Learn about red wine — the range of styles, how it’s made and more ...
What are the types and styles of red wine?
There are hundreds of types of red wine varieties in commercial use, from light and finessed to bold and structured, however, only about 35 varieties contribute to the majority of red wine production. The most grown grape varieties are:
- Cabernet Sauvignon. Power, elegance and complexity.
- Merlot. Soft mouthfeel.
- Tempranillo. Red and black fruit, earth and herbs.
- Syrah. Dark fruit, pepper, spicy and savory.
- Grenache. Ripe red fruit and sexy texture.
- Pinot Noir. Earthy, silky and complex.
- Sangiovese. Red fruit, earthy and herbal.
How is red wine made?
To make red wine, the pressed grape juice is left in contact with its skins—a process called maceration—to draw out color, tannins and phenols (compounds responsible for the complex aromas and flavors in wine). With fermentation complete, the wine is aged in tank or barrel. Short aging results in a fresh, fruity red. To allow time for flavors to integrate, more complex wines need to age longer, often in oak barrels, which may impart notes of toast, vanilla or coconut.
What gives red wine its color?
Grape juice is almost colorless. Color comes from maceration, when the juice is left in contact with grape skins. Longer macerations result in deeper red tones, but grape variety hues vary. For example, wines made from Nebbiolo are pale garnet, Merlot is bright ruby and Syrah opaque purple.
How do you serve red wine?
Temperature is key. Aim for 55° F to 60° F for lighter reds and 60° F to 65° F for fuller ones. A wine served too cold will be muted. Serve it warm and it will taste too alcoholic. If you have a wine fridge or cellar, you’re set. If not, place the bottle in your refrigerator for 20-30 minutes prior to serving. Next, some reds benefit from a few minutes or more of aeration in a decanter. This exposes the wine to oxygen, which helps release the compounds responsible for aroma and taste. As for drinking red wines, the best glasses have a stem and a bowl large enough to allow proper swirling to allow release of aromas. Fill your glass no more than halfway.
How long does red wine last?
Opened and re-corked, a bottle will stay fresh in your fridge for one to two days, a bit longer for more tannic reds. (We have ideas for what to do with leftover red wine if you don’t get back to it quickly). Unopened, red wines stay good for one year to several decades. Optimal storage means bottles lay on their sides in a moderately humid environment at 57° F, but assessing how long to age a bottle is complicated. Seek a wine professional for advice if you are unsure.
Pairing red wine with food
These guidelines will help you make the most of red wine pairing options.
- If a sauce is involved, focus more on that than the protein. For example, considering Coq Au Vin, play off the pancetta, mushrooms and wine with an earthy Pinot Noir.
- Match intensity levels, i.e. a bold red with a bold dish, lighter with lighter. Spice-rubbed lamb kabobs go perfectly with a bold Syrah from Columbia Valley, Washington.
- A highly tannic red pairs well with fatty foods. Dolcetto is amazing with a cheese and charcuterie plate.
- High acid foods call for high acid wines. Ever wonder Barbera and Sangiovese are so ubiquitous in Italy? As high acid wines, both are perfect matches to anything involving tomato sauce.
- Beware of dry red with dessert! Your wine should be sweeter than the treat. Try Tawny Port with dark chocolate for a match made in heaven.
Popular red wine regions
While every U.S. state produces wine, the most famous and popular regions remain those on the west coast:
- Napa Valley. First commercial winery 1861. Cabernet.
- Sonoma County. Since mid-1800’s. Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and Cabernet.
- Paso Robles. 1880’s. Cabernet, Zinfandel and Rhone varieties.
- Santa Rita Hills. 1971. Pinot Noir.
- Willamette Valley, Oregon. 1965. Pinot Noir.
- Columbia Valley, Washington (and part of northern Oregon). 1860’s. Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet.
Worldwide, wine destinations abound, with the most venerated in Europe. The last four are popular New World regions.
- Bordeaux, France. As early as 60 BC. Based on Merlot and Cabernet.
- Burgundy, France. From 2nd century AD. Pinot Noir.
- Tuscany, Italy. From 8th century BC. Based on Sangiovese, plus “Super Tuscans” made with other reds.
- Rioja, Spain. From 11th century BC. Based on Tempranillo.
- Stellenbosch, South Africa. 1680’s. Cabernet, Merlot, Shiraz, Pinotage.
- Mendoza, Argentina. Late 1800’s. Malbec and others.
- Colchagua Valley, Chile. 1870’s. Cabernet, Merlot and Carmenere.
- Barossa Valley, Australia. 1842. Shiraz and others.
Sweet red wine
Whether light and effervescent (e.g., Lambrusco and Brachetto d’Acqui) or bold and fortified (Port and Bual Madeira), sweet red wines can be terrific on their own or with a range of desserts.
Dry red wine
A dry red occurs when fermentation continues until most or all grape sugars have been converted to alcohol. Most common red wines on the shelf – Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah, etc.—are dry wines.
Smoothest red wine
Red wines are perceived as smooth when their tannins are either naturally low, have been carefully managed by the winemaker or have partially fallen out of suspension due to aging. Red varieties with lower tannins include Pinot Noir, Grenache, Gamay, Barbera and Corvina.
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Goldschmidt Vineyard Alexander Valley Chelsea Merlot 2019Merlot from Alexander Valley, Sonoma County, California
Baron Philippe de Rothschild Escudo Rojo Syrah Reserva 2019Syrah/Shiraz from Maipo Valley, Chile
Dutton-Goldfield Dutton Ranch Pinot Noir 2018Pinot Noir from Russian River, Sonoma County, California
Cellier des Dauphins Les Dauphins Cuvee Speciale Cotes du Rhone 2019Rhone Red Blends from Cotes du Rhone, Rhone, France
Hacienda Lopez de Haro Crianza 2017Other Red Blends from Rioja, Spain
Baron Philippe de Rothschild Escudo Rojo Carmenere Reserva 2019Carmenere from Colchagua Valley, Rapel Valley, Chile
Sur de los Andes Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2019Cabernet Sauvignon from Mendoza, Argentina
Baron Philippe de Rothschild Escudo Rojo Origine 2018Cabernet Sauvignon from Maipo Valley, Chile
Domaine de la Beche Morgon Vieilles Vignes 2019Gamay from Beaujolais, Burgundy, France
Alvaro Palacios Camins del Priorat 2020Other Red Blends from Priorat, Spain
Tenuta di Arceno Chianti Classico Riserva 2017Sangiovese from Chianti Classico, Chianti, Tuscany, Italy
My Favorite Neighbor Harvey and Harriet Red Blend 2019Other Red Blends from Central Coast, California
El Enemigo Gran Enemigo Gualtallary Single Vineyard 2016Cabernet Franc from Mendoza, Argentina
Ancient Peaks Paso Robles Oyster Ridge Red 2017Bordeaux Red Blends from Santa Margarita Ranch, Paso Robles, Central Coast, California
Ancient Peaks Paso Robles Renegade 2018Other Red Blends from Santa Margarita Ranch, Paso Robles, Central Coast, California
O'Shaughnessy Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2018Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley, California
Maison Brotte Chateauneuf-du-Pape Domaine Barville 2018Rhone Red Blends from Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Rhone, France
Vaglio Aggie Malbec 2019Malbec from Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina
Crocus L'Atelier Malbec de Cahors 2018Malbec from Cahors, Southwest, France
Lieu Dit Cabernet Franc 2020Cabernet Franc from Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Barbara, Central Coast, California
Copain Tous Ensemble Pinot Noir 2017Pinot Noir from Sonoma Coast, Sonoma County, California
Marchigue Mapa Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2020Cabernet Sauvignon from Colchagua Valley, Rapel Valley, Chile
Il Palagio Sister Moon 2016Tuscan Blends from Tuscany, Italy
Terre del Barolo Barolo 2017Nebbiolo from Barolo, Piedmont, Italy
Kings of Prohibition Red BlendOther Red Blends from South East Australia, Australia