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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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  • Boroli Barolo 2013  Front Label
    Boroli Barolo 2013
    Nebbiolo from Barolo, Piedmont, Italy
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    Frescobaldi Castelgiocondo Brunello di Montalcino 2013
    Sangiovese from Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy
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    Damilano 1752 Barolo Cannubi Riserva 2013
    Nebbiolo from Barolo, Piedmont, Italy
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    Marques de Grinon El Rincon Red Blend 2013
    Other Red Blends from Spain
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    • Zorzal Piantao 2013  Front Label
      Zorzal Piantao 2013
      Cabernet Franc from Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina
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      Il Molino di Grace Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Il Margone 2013
      Sangiovese from Chianti Classico, Chianti, Tuscany, Italy
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      Col d'Orcia Poggio al Vento Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 2013
      Sangiovese from Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy
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      Capezzana Ghiaie della Furba 2013
      Other Red Blends from Tuscany, Italy
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    • Antica Townsend Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 Front Label
      Antica Townsend Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2013
      Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley, California
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      Feudi di San Gregorio Taurasi 2013
      Aglianico from Campania, Italy
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    • Bodegas Montecillo Rioja Reserva 2013  Front Label
      Bodegas Montecillo Rioja Reserva 2013
      Tempranillo from Rioja, Spain
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    • Serego Alighieri Vaio Armaron Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2013  Front Label
      Serego Alighieri Vaio Armaron Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2013
      Other Red Blends from Valpolicella, Veneto, Italy
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      Foz De Arouce Tinto 2013
      Other Red Blends from Portugal
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        Angulo Innocenti Unisono 2013
        Other Red Blends from Mendoza, Argentina
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        Domaine Nerantzi Koniaros 2013
        Other Red Blends from Macedonia, Greece
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        • Tormaresca Masseria Maime Negroamaro Salento 2013  Front Label
          Tormaresca Masseria Maime Negroamaro Salento 2013
          Negroamaro from Italy
          • JS91
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        • Zuccardi Finca Los Membrillos 2013 Front Label
          Zuccardi Finca Los Membrillos 2013
          Cabernet Sauvignon from Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina
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        • Bodegas Lan Rioja Edicion Limitada 2013 Front Label
          Bodegas Lan Rioja Edicion Limitada 2013
          Tempranillo from Rioja, Spain
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          • WW94
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        • Vine Cliff Oakville Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 Front Label
          Vine Cliff Oakville Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2013
          Cabernet Sauvignon from Oakville, Napa Valley, California
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          • Cascina Lo Zoccolaio Barolo Riserva 2013  Front Label
            Cascina Lo Zoccolaio Barolo Riserva 2013
            Nebbiolo from Barolo, Piedmont, Italy
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            Paolo Conterno Barolo Ginestra Riserva 2013
            Nebbiolo from Barolo, Piedmont, Italy
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          • Cape Mentelle Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 Front Label
            Cape Mentelle Cabernet Sauvignon 2013
            Cabernet Sauvignon from Margaret River, Western Australia, Australia
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          • Clos Apalta  2013 Front Label
            Clos Apalta 2013
            Bordeaux Red Blends from Colchagua Valley, Rapel Valley, Chile
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          • Finca Adalgisa Malbec 2013  Front Label
            Finca Adalgisa Malbec 2013
            Malbec from Mendoza, Argentina
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          • Arnaldo Caprai 25 Anni Montefalco Sagrantino 2013  Front Label
            Arnaldo Caprai 25 Anni Montefalco Sagrantino 2013
            Sagrantino from Umbria, Italy
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