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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. Since dry wines have little to no residual sugar, they also have fewer calories, especially when comparing them to Champagne and sparkling 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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  • Finca Adalgisa Malbec 2014  Front Label
    Finca Adalgisa Malbec 2014
    Malbec from Mendoza, Argentina
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    • Calluna Estate Red 2014  Front Label
      Calluna Estate Red 2014
      Bordeaux Red Blends from Sonoma County, California
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    • Mayacamas Merlot 2014 Front Label
      Mayacamas Merlot 2014
      Merlot from Mt. Veeder, Napa Valley, California
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      • Stag's Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon 2014  Front Label
        Stag's Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon 2014
        Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley, California
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      • Cornell Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2014  Front Bottle Shot
        Cornell Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2014
        Cabernet Sauvignon from Sonoma County, California
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      • Marques de Caceres Rioja Gran Reserva 2014  Front Label
        Marques de Caceres Rioja Gran Reserva 2014
        Other Red Blends from Rioja, Spain
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        • Retro Cellars Howell Mountain Petite Sirah 2014  Front Label
          Retro Cellars Howell Mountain Petite Sirah 2014
          Petite Sirah from Howell Mountain, Napa Valley, California
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        • Bernardus Marinus Estate 2014  Front Label
          Bernardus Marinus Estate 2014
          Bordeaux Red Blends from Carmel Valley, Monterey, Central Coast, California
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        • Burgess Topography Red Blend 2014 Front Label
          Burgess Topography Red Blend 2014
          Other Red Blends from Napa Valley, California
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        • Bodegas Ramirez de la Piscina Gran Reserva 2014  Front Label
          Bodegas Ramirez de la Piscina Gran Reserva 2014
          Tempranillo from Rioja, Spain
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        • Miguel Torres Manso de Velasco Cabernet Sauvignon 2014  Front Label
          Miguel Torres Manso de Velasco Cabernet Sauvignon 2014
          Cabernet Sauvignon from Curico Valley, Chile
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        • Maysara Jamsheed Pinot Noir 2014  Front Label
          Maysara Jamsheed Pinot Noir 2014
          Pinot Noir from McMinnville, Willamette Valley, Oregon
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        • El Coto Coto de Imaz Gran Reserva 2014  Front Label
          El Coto Coto de Imaz Gran Reserva 2014
          Tempranillo from Rioja, Spain
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          • Bodegas Montecillo Rioja Reserva 2014  Front Label
            Bodegas Montecillo Rioja Reserva 2014
            Tempranillo from Rioja, Spain
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            • Jezreel Winery Carignan (OK Kosher) 2014  Front Label
              Jezreel Winery Carignan (OK Kosher) 2014
              Carignan from Israel
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            • Vina Ventisquero Grey Single Block Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2014  Front Label
              Vina Ventisquero Grey Single Block Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2014
              Cabernet Sauvignon from Maipo Valley, Chile
              • JS92
              • RP90
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            • Chateau Les Grands Chenes  2014 Front Label
              Chateau Les Grands Chenes 2014
              Bordeaux Red Blends from Medoc, Bordeaux, France
              • JS93
              • WE92
              • WW92
              3.8 230 Ratings
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            • Chateau Montlandrie  2014  Front Label
              Chateau Montlandrie 2014
              Bordeaux Red Blends from Cotes de Castillon, Bordeaux, France
              • JS93
              • WS91
              • WE91
              • RP90
              3.6 46 Ratings
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            • Vivanco Reserva Rioja Seleccion de Familia 2014  Front Label
              Vivanco Reserva Rioja Seleccion de Familia 2014
              Tempranillo from Rioja, Spain
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              • Somerston Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 Front Label
                Somerston Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2014
                Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley, California
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                • JD94
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              • Chateau Ste. Michelle Artist Series Meritage 2014 Front Label
                Chateau Ste. Michelle Artist Series Meritage 2014
                Bordeaux Red Blends from Columbia Valley, Washington
                • JS94
                • RP93
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              • Sella & Mosca Terre Rare Riserva Carignano 2014  Front Label
                Sella & Mosca Terre Rare Riserva Carignano 2014
                Carignan from Sardinia, Italy
                  3.9 23 Ratings
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                • Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Cask 23 Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 Front Label
                  Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Cask 23 Cabernet Sauvignon 2014
                  Cabernet Sauvignon from Stags Leap District, Napa Valley, California
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                  • RP96
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                  • WE94
                  • WS93
                  4.5 31 Ratings
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                • Seavey Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 Front Label
                  Seavey Cabernet Sauvignon 2014
                  Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley, California
                  • CG90
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                • Alexander The Great Cabernet Sauvignon (OU Kosher) 2014  Front Label
                  Alexander The Great Cabernet Sauvignon (OU Kosher) 2014
                  Cabernet Sauvignon from Israel
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