Red Scare: Making friends with red wine

The first time I tried red wine, I hated it. I was visiting Atlanta’s gorgeous Chateau Elan Winery with a wine-savvy, older boyfriend. Trying desperately to appear sophisticated — since I was underage and I foolishly believed I had to be chic to drink wine — I ended up contorting my face as the tannin assaulted my mouth, and almost spit up like a baby. Through the shame and the distaste, I braved on since everyone told me this was the good shit I was supposed to like. Fifteen years later, after plenty of intensive wine therapy, I love red wine. But for a lot of people, that’s certainly not the case. So here’s my plea for why you, too, should tackle the tannins and drink reds.Why drink red if you love whites? Several reasons: 1. During the fall and winter months, drinking something chilled just isn’t as satisfying, so reds offer a warming respite. 2. Reds pair well with cold-weather foods like pot roast, roast lamb, root vegetables and pastas. 3. Reds offer a deeper array of flavors and fruit characteristics. 4. They’re often cheaper, since red grapes — with the big exception of pinot noir — proliferate widely and can be grown easily in different climates.

To make the transition, I normally advise people to start with lighter reds. By all means, avoid Napa cabernets sauvignons, high-end merlots, French Bordeaux and Burgundy, and Oregon pinot noirs. They are typically too astringent for the red newcomer. Stick with the uncomplicated labeling and approachable fruitiness of Australian shiraz and many California reds.

Here’s a list of easy-to-drink, easy-on-the-wallet red wines that should help introduce you to the darker side of wine — some previously noted here, some not.

RH Phillips 2002 Shiraz Dunnigan Hills An explosive fruit bomb of cherry and raspberry jam, with touches of tobacco and oak. Great deal. Sweetness = 4. $9. 3 stars.

Solaris 2002 Pinot Noir Carneros Earthy and cherry-fruity the way a pinot should be. Solid acids and roasted pecans give this some hefty food-appeal. sw = 2. $9. 3 stars.

Jean Paul 2002 Chenet Cabernet-Syrah Vin du Pays D’Oc Tasty stuff from an underappreciated region of France. Smacks of those chocolate-cherry candies with the white filling. Not complicated, but easy to meet. sw = 2. $7. 3 stars.<>
Penfold’s 2002 Shiraz-Cabernet Koonunga Hill SE Australia Refreshing summer raspberries and cherries abound in this puppy. Smooth tannins. sw = 3. $12. 3 stars.

McWilliams 2003 Merlot Hanwood Estate SE Australia Rich with flavors of black cherries and ripe blackberries. A tease of chocolate and coffee as well. A complicated wine and worth talking about with friends over dinner. sw = 1. $12. 4 stars.

Cellar #8 2001 Zinfandel North Coast Like tasting a fresh, tart raspberry as it explodes in your mouth. Follows up with a touch of vanilla oak. A fantastic deal. sw = 3. $11. 3 stars.

Camelot 2001 Merlot California A simple, sultry, oaky, cherry-driven merlot with some kick to it. So cheap, I wanna hug it. sw = 3. $7. 3 stars.

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