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Red Wine

Learn about red wine — the range of styles, how it’s made and more ...

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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:

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.

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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  • Caves Sao Joao Poco do Lobo Cabernet Sauvignon 1994  Front Label
    Caves Sao Joao Poco do Lobo Cabernet Sauvignon 1994
    Cabernet Sauvignon from Portugal
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    • Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Cask 23 Cabernet Sauvignon 2000  Front Label
      Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Cask 23 Cabernet Sauvignon 2000
      Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley, California
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    • Chateau Musar Lebanon Rouge 2001  Front Label
      Chateau Musar Lebanon Rouge 2001
      Other Red Blends from Lebanon
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      • D93
      • RP91
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    • Bodegas Urbina Gran Reserva 2004  Front Label
      Bodegas Urbina Gran Reserva 2004
      Tempranillo from Rioja, Spain
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      • Chateau Latour  2006 Front Label
        Chateau Latour 2006
        Bordeaux Red Blends from Pauillac, Bordeaux, France
        • D97
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        • RP95
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      • Vinedos de Paganos El Puntido Gran Reserva 2007  Front Label
        Vinedos de Paganos El Puntido Gran Reserva 2007
        Tempranillo from Rioja, Spain
        • RP96
        • WW93
        • V93
        3.9 28 Ratings
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      • Bodegas Valdemar Conde de Valdemar Gran Reserva 2007 Front Label
        Bodegas Valdemar Conde de Valdemar Gran Reserva 2007
        Tempranillo from Rioja, Spain
        • W&S90
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      • Remoissenet Beaune Greves Premier Cru (1.5 Liter Magnum) 2007  Front Label
        Remoissenet Beaune Greves Premier Cru (1.5 Liter Magnum) 2007
        Pinot Noir from Beaune, Cote de Beaune, Cote d'Or, Burgundy, France
        • RP91
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      • R. Lopez de Heredia Rioja Vina Tondonia Reserva 2008  Front Label
        R. Lopez de Heredia Rioja Vina Tondonia Reserva 2008
        Tempranillo from Rioja, Spain
        • TA97
        • JS95
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        • V94
        • D92
        • W&S91
        4.2 101 Ratings
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      • Chateau Mouton Rothschild  2009 Front Label
        Chateau Mouton Rothschild 2009
        Bordeaux Red Blends from Pauillac, Bordeaux, France
        • RP99
        • D99
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        • WE96
        4.5 6 Ratings
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      • R. Lopez de Heredia Vina Bosconia Reserva 2009  Front Label
        R. Lopez de Heredia Vina Bosconia Reserva 2009
        Other Red Blends from Rioja, Spain
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        • RP92
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      • Siglo Gran Reserva 2009  Front Label
        Siglo Gran Reserva 2009
        Tempranillo from Rioja, Spain
        • W&S93
        3.9 9 Ratings
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      • Bodegas Vega Sicilia Unico Tinto 2009 Front Label
        Bodegas Vega Sicilia Unico Tinto 2009
        Tempranillo from Ribera del Duero, Spain
        • RP98
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        • V98
        • D97
        • WS95
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        • WE90
        4.6 16 Ratings
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      • Weinert Estate Malbec 2010  Front Label
        Weinert Estate Malbec 2010
        Malbec from Mendoza, Argentina
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        • Chateau Figeac  2010 Front Label
          Chateau Figeac 2010
          Bordeaux Red Blends from St. Emilion, Bordeaux, France
          • JS98
          • RP97
          • V97
          • WE96
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          • D96
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        • Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron  2010 Front Label
          Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron 2010
          Bordeaux Red Blends from Pauillac, Bordeaux, France
          • JD99
          • WE97
          • RP96
          • WS95
          • JS95
          4.7 12 Ratings
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        • Chateau Haut-Brion  2010 Front Label
          Chateau Haut-Brion 2010
          Bordeaux Red Blends from Pessac-Leognan, Bordeaux, France
          • RP100
          • JD100
          • WS99
          • WE98
          • JS97
          4.8 8 Ratings
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        • Chateau Pontet-Canet  2010 Front Label
          Chateau Pontet-Canet 2010
          Bordeaux Red Blends from Pauillac, Bordeaux, France
          • JS100
          • RP100
          • WE98
          • JD98
          • WS97
          4.5 67 Ratings
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        • Hermanos Pecina Finca Iscorta de Pecina Gran Reserva 2010 Front Label
          Hermanos Pecina Finca Iscorta de Pecina Gran Reserva 2010
          Tempranillo from Rioja, Spain
          • RP94
          • TA94
          • WW92
          • JS90
          • WS90
          4.3 12 Ratings
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        • Faustino I Gran Reserva 2010  Front Label
          Faustino I Gran Reserva 2010
          Tempranillo from Rioja, Spain
          • JS94
          • D93
          4.4 10 Ratings
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        • Bodegas Vega Sicilia Unico Tinto 2010  Front Label
          Bodegas Vega Sicilia Unico Tinto 2010
          Tempranillo from Ribera del Duero, Spain
          • JS99
          • D98
          • V98
          • RP97
          • WS96
          • W&S93
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        • Bodegas Ontanon Gran Reserva 2010  Front Label
          Bodegas Ontanon Gran Reserva 2010
          Tempranillo from Rioja, Spain
          • WE92
          • TA91
          • WS91
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        • Mayacamas Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 Front Label
          Mayacamas Cabernet Sauvignon 2011
          Cabernet Sauvignon from Mt. Veeder, Napa Valley, California
          • D95
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        • Chateau Pontet-Canet  2011 Front Label
          Chateau Pontet-Canet 2011
          Bordeaux Red Blends from Pauillac, Bordeaux, France
          • WE96
          • JS95
          • RP93
          • D93
          • WS92
          4.4 20 Ratings
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        • Bodegas Urbina Crianza 2011  Front Label
          Bodegas Urbina Crianza 2011
          Tempranillo from Rioja, Spain
          • TA92
          • W&S90
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