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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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  • Marques de Murrieta Premium Bag with Two Bottles of 2016 Rioja Reserva 2016  Gift Product Image
    Marques de Murrieta Premium Bag with Two Bottles of Rioja Reserva 2016
    Tempranillo from Rioja, Spain
    • RP94
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    • V93
    • WS91
    4.2 35 Ratings
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  • Chateau Lestage  2016  Front Label
    Chateau Lestage 2016
    Bordeaux Red Blends from Listrac, Bordeaux, France
    • JS92
    • WE92
    3.8 392 Ratings
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  • Rutherford Hill Barrel Select Red Blend 2016 Front Label
    Rutherford Hill Barrel Select Red Blend 2016
    Bordeaux Red Blends from Napa Valley, California
    • V92
    4.0 193 Ratings
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  • Chateau Pitray  2016  Front Label
    Chateau Pitray 2016
    Bordeaux Red Blends from Cotes de Castillon, Bordeaux, France
    • JS92
    • WE91
    3.7 140 Ratings
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  • Castellani Sangiovese 2016  Front Label
    Castellani Sangiovese 2016
    Sangiovese from Tuscany, Italy
    • JS94
    • WW92
    4.1 1483 Ratings
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  • Chateau de Panigon  2016  Front Label
    Chateau de Panigon 2016
    Bordeaux Red Blends from Medoc, Bordeaux, France
    • D95
    • WE90
    4.0 493 Ratings
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  • Contino Rioja Reserva 2016  Front Label
    Contino Rioja Reserva 2016
    Tempranillo from Rioja, Spain
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    • WS92
    4.0 36 Ratings
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  • Chateau Pontet-Canet  2016 Front Label
    Chateau Pontet-Canet 2016
    Bordeaux Red Blends from Pauillac, Bordeaux, France
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    • D98
    • JD98
    • JS97
    • WS95
    4.4 100 Ratings
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  • Carpineto Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva 2016  Front Label
    Carpineto Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva 2016
    Sangiovese from Montepulciano, Tuscany, Italy
    • WS95
    • JS92
    4.1 70 Ratings
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  • Castello di Bossi Chianti Classico Riserva Berardo 2016  Front Label
    Castello di Bossi Chianti Classico Riserva Berardo 2016
    Sangiovese from Chianti Classico, Chianti, Tuscany, Italy
    • JS96
    • WS93
    • RP92
    • WE90
    4.1 62 Ratings
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  • Chateau La Bastienne Montagne-St.-Emilion 2016 Front Label
    Chateau La Bastienne Montagne-St.-Emilion 2016
    Merlot from Bordeaux, France
    • JS93
    • WW92
    • RP90
    3.8 453 Ratings
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  • Banfi Brunello di Montalcino 2016  Front Label
    Banfi Brunello di Montalcino 2016
    Sangiovese from Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy
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    • RP94
    • WE92
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    • JD91
    4.0 16 Ratings
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  • Chateau Greysac  2016  Front Label
    Chateau Greysac 2016
    Bordeaux Red Blends from Medoc, Bordeaux, France
    • JS90
    3.3 24 Ratings
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  • Tenuta di Capraia Chianti Classico Riserva 2016  Front Label
    Tenuta di Capraia Chianti Classico Riserva 2016
    Sangiovese from Chianti Classico, Chianti, Tuscany, Italy
    • V96
    • WS92
    • RP92
    • JS91
    • WE90
    4.0 268 Ratings
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  • La Rioja Alta Vina Alberdi Reserva Tinto 2016  Front Label
    La Rioja Alta Vina Alberdi Reserva Tinto 2016
    Tempranillo from Rioja, Spain
    • V92
    4.0 221 Ratings
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  • Fattoria dei Barbi Brunello di Montalcino 2016  Front Label
    Fattoria dei Barbi Brunello di Montalcino 2016
    Sangiovese from Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy
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    • JD95
    • JS95
    • RP94
    4.1 10 Ratings
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  • Heitz Cellar Lot C-91 Cabernet Sauvignon 2016  Front Label
    Heitz Cellar Lot C-91 Cabernet Sauvignon 2016
    Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley, California
    • JS96
    • WW94
    • TP94
    • WS93
    4.4 8 Ratings
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  • Chateau La Tour De Mons  2016  Front Label
    Chateau La Tour De Mons 2016
    Bordeaux Red Blends from Margaux, Bordeaux, France
    • WE94
    • JS94
    4.3 142 Ratings
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  • Chateau Terrasson Cuvee Prevenche 2016  Front Label
    Chateau Terrasson Cuvee Prevenche 2016
    Bordeaux Red Blends from Cotes de Castillon, Bordeaux, France
    • WE92
    3.6 266 Ratings
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  • Yalumba The Signature Cabernet/Shiraz 2016  Front Label
    Yalumba The Signature Cabernet/Shiraz 2016
    Other Red Blends from Barossa Valley, Barossa, South Australia, Australia
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    • WE94
    4.3 14 Ratings
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  • Chateau Malartic-Lagraviere  2016  Front Label
    Chateau Malartic-Lagraviere 2016
    Bordeaux Red Blends from Pessac-Leognan, Bordeaux, France
    • JS96
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    • D95
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    • WS92
    • RP92
    • CG91
    4.3 27 Ratings
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  • Chateau Haut-Bailly  2016  Front Label
    Chateau Haut-Bailly 2016
    Bordeaux Red Blends from Pessac-Leognan, Bordeaux, France
    • JS98
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    • D98
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    • WS95
    • CG93
    4.6 11 Ratings
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  • Numanthia Toro 2016  Front Label
    Numanthia Toro 2016
    Tempranillo from Toro, Spain
    • JS95
    • WS93
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  • Bodegas Cepa 21 Ribera del Duero 2016  Front Label
    Bodegas Cepa 21 Ribera del Duero 2016
    Tempranillo from Ribera del Duero, Spain
    • RP90
    3.8 15 Ratings
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  • Tomaiolo Chianti Classico Riserva 2016  Front Label
    Tomaiolo Chianti Classico Riserva 2016
    Sangiovese from Chianti Classico, Chianti, Tuscany, Italy
    • WW90
    4.4 50 Ratings
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