I like big, powerful, full-bodied reds.” If you fall into that broad category, you’re in luck – the world of wine teems with brawny reds for you to explore. Here are a few of my favorite big wines for you to try.
A traditional grape in the Italian region of Montefalco in Umbria, Sagrantino boasts dark colors, firm textures and decadent fruit flavors with a dry palate. Montefalco was recognized by the government in the 1990s for its high-quality Sagrantino and was awarded the prestigious designation of “DOCG” – a term for first-rate Italian wine sources. It’s sometimes difficult to find in the US, so if you see a bottle, give it a try. Sagrantino usually spends a significant amount of time in oak and appeals to lovers of Bordeaux or California Cabernet. Pair with smoky red meat dishes like steak or lamb.
The Grenache grape has many expressions around the world. It can vary from almost Pinot-like in parts of France, to massive and jammy in Australia, where it was introduced for Port production in the 19th century. While Shiraz has a corner on the market for Australian reds, Grenache is among the least appreciated and most delicious wines from “down under.” The texture of Aussie Grenache can be at once chewy and velvety, offering gobs of ripe red fruit laced with baking spice. These wines are delicious on their own or with duck and pork.
Don’t let the name fool you – the grape Petite Sirah makes huge wine. The word “petite” refers to the individual grapes on the vine, which are quite small. Small grapes have a higher skin-to-juice ratio, and since tannins and color are found mainly in skins, they produce big, dark wines. Known in France as “Durif,” Petite Sirah is now best known in California and Washington State. If you’re looking for a dark purple wine with berry and spice flavors to impress your friends, look no further.
The south of Italy has a warm, sunny climate with poor, volcanic soils. These conditions lend themselves perfectly to the production of powerful red wines like Aglianico (“ahl-YAHN-ick-oh”), a grape grown mainly in the regions of Campania and Basilicata. Wines labeled “Taurasi” are among the most famous examples of Aglianico, but there are many other excellent sources. The grape has a naturally full body and rich, tannic structure along with a flavor often described as “smoky,” making it a natural pairing for smoked foods, from wings to brisket.
Of the grapes used for blending in the Bordeaux region of France, Petit Verdot is the most powerful. Often added to blends to increase tannin, color saturation, and body, it’s no wonder that when made into a single variety wine, Petit Verdot is among the biggest reds available. Very few wines from Europe are made exclusively from this grape, but more and more are being made in places like the US and Australia. New World Petit Verdot is reminiscent of Cabernet, with its aggressive tannins and round palate, but it still retains enough fruit flavor to maintain balance. Keep a few bottles in your cellar to open the next time a dinner guest expresses a love of big red wines.