Wine can be a confusing subject, especially for the novice trying to get a grasp on what kind of wine there is and what’s good and what’s not. This article is to focus on the different types of red wine. Each section will be broken into the 8 most common types of red wine, with an explanation on each variant.
Types of Red Wine – Table of Contents
- Common Terms
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- Pinot Noir
- Types of Red Wine – Overview
This guide is broken down into eight sections, one for each type of red wine. In each section, we will go over how to best enjoy each wine. There will be recommendations for food pairings, where you typically find that particular wine, and what flavor notes are most commonly associate with the wine.
Before we get into the list, let’s go over some terms commonly associated with red wine that will help describe each wine with some tangible explanations of taste and aroma.
- Fruit Level
- Sweetness Level
The fruit level of the wine is where you start. Is it “fruit forward” or “savory”?
Fruit forward refers to wines that are dominant in sweet fruit flavors. It doesn’t mean that the wine is sweet necessarily. Fruit forward wines are wines that are described with flavors like blackberry, cherry, sweet raspberry, blueberry, candied fruit and vanilla.
Savory refers to wines that are dominant in savory flavors. These can be described with flavors like black currant, rhubarb, sage, tobacco, charcoal, olive and green bell pepper.
Sweetness is a big one for many people. Wine can be sweet like a dessert, or bone dry like and filled with tannins. When describing sweetness level, we are looking at the residual sugar, the left over sugar from grape juice which wasn’t fermented into alcohol. Here are three terms to describe how dry or sweet a wine is.
Dry refers to a wine being mainly dry, or meaning no sugar content left over or very little. Most red wines fall into this category.
Off Dry is a term used to described wines that have anywhere from 2-3 grams of sugar per 5 oz pour.
Sweet wines can have anywhere between 3-28 grams of sugar per 5oz pour. These are your dessert wines that are clearly sweeter than most wines you typically drink.
The body of the wine is used to describe how the wine feels almost, its density. There are many factors other than density that can be used to determine the body, but think about the different between water and cream for instance.
Light Bodied wines are ones that you can drink easily and that sit in your mouth lightly like a refreshing tea. In general, these red wines have lower tannins, lower alcohol content and higher acidity.
Medium Bodied wines are in the middle of the field between light bodied and full. These are generally considered your “food” wines.
Full Bodied wines are the heavy, in your face dense wines. These are usually higher in tannins and have an alcohol content of 14% and higher. These wines sometimes aren’t well matched with food because of their ability to stand on their own.
The finish is what we end with, how the wine finishes and what flavors we get after a drink. Sometimes people may pause after a drink of wine to allow the flavors show through at the finish of the wine.
Smooth Finish is the most requested finishes for each type of red wine, this finish is easy to drink and doesn’t provide a huge difference in the after taste from the original notes. Think easy to drink and smooth.
Spicy Finish is a finish that provides almost a burning sensation like that of wasabi or horseradish.
Bitter Finish in red wines is from the tannins that can give you an astringent feeling in your mouth. Typically, the bitter finish is an unpopular finish but when paired with the right foods can be an amazing compliment.
Types of Red Wine – In Detail
The Barbera grape is a red grape most commonly found in Italy. It is well known for its high acidity, low tannins and deep color, all while producing high yields. Young wines from Barbera are full of notes of blackberries. There are many century old vines throughout Italy that grow Barbera still, creating a robust and deep wine full of intense fruit flavor and tannic properties.
Barbera Food Pairing
Barbera has very low mouth drying tannins while being high in acidity, making it a perfect wine for rich foods like meats, cheeses and earthy mushrooms.
Barbera is most commonly associated with light fruit flavors like cherries, blueberries, blackberries sweet plum and raspberries.
Barbera is mainly found in Northwest Italy, particularly Monferrato.
Cabernet Sauvignon is a very popular red grape varietal, recognizable throughout the entire world. Every major wine producing country grows Cabernet Sauvignon, from Canada to Lebanon. This grape varietal came about by a crossing of the Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc in Southwestern France in the 17th century.
This grape is popular due to its ease of cultivation. The grapes have a thick skin making it durable during harvest.
Cabernet Sauvignon Food Pairing
A Cabernet Sauvignon is best paired with dishes like braised beef short ribs, roasted duck and simple meatballs.
This grape has medium tannins and medium acidity. It has taste notes of blackberry, black current and black cherry. Its other notes include black pepper, black licorice, tobacco and vanilla.
Cabernet Sauvignon is grown throughout the entire world, but major areas are grown in France, United States, Chile, South Africa and Argentina.
Red wine in particular is extremely popular in China due to its association with the color. Not only because red is their national color, it is also correlated to luck and wealth.
Malbec is a type of red wine made from grapes that are heavy in tannins, adding complexity and a dryness to the wine. It is a purple grape that is mainly found in Cahors in South West France. It is one of the six grapes allowed in the Bordeaux blend. The Malbec varietal needs more sun and heat to mature compared to Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon due to its thin skinned properties.
Malbec is also used in many blends due to its intense flavors.
Malbec Food Pairing
Malbec is great with dishes like spaghetti and meatballs, burgers, fajitas, roasted beef or venison, farmhouse cheddar and duck confit.
As mentioned, Malbec is used a lot in the creation of Bordeaux blends due to its high tannin content and strong intense color and flavors. Malbec has aromas of cherry, berry and plums. Its tasting notes consist of dark berry, cherry, dark chocolate, earthly flavors and plum. It has crisp acidity with strong tannins.
Malbec is mainly found in Cahors France. It is also grown in Argentina.
Merlot is a dark blue-colored grape used in the blend of Bordeaux wines as well as a varietal wine. Merlot is known throughout the world, and is grown all over. Due to its popularity, as of 2004 it was the third most grown varietal in the world, directly behind Cabernet Sauvignon. Depending on when it is harvested, it can produce full bodied higher alcohol content wines or medium bodied higher acidity wines.
Merlot Food Pairing
With Merlot being in the middle of the spectrum when it comes to red wines, it pairs well with most dishes. Some popular meals to enjoy Merlot with are chicken dishes and lightly seasoned dark meats.
Merlot is a medium tannin, medium acidic wine that has about 12-15% alcohol content. When grown in cooler climates, Merlot has notes of strawberry, plum, red berry, tobacco and cedar. In warmer climates, it has flavors like black berry, black cherry and black plum.
Merlot is grown mainly in France, with over 280,000 acres. Next largest region where Merlot is grown is Italy, United States and Australia.
Pinot Noir is a red grape varietal with major regions in France and United States. The name of Pinot Noir is derived from the French words meaning pine and black. Pine referring to the shape of the grapes when they are growing, resembling the cluster shape of a pine cone. These grapes are considered to make some of the best wine in the world. Pinot Noir typically is lightly colored, medium bodied and has low tannins.
Pinot Noir Food Pairing
Pinot Noir pairs well with dishes like roasted chicken, fennel garlic roasted pork, beef wellington, glazed ham and roasted turkey.
This wine varietal is light in color and medium bodied. It has aromas of berry, cherry, rose and currant. Its general taste has hints of berry, black cherry, black plum, black currant and raspberry.
Pinot Noir is widely grown in France’s Burgundy region. The grape has also been grown in great amounts in the United States, Austria, Canada and the UK.
Sangiovese is a red wine grape varietal mainly found in Italy. This grape is the main component of the Chianti blend. Many theories based on the origin of Sangiovese have dated the grape back to Roman winemaking. The first mention of the grape dates back to 1590 by the writer known as Ciriegiulo. He identified the grape as “Sangiogheto“, and while there is no proof that he was speaking specifically about Sangiovese, most wine historians agree that they are they same. The writer also mentions that the grape make a very good wine, but it takes experience working with Sangiovese otherwise it has the risk of turning into vinegar.
Sangiovese Food Pairing
The high acidity and moderate alcohol make Sangiovese a great type of red wine that pairs well with food. A classic food pairing for this varietal is a tomato-based pasta and pizza sauces with a Chianti from Sangiovese grapes.
Wines from the Sangiovese grape generally have a high acidity and moderate to high tannin. It can age anywhere from 4-7 years for normal Sangiovese, and 10-18 years for Brunello di Montalcino. No matter where it is grown, it usually has notes of cherry and tomato. It can also carry notes of tart cherry, red plum and strawberry. Others include roasted pepper, clay, leather, tomato, oregano, thyme and dried roses.
Sangiovese is mainly grown in Italy where there are roughly 155,000 acres. To put that in perspective, there are only 175,000 grown worldwide, meaning that Italy grows over 85% of the world’s Sangiovese grape. It is also grown in Corsica, Argentina, and the United States.
Syrah is a type of red wine that is grown from a dark-skinned grape varietal grown throughout the world. It is also known as Shiraz, but not to be confused with Petite Syrah. It has a significant history in the Rhone region of Southeastern France, although it is not known if this is where it originated. This varietal often produces wines with medium tannin and medium acidity.
Syrah Food Pairing
Due to its medium tannin and acidity as well as full bodied flavor, this type of red wine pairs well with bold foods of any range. You can enjoy it with anything ranging from a bleu cheese burger to barbeque. It also pairs nicely with things like lamb, venison and game birds.
The Syrah grape produces a full bodied, rich and deep colored red wine that, in best cases, can age and evolve for many years and even decades in the best scenarios. The most common flavors include plum, blackberry, black cherry, spice, earth, chocolate, flowers and truffles. These secondary flavors and scents tend to develop more with age.
Syrah is grown throughout the world, with major regions in France, Australia and Spain. There are over 460,000 acres grown world wide.
Zinfandel is a black-skinned grape varietal also known as Primitivo. This grape is grown in “the heel of Italy” named Apulia, introduced in the 18th century. It arrived in the United States during the 19th century.
Zinfandel Food Pairing
Red Zinfandel tends to be on the sweeter side so it pairs well with dishes like curry and spiced barbecue. For meat parings it goes great with barbecue red meats, quail, turkey, pork and bacon. When pairing with cheese, lean towards cheeses that are rich and hard, such as Manchego and Trentingrana.
This grape produces a robust and bold red wine. The high sugar content in the grape can produce wines that exceed 15% ABV. The taste of the wine depends on the ripeness of the grape. In cooler climates, the wine takes on flavor of red berries like raspberry. It warmer climates it produces a wine with notes of blackberry, anise and pepper. Zinfandel is lighter in color that other types of red wine like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, but it has a bold flavor due to its moderate tannins and high acidity.
Zinfandel is most commonly found in the United States, with about 50,000 acres grown in areas like Napa Valley, Russian River Valley and Amador County. There are roughly 20,000 acres grown in Italy.
There you have the 8 most common types of red wine with some history, tasting notes, food pairings and common regions. If you would like to read more on the history of wine, be sure to explore our blog and other articles on the site.
See how terroir affects the taste of wine and how grapes are grown in different climates.