One of the frustrating things when learning about wine is trying to understand what varietals are similar to each other. For instance, you know you like Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir, but you are not sure what other wines you should venture to try next. And you don’t want to waste your money choosing the wrong one, so you stick to your old stand-bys.
But what do you do if you are at a restaurant or a friend’s house or on a trip and none of your stand-bys are available? Or how do you start to expand your horizons on wine in a way that feels a bit less like jumping into the deep end? Wouldn’t it be nice to have some handy way to determine similarities between wines and start with those that are closest to the ones you like?
Well, we agree!
We also know that there are so many variables when it comes to wine - flavors, hues, acidity, tannin, oakiness, etc. - that it can feel a little overwhelming to know where to even start. So, we have put together a chart we think will be useful to help you find red wines that have similarities to other wines. We are starting with red wines because there tends to be a bit more variability between them, and because we wanted to test this out first to see how accurate and useful it is. Consider this a draft, and we will update over time, and, if useful, expand to whites and rose’s.
To make the chart as easy to use as possible, we wanted to find a way to make it a little more visual, but were struggling to find ways to make the variables understandable. So, first we narrowed down the variables to four: body, tannin, acidity, and prominent fruit. Determining the flavor to narrow in on was the hardest part, so we decided to focus on the most prominent red fruit flavors - cherry, berry, and plum - and if a particular flavor tended toward light and tart or dark and jammy.
We also felt that we could visualize these four variables in terms of color, and so we used a color tool that allowed us to create colors on 4 dimensions using CMYK as the basis. CMYK is the color combination that you often find in home printers. We used the following colors and intensities to develop the chart, with darker colors more intense, and lighter colors less intense.
- C = Cyan, which is a greenish-blue color, we used to give a color to Body
- M = Magenta, which is a purplish-red color, we used to give a color to Acidity
- Y = Yellow, we used to give a color to Tannin
- K = Black, we used to give a color to the primary Fruit flavor
There is more information below on how the colors work out using the tool. But here are a few ways you can use the tool.
Finding more wines like the varietal you like
- Find a varietal you like
- Explore within the same column as that varietal
- Then, start to explore to the right or the left of that varietal, continuing to taste by column
- As you understand more about the varietals you like, you can start to see patterns in body, acid, tanning, and fruit. You can then start to look for columns that also coincide with certain aspects of wines styles you like.
- Then, start to explore varietals that you like from different parts of the world.
Finding wines that are good for certain types of food
- First, know that high acid wines are the most food friendly wines. And know that drinking a wine with food changes its character a lot.
- For big bold red meats, start with wines that are big bodied and high tannin, and then play with the amount of acid you like better.
- For lighter red meats like pork, or meats that have tomato or vinegar based sauces, start with medium body, high acid, and lower tannin wines, and explore from there, playing with the kind of fruit, tanning, and body you like better.
- For white meats, start with lower tannin wines with more tart berry and cherry flavors, and play around with other aspects as you learn what you like.
- For grilled foods, focus on bigger body, medium to low acid wines, and medium to high tannins to start, and then explore from there.
- For spicy foods, focus on high acid wines with medium to lighter bodies, and medium to low tannins.
- For pizza and pasta, focus on big body, high acid, high tannin wines with cherry as the prominent fruit.
- If you just want to drink a red wine and hang out, try a big body, medium acid, and medium tanning wine with plum flavors.
If you find this useful, let us know what you think!
And now, some more information on how we created the color charts to group wines together. Some of the choices are prominent fruit are our own, and these can vary depending on region, vintner, vintage, etc. So, we know this is not perfect, but it should help.
In terms of color intensity, for CMY we used the following values:
- Low = 0, Medium Low = 25, Medium = 50, Medium High = 75, and High = 100
For Fruit, we used K or black, and added in the following values. Note that Black has a significant impact on the color, so we kept its relative value lower.
- Tart Cherry = 0, Berries = 5, Cherry = 10, Black Cherry = 15, Plum = 20
So, a wine like Cabernet Sauvignon, which is big bodied, high tannin, medium acidity, and predominantly black cherry, we gave it a CMYK value of 100%, 0%, 100%, 57%, or a HEX value of #006c00. A similar wine like Syrah, which has a bit more Acidity, a bit less body, and more plum flavors has a CMYK value of 100%, 0%, 0%, 80%, and a HEX value of #003333.
Pinot Noir, which is one of our favorites, which is medium-low bodied, medium high acidity, medium low tannin, and tart cherry has a CMYK value of 0%, 67%, 0%, 25% and a HEX value of #bf40bf. Barbera, which is a similar wine, but has a medium-big body, high acidity, low tannin, and tart cherry as a CMYK value of 75%, 100%, 0%, 0% and a HEX value of #4000ff.