Red Wine

Red Wine

International Varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Syrah

Major Varieties: Cabernet Franc, Grenache, Malbec, Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Zinfandel

Regional Varieties: Baga, Barbera, Blaufränkisch, Brachetto, Carignan, Carménère, Cinsaut, Dolcetto, Gamay, Graciano, Lagrein, Malvasia, Nera, Marzemino, Montepulciano, Mourvèdre, Nero d’Avola, Petit Verdot, Petite Sirah, Pinot Meunier, Pinotage, Touriga, Nacional.

Red wine is the world’s most popular choice of wine. The great red grapes of the world make the wines that will age best and, with the exception of Sauternes and Riesling, the majority of wine collectibles are red. Red wine is heavier than white wine, although it does not always contain more alcohol.

Red wine in moderation is good for health. Resveratrol, a natural component of red wine, appears to contribute to a reduction in the risk for heart disease, cancer, and certain other diseases. Perhaps this is why the toast “to your health” is used worldwide when drinking wine.

The color of red wine comes from either red or purple grapes. Red wine can also be produced from white grapes. Red wines contain tannins, which provide the characteristic bitter flavor. The more tannins, the more bitter the wine. Cabernet Sauvignon, the strongest-flavored red grape, is high in tannins. The tannins serve as a natural preservative, which explains why red wine ages so well and can be stored for many years without spoiling.

Red wines are best served in a thicker glass with a wide bowl to allow the wine to breathe before drinking. It is best to store reds at 60-65 degrees. An over-refrigerated wine will taste too bitter and some flavors will be masked, while the alcohol will be exaggerated. When red wine is served too warm, it can have a “baked” taste. In general, the more powerful the wine, the warmer it can be served.

The body of wine is used to describe the amount of tannins–in combination with the depth, complexity, and strength of the flavors. Being called “light-bodied” is not necessarily an insult. The great Gamay wines are light-bodied, as are some Pinot Noirs. Merlot, Syrah, and Chianti are usually medium-bodied. The fullest-bodied wines are Cabernet Sauvignon, Bordeaux, and Italy’s Super-Tuscans.

The flavors of red wine vary greatly. Common flavors include cherry, plum, strawberry, raspberry, blackberry, currant, raisin, fig, pepper, cinnamon, tobacco, leather, and violet. Oak aging tends to introduce a vanilla character and sometimes a slight woody flavor.

Red wine is made in every single winemaking country in the world. The most famous red wine regions are Bordeaux, Burgundy, and the Rhône in France; Piedmont and Tuscany in Italy; the Barossa Valley in Australia; and California’s Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley.

International Varieties

Unanimously recognized varieties of red wine grapes planted in all the significant wine countries are called international varieties. Here are four international varieties you should know.

Cabernet Sauvignon

The rock that the other grape varieties dash themselves against, Cabernet Sauvignon–or Cab–continues to dominate the wine market, as it has for many centuries. Grown all over the world in climates warm and cool, Cabernet is easy to grow and will grow well. From $4 table wines to exquisite $1,000 offerings from Bordeaux, Cabernet wine is diverse and fascinating. When winemaking and wine drinking surged in popularity during the 1960s and 1970s, the versatile Cabernet grape leaped to the forefront of the red wine movement. As the ante is upped by more modern, less overpriced offerings from all over the world, Bordeaux remains triumphant by continuing to improve the quality of their Cab-based wine.


Merlot is light and smooth, in many ways the opposite of Cabernet Sauvignon. The entire Right Bank of Bordeaux is devoted to Merlot-based wines, such as Château Pétrus, which is usually over 90% Merlot. The Merlot grape offers great flavors without the uncompromising bitterness of Cabernet, and for this reason is often blended with it. But Merlot is great on its own, and Napa Valley is a prominent Merlot producer. France often uses the Merlot grown there in blends.

Pinot Noir

Whereas Cab is easily cultivated and made into good wine, Pinot Noir is extremely finicky. The celebrated wines of Burgundy, where Pinot Noir originated and still is widely grown, offer some of the most unique and enchanting flavors of the wine world. Although the critics seem to think that Cabernet is just as good in California as it is in Bordeaux, no other wine region can challenge Burgundy’s mastery of Pinot Noir. Burgundy produces some of the most expensive wines in the world, with one vintage of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti selling for $35,000 a bottle! In the United States, Oregon and Washington have made inroads with Pinot Noir.


The new kid on the block among international grapes, Syrah’s explosive popularity has been spurred by increasingly good Australian offerings. Australian Syrah, called Shiraz, is an inexpensive wine full of spicy, earthy flavors. High in alcohol and peppery in flavor, Syrah is a delectable wine. The grape originated in the Rhône, where classicists still think it is at its best. The global interest in Shiraz has driven American producers to enter the Syrah market, and their success has been impressive.


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