Types of red wine

By Nancy Livingstone
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red wine poured into a glass
Learn how to choose a delicious red wine
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A beautiful red wine is what most people think of when they imagine a glass of wine or a dusty bottle in a cool and mysterious wine cellar.

The rich garnet color and variety of intense flavors is indeed hard to resist. Unfortunately, most people think that red wine only goes with beef.

To simplify red wine in this way is to ignore the vast complexity and variety of flavor, body and bouquet. Wine by itself is complex enough to intimidate a novice, but pairing it with food can enhance your appreciation of both the food and the wine. Once you know a little about red wines in general, you can make an enlightened decision when choosing wine for a meal or for enjoyment by itself.

A general rule for drinking different types of red wine is to pair light-bodied wines with lighter foods and full-bodied wines with heavier foods. When it comes to pairing red wines with food, the increasingly accepted rule is to drink whatever wine you like with any particular food. Pairing your red wine with food according to body and flavors has been raised to an art form. If a wine has a sweet flavor, then pairing it with slightly sweet foods can work well. If the wine has the flavor of herbs, serving it with foods cooked with the same herb flavors can make the experience enjoyable.

On the other hand, pairing food and wine that demonstrate contrasting flavors can be exciting as well. When doing so you keep the tastes fresh and alive in your mouth. Regardless of your choices, paying attention to the acidity, fruitiness, and such general flavors of wine will help you develop a better sense for how the wines will pair with food. Food can often mask a previously dominant flavor in a wine, revealing subtleties you never knew existed.

Here are some of the more popular types of red wines:

Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Sauvignon is the grape responsible for the wines of the Medoc region of Bordeaux, considered some of the finest reds in the world. It performs well practically the world over, as long as it's not too cold, but in some areas of France, and in California's Napa Valley, it produces astonishingly rich and complex wines. The classic Cabernet flavor is one of deep, dark fruits, primarily black currant, and the best are medium- to full-bodied, intense and firm. Cabernets are almost always aged in oak for over a year, and should age several more years in the bottle. The great Cabernets of the Medoc region in France age for 15 years and more.


Around cities of Florence and Sienna in Tuscany is the Chianti region. It is broken up into seven subdivisions: the most famous region is called Chianti Classico, and close on its heels, Chianti Ruffina; then Chianti Montalbano, Chianti Colli Fiorentini, Chianti Colli Senesi, Chianti Colline Pisane, and Chianti Colli Arezzo.

Chianti is probably the most well known Italian wine. The dominant grape in Chianti is Sangiovese, but it may also contain Cabernet Sauvignon and other grapes. The Chianti wines labeled ''Riserva'' must be aged at least three years and are often fine wines that rank among the best red wines of Italy. Chianti is a perfect red wine to accompany most Italian cuisine, with hints of floral complexity in the bouquet, firmly structured medium-bodied flavors and balancing acidity.


From Italy, this grape is planted primarily in Piedmont (as well as other areas of Italy), but also in California. Experts think this is one of the most underrated grapes., Barbera can be used to make an wide range of styles, ranging from young and spritzy to powerful and intense wines that need extended cellaring. It is a deep ruby color, full bodied, with low levels of tannins balanced by higher levels of acidity. Barbera is charactarized by bright berrylike flavors and is said to be one of the best alternatives to over cropped and overpriced Merlot.


This grape is named for the dense fogs common in the vine


Merlots have steadily increased in popularity since they offer something for everyone: from light and simple wines to full-bodied and complex bottlings. While Merlots are quite often less tannic and more lush than Cabernets, they are still full-bodied, deep in color and fairly high in alcohol with flavors of cherry, plum and chocolate. Merlot is often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and is the dominant grape of St. Emilion and Pomerol. Merlot has also been successfully grown (and frequently blended into Cabernets to produce a more complex wine) in wine regions of northern Italy, Chile, California, Washington and the Rogue Valley of Oregon.

Petite Sirah

The Petite Sirah grape is grown mainly in California. This grape is thought to be related to either the Syrah grape or to the nearly-extinct Durif variety once grown in France's Rhone region. These wines are are big, deep-colored, and full-bodied wines with a peppery flavor. Although they are a fine stand-alone varietal, Petite Sirah grapes are often blended with Zinfandel to add complexity.

Pinot Noir

According to those knowledgeable, Pinot Noir presents both the ultimate challenge and the ultimate reward to both grape growers and winemakers. At their best, Pinot Noir grapes produce rich and complex wines, tasting of black cherries, red berries, earth and spice, with an aroma that's been likened to everything from herbs and cola to bacon and roses. They can be high alcohol, light in color and low in tannin, although oak aging can increase the tannin levels. One of the most exciting developments in the world of wine is the recent advances Oregon and California winemakers have made in producing world class Pinot Noirs, respectable rivals to the legendary reds of French Burgundy. At their best there is no wine in the world that can offer more seductive, velvety, complex flavors than a fine Pinot Noir.


Sangiovese, an important grape in some of Italy's greatest red wines, is from the Tuscan region is coming into its own as a stand-alone varietal. Wines from the Sangiovese can be medium to full-bodied and medium to high in tannin. They are ypically characterized by cherry and spice flavors, sometimes with hints of violet, and sometimes even slightly nutty. Sangiovese wines are constantly evolving, depending on where the grapes were grown and what, if any, additional grapes are blended with them.


Syrah is a rich, full-bodied, complex, spicy, long-lived wine that thrives in the Rhone region of France and produces such famous wines as Hermitage and Cote-Rotie. In Australia and South Africa, it is called Shiraz. It is the most popular red wine of Australia. Syrah is becoming increasingly popular in California, where it is replacing the Petite Sirah. Syrah can be successfully blended with many other wine grapes; it also can be made in a variety of styles ranging from soft and medium-bodied with some berry characteristics to deeply colored, powerful wines, tasting of roasted peppers, black cherry and smoke. Like California Zinfandels, American Syrahs can be full-bodied wines but often show more spice elements and less berry-like fruit than Zinfandels.


This important red wine variety is native to Spain. It is primarily cultivated in Rioja, Ribera del Duero and parts of Penendes. Tempranillo is often described as Spain's answer to Cabernet Sauvignon. This variety is capable of producing deeply colored, richly flavored and ageworthy wines with flavors of dark cherry, spice, tobacco, and strawberry. Fairly low in acid and alcohal levels, Tempranillo is often blended with other grape varieties such as Garnacha (Grenache) Monastrell, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot.


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