Winemakers have access to over a thousand potential varieties of grapes so it’s no surprise there are so many different types of red wine.
The three most popular single-varietal red wines are:
- Cabernet sauvignon
These wines are made using a single variety of grape. We’ll showcase the top 10 single-varietal red wines below.
Additionally, you find red wines made by blending multiple grape varieties. We’ll expand upon this issue today.
First thing’s first, though – what gives red wine its distinctive color?
What Makes Red Wine Red?
The color of red wine is derived from the abundance of different grape varietals ranging. These grapes span the color spectrum from red to deep purple to a vibrant blue.
Many color descriptors are used for red wine based on the grapes the wines are made with. Common examples include:
- Deep violet
- Dark red
- Ruby red
- Light red
- Opaque purple
- Almost black
The skins of the grapes impart the color to wine. During the fermentation process, the skins of the grapes remain in contact with the juice, allowing both the tannins and the color to disperse.
The red hue of a wine depends on both the type of grape used to make the wine and the duration of skin contact.
Red wines are not only referred to in terms of color, but also in terms of body. What does that mean?
What Are the Main Body Types of Red Wine?
You will often see red wines classified by body type.
These are the three main body types of red wine:
- Light-bodied red wine: These wines have fewer tannins and a less pronounced presence on your palate. Many light-bodied red wines pair well with flavorful foods. Beaujolais Nouveau is one of the famous light-bodied red wines from France.
- Medium-bodied red wine: Medium-bodied red wines contain more tannins without being as astringent as a fuller-bodied red. Merlot, Chianti, and Shiraz are among the most famous red wines of this type.
- Full-bodied red wine: A full-bodied red wine will have the highest tannin content and the highest alcohol content. Californian cabernets, French Bordeaux and Italian Super Tuscans are the most famous examples of full-bodied reds.
10 of the Best Single-Varietal Red Wines
If you have no idea of where to get started with red wine, consider any of the following classics:
- Cabernet sauvignon
- Pinot noir
Merlot is a soft and drinkable red wine ideal for anyone new to reds.
You can be very flexible when pairing this wine with food. Almost anything goes with a glass of great Merlot.
Merlot is a key component of Bordeaux blended wines and is now grown in California, Washington State, Australia, and Italy.
This type of wine has a round texture with scents of plums, blackcherry, and herbal flavors.
You find less tannin in merlots than in cabernet sauvignons. This means the wine feels rougher.
The merlot grape is the fourth-leading wine grape in terms of global coverage.
2) Cabernet sauvignon
Commonly believed to be one of the leading grape varieties, cabernet sauvignon is typically made with underground oak treatment. The grape is planted wherever you find red wine grapes growing.
This wine is often blended with merlot and cabernet franc. Full-bodied, the grip of a young cabernet sauvignon will fade over time as the polyphenols start to polymerize. Expect notes of bell pepper in this wine. You can also detect vanilla due to the oak treatment this wine undergoes.
Pair cabernet sauvignon with your favorite red meat dishes.
Shiraz wine is referred to as syrah outside of the United States. Vintners throughout Europe refer to this wine exclusively as syrah.
This type of red wine thrives in California, France, and Australia. Pairing well with meats from beef and game through to stews, this is a hearty and spicy red wine.
You’ll detect flavors of blackcurrant with tones of black pepper spice also noticeable. Mingling with the fruit overload, you get gripping tannins and the warmth of the alcohol. Toffee notes are derived from the time the wine spends resting in oak barrels underground.
While you can find many pedestrian shiraz wines, you’ll also find some deep, dark, and worthwhile examples. Don’t write this grape off.
Malbec comes from the Bordeaux region in France. Ideal with all meat-based dishes, a malbec brings out the best in Indian, Mexican, and Cajun cuisines.
Grown widely in France, you also find malbec wine in Argentina, where it is the most popular of all red grape varieties. You also encounter malbec in the cooler parts of California, Australia, and Chile.
The taste of this wine varies depending on where the grape is grown. Overall, expect a drinkable wine tasting of spice, plums, and berries.
Malbec is frequently blended with other varieties to make wines in the Bordeaux style.
Arguably the most versatile wine grape, you can find zinfandel in both red and blush versions.
According to the heaviness of the zinfandel in question, you can pair this wine with pizza, pasta, and barbecued meats for a taste sensation.
This wine has a zingy flavor with notes of pepper and berry evident.
Mainly found throughout California, zinfandel originates in Europe. It was introduced to Italy in the eighteenth century from Croatia.
Although barbera is not quite as popular as merlot, the wine can be paired with similar foods, specifically with tomato sauces.
A classic red wine of Italian origin, barbera is also widespread throughout California.
Expect notes of plum fruit and black cherry with high levels of acidity and a silky overall texture.
Sangiovese is a great choice if you’re looking for a red wine to pair with Italian or Mediterranean cuisines.
This grape is used to produce chianti and many good Californian wines.
A medium-bodied red, flavors include plum and fresh berry.
8) Pinot noir
Pinot noir is among the lightest of red wines.
With flavors of cranberry and raspberry, this wine is delicate and lacks the punch of some reds. The silky feel and overall subtlety make pinot noir a great choice for newcomers to red wine drinking.
This wine has high levels of acidity and strong tannins. Although the wine is light in color for a red, it is loaded with flavor.
Grown in northern Italy, this grape is used to make Barbaresco and Barolo.
The longer the wine ages, the more the flavors develop. A notoriously tricky wine, invest in a bottle of nebbiolo and save it for a special occasion. It pairs well with fatty, gamey meats.
Grenache, known as garnacha in Spain, is a soft, smoky, and earthy red wine.
This is a single-varietal wine, but it also works wonderfully as a blending grape.
Regional Red Wines
Red wines are sometimes known by their regional names.
Bordeaux, for instance, hails from the Bordeaux region of France and is made using three main varietals:
- Cabernet franc
- Cabernet sauvignon
Don’t be surprised if you choose one of the wine varietals on our list above and see it pop up in a Barolo or another blended wine.
To round out, how should you serve your carefully chosen bottle of red?
How to Serve Red Wine
You should use a large and roomy wine glass when serving red wines. Rather than a slender flute, instead opt for a glass with an egg-shaped or oval bowl. Use a glass that accommodates from 10oz to 22oz of liquid, allowing your wine plenty of space to breathe.
Store your favorite reds in a wine cooler. If you collect both red and white wines, it’s worth investing in a dual-zone wine cooler.
The optimum serving temperature for reds is between 60F and 65F. If you serve red wine too warm, you’ll notice a strong taste of alcohol. Serve reds too cold, on the other hand, and you’ll find the bitterness comes to the fore.
If you drink lots of red wine, it’s worth learning how to decant your wine. Whether you use a wine decanter or an aerator, you’ll allow the wine to breathe while also softening the tannins.
Hopefully, today’s guide to the main types of red wine should allow you to confidently pick the right bottle for your palate. The suggested food pairings above should provide plenty of inspiration for getting the most out of those wines.
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