There are many different types of red wine, each with their own characteristic flavors and aromas. Learning how these varieties of red wine differ, and how their flavors, aromas, and other characteristics work, will help you pick the best red wines for any situation. Grape variety isn't the only influence on a wine's flavor, though, so you should also be familiar with the red wine styles — the different ways vintners create their red wines.
Varieties of Red Wines
Some of the most important and commonly used red grape varieties used for red wines include:
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- Pinot Noir
Noble Varieties of Red Wine Grapes
There are many different factors which influence whether a particular grape variety will do well or poorly in any particular region — so many, in fact, that no one has figured them all out yet. After many centuries of wine growing, though, vintners have labeled a few grape varieties as "noble," which means that these varieties are grown in the right region, they have the possibility of producing especially outstanding wines.
- Pinot Noir in Burgundy, France
- Cabernet Sauvignon in Bordeaux, France
- Syrah in the Northern Rhône Valley, France
- Nebbiolo in Piedmont, Italy
- Sangiovese in Tuscany, Italy
Red Wine Styles
Because red wine is so heavily dependent on the contact of the red grape skins with the grape juice, wine makers have a lot of options about creating wines with different styles based on how they manage this contact. Leaving the skins with the juice for a longer period of time produces a very different sort of wine than leaving them in contact for less time — and that's before we even get into the differences between the grapes.
Red wines can be divided into four broad categories:
- Soft, Fruity Red Wines: these red wines are relatively light-bodied when compared to other red wine styles and they have prominent fruit aromas and flavors. They are also characterized by softer tannins, lower alcohol content, and being more light bodied. Young French wines and inexpensive American wines fall into this category.
- Spicy Red Wines: these red wines are characterized by strong fruit flavors and aromas like the soft, fruity red wine style, but they also tend to have stronger tannins and higher alcohol content. Most significant is the presence of spicy accents that are reminiscent of black pepper.
- Medium Red Wines: these red wines are generally regarded as "mild mannered" because they have a medium body, subtle, mild flavors that often aren't very fruity, and medium alcohol content. Less expensive red wines from France and Italy often fall into this category and these red wines pair well with a wide variety of foods.
- Strong Red Wines: The strongest, most powerful style of red wine is full bodied and characterized by high tannins, high alcohol content, and very complex flavors. This style of red wine tends to be the most expensive, whether it's created in California, France, Italy, or anywhere else.
Before you can choose a red wine to drink, it will help to know what style of red wine you'd like — either what style you are in the mood for or what style of red wine will pair best with whatever you are eating.