Types of Red Wine
Learn about Merlot, Malbec, and more in this list of red wine types.
Red wine is like a lot of other topics that people are passionate about. There’s an overwhelming amount of information you can learn about red wine. There are dozens of varietals that are made all over the world. There are single varietal wines (wines made from a single type of grape) and red wine blends. There are wines named after the grape they are made from, and there are wines named after the region in which the wine was made. You can learn about different vintage years in different parts of the world, and you can learn about what different weather and climate conditions mean for the finished wine.
In short: there’s a lot to learn about red wine.
However, red wine is also like other topics that people are passionate about in this way:
You can generally get along just fine by knowing a few basics.
That’s what we’re here to discuss. We’ll cover a few basic red wine types that you’ll find on almost any restaurant menu. We’ll cover what these wines taste like, any notable facts about the wine, and what types of food you can pair it with.
It’s your cheat sheet to types of red wine.
Pinot Noir wine is light-bodied, light red in color, and translucent. The flavor is subtle and has low tannins, but the acidity is nice and bright. The taste is fruity and delicate; you will probably find notes of cherry, strawberry, or raspberry. Earthy flavors may also be present, which is why this wine pairs well with recipes with mushrooms. This is a popular wine, and wine enthusiasts study its complex flavor and unique grape.
Try this affordable Pinot Noir: DeLoach Heritage Reserve Pinot Noir
Learn more about Pinot Noir here: What is Pinot Noir?
Cabernet Sauvignon is the most popular red wine in the world. It’s full-bodied and has strong tannins. The aroma often has notes of dark cherry and vanilla, and tasting notes may be herbaceous and have hints of green pepper. Cabernet Sauvignons are excellent complements to food and go well with steak and other rich red meat dishes.
The strong tannins in Cabernet Sauvignon are thought to be one of the sources of red wine health benefits. Learn more about red wine and your health by reading about the world's healthiest wine.
Try this affordable Cabernet Sauvignon: Columbia Crest H3 Cabernet Sauvignon
Learn more about Cabernet Sauvignon here: What is Cabernet Sauvignon?
Syrah (or Shiraz)
There are two names for this variety of wine. European vintners only use the name “Syrah.” The wine is well known as a dark, almost inky, full-bodied wine. It is very smooth and has flavors of dark fruit such as blackcurrant and plum; this is a hearty, often spicy, red. Syrah has gripping tannins and is excellent when paired with red meat or other bold, flavorful foods. It is also a nice complement to many soft or stinky cheeses.
Try this affordable Syrah: Michael David 6th Sense Syrah
Learn more about Syrah here: What is Syrah?
Not to be confused with White Zinfandel (a sweet rosé wine), this wine is a light-bodied red that is bold and flavorful. The flavor notes include jam, cherry, and blackberry; this red is on the sweet side, with a slightly spicy or smoky finish. Zinfandels have moderate tannin, high acidity, and often a higher than typical alcohol content.
Try this affordable Zinfandel: Gnarly Head Old Vine Zin Zinfandel
This full-bodied red wine is made mostly in Argentina, with some wine coming out of France. French and Argentinian varieties taste very different. A Malbec from Argentina (which is the most popular) is fruit forward, with flavors of blackberry and plum. A French Malbec is tarter (black plum, currant), with higher acidity and peppery flavors. This wine pairs well with dark meat poultry, lean red meats, and funky flavors like blue cheese and mushroom.
Try this affordable Malbec: Luigi Bosca Malbec
Learn more about Malbec here: What is Malbec?
Merlot is medium-bodied, medium-dark in color, and smooth. Like the Malbec, Merlot wines vary in flavor depending on where they are produced. Merlots from warm climates are more fruit-forward, with less tannins and notes of raspberry, cherry, and mocha. Cool-climate Merlots have higher tannins and an earthier, fuller-bodied flavor. Either way, this middle-of-the-road wine will pair excellently with most foods.
Try this affordable Merlot: Pennywise Merlot
Learn more about Merlot here: What is Merlot?
Lambrusco: A Sweet Red Wine
Sweet red wines often get a bad rap because many are mass produced with way too much sugar. Italian Lambrusco is a sweet, slightly fizzy red wine that is truly tasty. You can expect lush fruit flavors of berry and cherry. This is also a great red wine to pair with chocolate desserts!
Lambrusco comes in a few different levels of sweetness. Look for amabile or dolce on the label for a sweet version of this wine. It is also better to look for wines from Italy, as some U.S. producers have overly-sweet, not-too-tasty versions of this wine.
Try this affordable Lambrusco: Cleto Chiarli Lambrusco Grasparossa Amabile
You can learn more about sweet red wines below. You can also download our Red Wine Sweetness Chart for a printable guide to sweet wines (and other common types of red wine).
What's your favorite type of red wine?
Read NextRed Wine Sweetness Chart