There are more than a thousand varieties of grapes used for wine making, so it’s not surprising there are many different types of red wine.
Where should you get started, though?
Well, for newcomers to wine drinking and collecting, the terminology used to describe wines can be confusing.
The first thing you should do is start tasting wines and working out which ones you enjoy and which you’ll avoid in future. Experimentation is all part of the fun when you’re starting out.
Rather than bombarding you with a huge array of wines, something likely to create even more confusion, we’ll be highlighting a half-dozen of the choicest reds today to make your life easier.
Before that, though, some red wine basics.
Read our related article, How Does Dessert Wine Differ From Red Wine? Learn the ins and outs in this complete guide!
I. Red Wine 101
Red wine gets its color spectrum from the skins of the grapes. These remain in contact with the juice of the grape throughout the fermentation process. This allows both the tannins and the color to disperse. The hue of any given red wine depends on the following factors:
- The type of grape used in the process
- How long the skins are in contact with the juice
Styles of Red Wine
Wines are broadly categorized by body type. The following are the main descriptors used:
- Light-bodied red wine: These wines have minimal tannins and a light presence on your palate. They work well with flavorful foods. Beaujolais Nouveau is a light-bodied red
- Medium-bodied red wine: Medium-bodied reds have more tannins, but they don’t have the astringency – also known as the pucker power – of a more powerful Cabernet Sauvignon. Merlot, Chianti, and Shiraz are all wines of this style
- Full-bodied red wine: These wines have the highest tannin content, and often the highest alcohol content, too. French Bordeaux, Californian cabernets, and Italian super Tuscans all fall under this umbrella (careful – if you have acid reflux, these wines can make the condition worse)
Where a light-bodied red wine feels more like water in your mouth, fuller-bodied wines feel more like milk. The higher tannin and alcohol content is responsible for this difference in mouth feel.
You find red wines described as either sweet or dry.
How do you go about serving red wine at its best, then?
Read More: Sauternes Food Pairing Ideas. Find something NEW to try using our quick guide.
II. Serving Red Wine
You’ll need the right wine glass to give red wine enough room to bring out its finest properties.
Look for a glass with an oval bowl that narrows at the top. Avoid flute-like glassware for red wine.
In terms of capacity, the optimum red wine glass will hold from 10oz to 22oz of wine, leaving you ample room to swirl your wine, as well as maximizing the available surface area for the wine to fully breathe.
When it comes to serving your wine, you should aim for a temperature between 60F and 65F. If you serve red wine too cold, it will seem bitter rather than sweet and astringent on the palate. If you serve reds too warm, on the other hand, you’ll find there is a distinct taste of alcohol.
Now, with those basics in place, it’s time for the main event.
Read More: The Best Wine Decanters to Let Your Red Wine Breathe! We tested the top decanters on the market. See our results!
III. 6 Red Wines You Need to Know
With more than 50 major red wine varietals popular worldwide, today we’ll focus on just 6 of the very best reds:
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- Pinot Noir
1) Cabernet Sauvignon
Cabernet sauvignon is the most planted grape worldwide.
This bold wine is dry, savory, and high in acidity. Serious and elegant wines for committed wine lovers, you’re usually in safe hands with cabernet sauvignon, whether you’re ordering from a menu or picking up a bottle to drink at home.
While these wines are undeniably complex, they also work well for casual wine drinkers.
When it comes to pairing cabernet with foods, you’ll need some fat for the wine to draw in or the dryness could coat your tongue. If you find yourself in a steakhouse, then, do yourself a favor and complement your slab of sirloin with a great cabernet sauvignon.
Read More: Is Chianti Sweet or Dry? for a complete look into the flavor profile of this beloved Italian wine!
If you have watched the wine movie Sideways, you may recall merlot getting a mauling in this film.
One of the reasons for some people distrusting this wine is that when a merlot is bad, it’s really bad. Also, merlot is sweet and simple, something sometimes mistaken for a lack of quality.
A great merlot will be fruity, soft, and velvety, resulting in an eminently drinkable wine. The texture is much smoother than you’ll find in a cabernet sauvignon.
Unlike cabs, you don’t need to pair merlots with fatty foods. Try serving some merlot with a tomato-based pasta dish or your favorite veggie dish.
Don’t let the opinion of a character in a movie put you off this luscious wine!
Read our related article, How to Serve Merlot for ways to serve and pair this fine choice!
The Malbec lies between the muscular cabernet sauvignon and the softly fruity merlot. In many ways, you get the best qualities of each of these varietals rolled into one with the best Malbec.
Most Malbec is aged in oak barrels. This means the wine takes on a smokiness and toastiness not dissimilar to a Graham cracker.
As an inbuilt bonus, this varietal is not expensive to produce, meaning you could grab yourself a relative bargain when you’re shopping for this wine.
Next time you find yourself stuck between merlot and cabernet, why not try a Malbec instead?
Sweet and spicy food like pulled pork, brisket, and BBQ pair with Malbec perfectly, not an easy task with demanding foods like these.
Read our related article on How to Serve Malbec for more serving and pairing tips!
Be sure to also check out our post, Carmenere vs Malbec, to see how these two Argentinian wines compare!
4) Pinot Noir
Pinot noir falls just behind cabernet in terms of overall popularity. Most people recognize the name of this wine, even if they don’t know much else about it.
Pinot noir is fruity and silky, and slightly more complex than merlot. When compared to others wines, pinot noir has a lighter body, and it’s less invasively tannic. This results in pinot noir being a drinkable wine that still impresses wine lovers. Pinot noir combines accessibility with intrigue for a wine with a subtle underlying earthiness that’s a real crowd pleaser.
This wine also works well with a reasonable variety of food. You should avoid drinking most red wine with fish. The omega-3s and the fats in fish combine with the tannins in wine to create a coppery, metallic flavor. This does not apply with pinot noir due to the very low tannin content. Try pairing your next bottle of pinot noir with some salmon and rewrite the rule book.
Read More: Does Organic Wine Have Sulfites? Worried about sulfites in your wine? Find out if sulfites are in organic wine and how you can test for them!
The taste of zinfandel will vary significantly depending on where it’s grown.
The marketing campaigns of previous decades have pigeonholed this wine as ideal for moms, but this interesting wine is juicy, high in alcohol content, and likely to appeal to a far wider demographic.
This wine is not often grown outside the United States. Low in tannins, this red wine has hints of cherry or strawberry and a full body with a pronounced smokiness.
Zinfandel pairs well with meats like ribs, with pasta, and with your favorite pizza. Explore more wines that go well with pizza right here. As the quintessential American wine, try pairing this varietal with grilled cheese.
Read More: Do You Chill White Zinfandel? Here’s EVERYTHING you need to know about White Zinfandel!
Shiraz and syrah are often confused. This is understandable because these two varietals come from the same grape in terms of genetics.
What is a Shiraz wine like? Shiraz is an Australian blend, and it’s more robust in terms of profile than the leaner syrah (associated with France).
You could get a juiciness with a blackberry taste when you opt for shiraz, or you may find yourself detecting notes of plums or darker fruits. In this way, the wine delivers something of a cocktail of tastes.
French syrah, by contrast, is typically more tart and less complex.
Whichever of these wines you choose, you’ll find them both very drinkable. If you’re heading to a dinner party, either of these varietals is a fairly safe bet.
Unlike most red wines, this pairs well with spicy foods, so you can chow down on Thai or Indian food without your wine being overpowered, so treat yourself!
Read our related article on the Best Wine Preservation Systems to keep your wine fresher for longer!
If you turned up at Barnacle Bar today without knowing your merlot from your pinot noir, today’s guide to the different types of red wine should have cleared up any confusion.
The most important thing to remember is that wine is intensely personal. Just because a friend raves about Barolo, that doesn’t mean you’ll appreciate the trademark taste of this wine.
Whether you use a notebook or a smart device, take notes on your likes and dislikes so you can start building out the wine collection of your dreams without wasting any money on the way. All you’ll need then is a great wine cooler and some simple accessories, so explore our blog for ideas.
Take a moment to bookmark Barnacle Bar on the way out, and be sure to pop back soon. We update our content daily!