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A Guide to Understanding Different Types of Red Wine

There are many different kinds of red wine, learn what each one is and how to tell the difference.

A great glass of red wine can elevate any meal and satisfy any palate. It is an ancient beverage that has been cultivated and perfected over thousands of years, resulting in a beverage beloved the world over. 

three different glasses of wine

Although they may look alike to the untrained eye, red wines run the gamut in flavors, texture, and mouth-feel. From rich, juicy reds to dry, fruit-forward options, there is a red wine for everyone to enjoy. Let’s take a look at 14 different types of red wine available today. 

Different Types of Red Wines

  1. Merlot
  2. Pinot Noir
  3. Cabernet Sauvignon
  4. Zinfandel
  5. Malbec
  6. Syrah/Shiraz
  7. Nebbiolo
  8. Grenache
  9. Sangiovese
  10. Carménère
  11. Cabernet Franc
  12. Tempranillo
  13. Barbera
  14. Lambrusco

Merlot 

Merlot is a versatile, easy-to-drink red wine that is extremely popular with wine drinkers around the world. It is made with primarily red-skinned grapes and has dark fruit flavors, including blackberry, black cherry, and plum with undertones of vanilla and mocha.

It has a soft mouthfeel that pairs well with a variety of foods, most notably beef and pork dishes, rich cheeses, berries, mushrooms, and lamb. 

Merlot is best enjoyed at a temperature of around 60 degrees Fahrenheit in a Bordeaux glass. To get the full experience of its flavors and aroma, it is best to decant Merlot for at least 60 minutes before serving. 


Pinot Noir

Grown primarily in the cool climates and chalky soils of the Burgundy and Champagne regions of France, Pinot Noir comes from black-skinned grapes. 

It is a medium-bodied, dry red wine that has general flavors of red and black cherry, strawberry, and raspberry. Depending on where it is grown and how old it is, Pinot Noir can take on undertones of vanilla and other spices. It also has a pleasantly earthy, herby smell. 

You can enjoy a glass of Pinot Noir with duck, salmon, and hard cheeses, as well as a variety of Asian dishes including sushi and Sashimi. 


Cabernet Sauvignon

My favorite type of red wine is Cabernet Sauvignon, and I am not alone in this. Known as America’s favorite wine variety, this full-bodied, dry red with medium acidity ages well and has a high level of tannins. It has an average alcohol content of 13.5%. 

Cabernet Sauvignon has a rich, dark burgundy color and a mix of black cherry, black currant, graphite, tobacco, and vanilla. Depending on the brand, Cabernet Sauvignon can also have smoky undertones. 

This bold variety of red wine should be enjoyed at room temperature in an oversized stemmed glass. It goes best with red meat like steaks and burgers, as well as a variety of cheeses and portobello mushrooms. 


Zinfandel

Zinfandels are bold red wines with fruit flavors of cranberry, blackberry, strawberry, and peach, as well as tobacco, pepper, and cinnamon. It is a dry, medium-bodied table wine that has an excellent mouthfeel. 

Enjoy Zinfandel with a variety of foods such as barbeque, fire-roasted vegetables, and Middle-Eastern cuisine. It pairs well with charcuterie boards that have spicy and fatty meats and sharp or rich-flavored cheeses like smoked gouda or gruyere. 


Malbec

For a lush red wine experience that pairs well with a variety of foods, Malbec is the way to go. Popular in France and Argentina, this deep purple-colored wine has a smooth texture, low acidity, and a full body with 15% ABV. 

Argentinian Malbec has a soft, plummy flavor while French Malbec is more savory, and has a tartness to it. In general, Malbecs have undertones of coffee and black pepper that pair well with red meat, blue cheese, and peppery dishes. 


Syrah/Shiraz

Wine drinkers with a preference for strong, dark, fruit-forward wines love Syrah. Also known as Shiraz, this wine is made from dark-skinned grapes and tastes like blueberry, blackberry, licorice, and black pepper. It also has floral and smoky notes that round out its flavor profile.

Syrah is more full-bodied than Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon and is best enjoyed with food like grilled meats and vegetables, stews, roasted lamb, or barbecue. It has around 14.5% ABV and should be enjoyed between 60-65 degrees Fahrenheit to get the full Syrah flavor experience. 


Nebbiolo

Nebbiolo is a floral red wine with notes of violet, rose, raspberry, and cherry that is grown in California, Virginia, and Washington, as well as Australia and Mexico. It has a full body and high acidity, as well as aggressive tannins, which make it a great pairing for spicy dishes, fatty meats, and buttery sauces.

To get the most out of a glass of Nebbiolo, it is important to decant for at least 60 minutes. This will allow the wine to develop a fruitier, smoother taste and texture. 


Grenache

Grenache is a lesser-known full-body variety, although the grapes it’s made of are often used in blended red wines. This red wine is grown primarily in France, Spain, and Italy, as well as along the California coast. It comes in a range of sweet, semi-sweet, and dry styles which makes it enjoyable for sipping or alongside a meal. 

Grenache tastes like berries, star anise, and cinnamon, with lingering notes of red grapefruit, orange, and licorice. When aged in oak, the wine takes on a black pepper taste as well. 

Try a glass of Grenache with slow-cooked meats and stews, cheesy pasta dishes, and vegetables like squash or eggplant. It also pairs well with dark chocolate. 


Sangiovese

An extremely dry, medium-bodied wine hailing from Italy, Sangiovese is a truly unique red. With flavors of cherry, strawberry, oregano, tomato, and espresso, it is complex and savory. 

It is best enjoyed alongside grilled meats, roasted peppers and tomatoes, and olive oil. Italian cuisine is a must-try with this variety, as are foods like mozzarella, sun-dried tomatoes, and pizza. 

Sangiovese should be served at approximately 65 degrees Fahrenheit in a standard stemmed wine glass to bring out the full flavor profile. 


Carménère

Carménère originated in Bordeaux, France but today is grown primarily in Chile. It is a fruity red similar in texture and body to Merlot that has flavors of green pepper, peppercorn, plum, and raspberry. 

Carménère goes well with lean meats, sauces, and herby, pepper-heavy foods. Dishes such as carne asada and chicken mole will bring out the warm, herb flavors of the wine, but it can also be enjoyed with creamy goat and cotija cheese, salty snacks like olives, and capers, as well as roasted peppers and beans. 


Cabernet Franc 

Fans of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot can thank Cabernet Franc for their blue-black grape origins. As the parent grape of these popular red wines, Cabernet Franc is a dry, acidic red with medium-body and medium-high tannins. It has a lower alcohol content than other red wines, around 11% ABV. 

Cabernet Franc has a unique mix of dominant flavors, including strawberry and raspberry, chili pepper, bell pepper, and gravel. It should be decanted for at least 30 minutes prior to drinking to allow the wine to breathe, soften, and expand its rich, spicy flavor. 

Its high acidity makes it a perfect pairing for dishes with tomato bases such as Spaghetti Bolognese, vinegar-based sauces found in barbeque, and roasted or grilled meats like chicken, sausage, beef, or duck. It also does well with meaty fish like salmon or tuna, and both hard and soft kinds of cheese. 


Tempranillo 

Commonly grown in Spain, Portugal, and Argentina, Tempranillo is a medium-bodied red wine with medium tannins and medium acidity. It has 14.5% ABV and ranges in color from a purplish ruby to light garnet. 

Tempranillo is most similar to medium-to-full-bodied reds like Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese. Its dominant flavors are cherry, plum, and fig, with notes of cedar, vanilla, clove, leather, and tobacco. This combination of fruit and spice makes it a more savory variety. 

Spanish cuisine is an excellent pairing for this type of red wine, however, it also goes with many other dishes. Try it with tomato-based sauces and pasta dishes, smoky barbeque, and corn dishes or foods like polenta. 


Barbera

Barbera is another underappreciated red wine. Primarily grown in Italy, it is considered to be an economical, rustic wine that is meant to be drunk much earlier than other types of red wines. It is most commonly compared to Nebbiolo and can be aged in oak barrels for up to a decade. 

Barbera is a high-acidity wine–the highest acid red wine there is–with low tannins, which makes it an ideal wine to enjoy with food. Dishes with zesty red sauces like pasta primavera or gamey meats like rabbit and duck. It can also be paired with charcuterie boards, pizza, hangar steak, and root vegetables.  

Barbera has a rich, purple color, similar to a Syrah, but is more light-bodied. It is very dry with an ABV of 15%. It is juicy and sour, with fruit flavors of strawberry, blackberry, and cherry. There are also notes of currant, star anise, and vanilla. 


Lambrusco 

If you’re on the hunt for something a little more sparkly for your dinner party or girl’s night, give Lambrusco a try. Lambrusco is a fruity, sparkling red wine served chilled that can satisfy both wine enthusiasts and those who are new to drinking wine. 

Lambrusco has its origins in Italian soil, although it is consumed by wine drinkers across the globe. It has a light-to-ruby-red color and is slightly sparkling, less so than champagne, for a crisp, dry beverage perfect on those hot summer days. 

It is an excellent food-friendly wine. Floral, juicy, and full of berries, Lambrusco can be enjoyed with fried food, Italian dishes like pasta, cured meat, olives, and salty cheeses, and hearty dishes such as roast chicken or steak. The light fizz of this type of red wine cuts through the rich, savory flavor profile of such dishes. 


Final Thoughts 

Red wine is a versatile beverage with a rich history, complex varieties, and incredible flavor profiles. Whether you are a passionate lover of wine or just trying to find a variety you enjoy, there are plenty to choose from. Fruity to earthy, spicy to sparkling, a classic red wine will make an excellent addition to your next dinner party or meal.

If you’re new to drinking wine, check out our complete guide to wine for beginners right here.

What’s your favorite type of wine? Let me know in the comments!

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Written by Erin B.

Erin lives in East Passyunk and enjoys checking out the local restaurants in South Philly and beyond. Her favorite restaurants are those with spicy food and outdoor seating so that she can bring along her dog, Miss Piggy.