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Navigating Red Wines: Expert Tips For Beginners

If you're new to the world of red wine, figuring out where to start can be overwhelming. That’s where AJ Kiamie, the seasoned founder of Kiamie Restaurant Group (KRG) in Oxford, Mississippi, comes in. With his extensive knowledge and passion for wine, AJ has several tips that can help you demystify the red wine scene and navigate different grapes and vintages with ease.

Photo Credit: Kiamie Restaurant Group

And trust us, you’re in good hands! With establishments like The Sipp on South Lamar and YŪGŌ Oxford, Kiamie’s restaurant group, KRG, has been nationally recognized for their crave-able culinary experiences and curated collection of wines, receiving accolades like Wine Spectator's "Award of Excellence." The Kiamie family also has a third-generation family-owned wine shop, Kaimie Package Store, with over 1,500 different wines from which to choose.


Kiamie reminds us, “The trick to understanding red wine is not to overthink it. Wine is supposed to be fun!”


Now let’s break this down, one bottle at a time so that you can uncork your next red confidently.

What Is Wine Body?


You’ve probably heard this term tossed around when describing different wines, but it’s not as complicated as you might think. Wine body refers to the weight and texture of a wine in your mouth. According to Kiamie, several factors influence the wine body, including the grape variety, winemaking techniques, and the wine's alcohol content. Think of it as the difference between skim milk (light-bodied), whole milk (medium-bodied), and heavy cream (full-bodied).


There are several different wine body types:


  • Full-bodied red wines are bold and robust.

They often have higher alcohol content and more intense flavors. Examples include Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah (also called Shiraz), and Malbec.


  • Medium-bodied red wines are wines that strike a balance between light and full-bodied.

These wines offer a wide range of flavors and aromas. Examples include Merlot, Zinfandel, and Sangiovese.


  • Light-bodied red wines are more delicate and have a lower alcohol content.

They are known for their bright acidity and subtle flavors. Pinot Noir, Grenache, and Beaujolais are examples of different light-bodied varietals.


“The wine body is not just about taste; it’s also about visual and textural elements,” says Kiamie. “Check out the wine's color. Full-bodied wines are typically darker and more opaque, while light-bodied wines are lighter in color.”


The wine body also includes texture. Swirl the wine in your glass and take a sip. Full-bodied wines often feel more dense and silky, while light-bodied wines have a lighter, crisper texture.


The Art of Food and Wine Pairings


Pairing food with red wine can take your dining experience to the next level. Here's how wine body can influence your food choices and pairings:


  • Full-Bodied Red Wines

They have a lot of depth and flavor. Pair them with hearty dishes like grilled steak, roasted lamb, or rich pasta with tomato-based sauces.


  • Medium-Bodied Red Wines

These wines are more versatile. They go well with chicken, pork, mushroom risotto, and moderately spiced cuisine.


  • Light-Bodied Red Wines

Lighter wines are Ideal for lighter fare such as salmon, roasted chicken, charcuterie, and dishes with cream-based sauces.


For dessert, consider sweet red wines like Port, late-harvest Zinfandel, or Tawny Port with chocolate-based desserts or fruit tarts.


“Remember that wine pairing is an art, and there are no hard and fast rules,” says Kiamie. The goal is to enjoy your dining experience by finding combinations that taste good to you. Don't be afraid to explore, experiment, and, most importantly, enjoy the journey of discovering the perfect red wine and food pairings for your palate.


Serving Temperature

The serving temperature can significantly impact your wine's taste and aroma. Full-bodied wines should be served slightly below room temperature, around 60-65°F (15-18°C). Medium-bodied wines can be served at a cooler temperature, around 55-60°F (13-15°C). For light-bodied wines, you should serve these chilled at around 50-55°F (10-13°C).


Best Varietals for Beginners

Now for the fun part—here’s where you can begin your adventure to explore new red wines.

Start with lighter, more approachable wines like:


  • Grenache is another versatile, food-friendly choice that’s a great option for wine newbies. It is approachable, medium-bodied, and offers flavors of strawberries, raspberries, and sometimes a touch of black pepper.

  • Merlot is known for its smooth, soft, and approachable characteristics. It often has flavors of red berries, plums, and a hint of spice. Merlot wines are typically less tannic than some other reds, making them a great choice for those new to red wine.

  • Pinot Noir is celebrated for its elegance and versatility. It offers flavors of red fruits like cherries, raspberries, and subtle earthy notes. It's often lighter in body, making it an excellent choice for those transitioning from white to red wine.

  • Beaujolais wines, made from the Gamay grape, are exceptionally friendly to beginners. They are light, fruity, and easy-drinking with flavors of red berries and a hint of floral notes. Beaujolais Nouveau, in particular, is a popular choice for novices.


Selecting the Right Wine for the Occasion

Photo Credit: Kiamie Restaurant Group

Consider the occasion when choosing your next red wine. Is it a casual gathering on the porch or a backyard barbecue? Opt for medium-bodied wines that pair well with different dishes with a universal appeal to different palates. If you’re planning a special occasion, full-bodied wines are great for celebrations and pairing with elegant dishes. And when you’re ready to explore new reds, try different varietals and regions to expand your palate.


Remember, there are a lot of different red wines out there, so don't hesitate to experiment and discover new favorites. To help you on your quest to find your next favorite red, try joining a wine-tasting event, like a tasting held at The Tasting Room at The Sipp. You can enjoy an evening of sampling new wines guided by a knowledgeable sommelier. And the most important advice to remember? Enjoy the journey as you savor each sip. Cheers!

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