Beginner's Guide To Red Wine Types: Tasting Notes & Food Pairings

Beginner's Guide To Red Wine Types: Tasting Notes & Food Pairings

Differed red wine bottles

As wine lovers, you may have heard that wine is one of the most popular alcoholic beverages in the world. But did you know there are different types of red wines? Red wine is diverse, ranging from light and fruity to deep, rich, and complex with many tannins.  

This guide will teach you about the various red wine types and how their taste differs from each other. We’ll also talk about which red wine goes well with different foods. Let’s get started!

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What is Red Wine?

Red wine is an alcoholic drink created from the fermented juice extract of dark-skinned grapes. Its age-old and traditional production was polished over time, including processing hand-picked or machine-harvested grapes, inoculation, pressing, and malolactic fermentation.

 A lot of these are also racked, aged, and refined before being filtered and bottled. Red wines are known for their rich texture and flavor, differing with each grape variety, tannins, and even aging method.

Qualities of a Red Wine

Friends drinking red wine


Red wines have a deep and signature color from the dark-skinned grape varieties used in their creation. Rather than the extract, the color comes from the anthocyanin pigments of the grape skins.

It can range from pale red, vibrant purple to deep maroon, depending on the grapes used and the specific process it took to make. As it ages, its bright and vibrant color can even turn to something like brown.


A red wine’s flavors come from aroma compounds, or in a more specific term, stereoisomers, as scientists call them. These lighter-than-air molecules are during the fermentation stage of a wine's creation.

When you take a whiff of the wine, it evaporates into our nose and carries these flavorful odorants to give each glass its flavor profile. Each bottle of red can have hundreds of different aromas that affect its fragrance aspect, and everyone has a unique taste we just cannot put down!

The most prominent taste in red wine is likely the fruit flavors. In red wines, these fruit flavors are either red or black. Every variety of red wine has its range and flavor profile to offer. 

Red fruit flavors include cranberry, Bing cherry, raspberry, pomegranate, candied cherries, and candied berries. On the other hand, black fruit flavors can showcase blackberry, blueberry, jam, fig, and black raisins.

Tannin Levels

During the fermentation stage of a wine's creation, where the grape's juice is macerated with its skins and seed or even the stems, the wine acquires the tannins.

They give the wine structure and can be considered ripe, smooth, well-integrated, or rustic. The polyphenols present in tannins are what give the wine texture and ageability. 

Over time, the tannins soften, and it's because of this, many people store young, tannic wines and let them be in the bottle to further age.


Wine is preserved by its acidity, and it also provides a refreshing flavor. When tasting red wines, you can taste the sourness which balances out against the sweetness, bitterness, and tannins components.

Red Wine Types

Grapes with red wine

There are many different red wine varieties, and it can be hard to grasp the basics. Here are the most common types you may encounter while finding your way through the world of red wines.

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Popular Dry Red Wine Types

  • Cabernet Sauvignon

The most planted grape in the world might have to be the Cabernet Sauvignon, and it is considered the king of red wines. It is the primary component of the great Bordeaux blend and the Napa Valley's defining grape variety.

This is a wine for the connoisseur, with bold flavors and dry properties. This complex wine has an elegant taste and is a safe bet for most casual drinkers. It has high acidity and is savory. The flavors can range from fruity like dark berries and currants to smoky oak, tobacco, and cedar.

Cabernet Sauvignon is the big brawny red wine enjoyed worldwide and is the first choice for a wine to accompany the steak. This powerhouse wine can match everything from meat to marinated dishes with bold flavors and a mile-long finish.

  • Pinot Noir

Among the many types of red wine, the Pinot Noir is one of the lightest and most delicate of the bunch. It is considered to have a "light body" and is velvety to the tongue. This light red wine type has high acidity and strong aromas. 

This grape variety is grown in multiple countries and regions, and the overall expression varies from place to place. However, a most common similarity is its flavor of red fruits coupled with notes of earth and herbs.

Pinot Noir is a relatively high-risk, high reward kind of grape variety. While the end product is indeed a beauty, it imposes quite the challenge of growing it. It is the most demanding and least predictable of the bunch. It is considered fragile, and the wine can acquire some unwanted flavors.

This red wine type is a fantastic choice for those who don't like hassles as it is pretty common and relatively more accessible than most, yet not plain and boring at all. 

It is just a little behind the Cabernet Sauvignon in terms of popularity. An easy drink for a glass of red wine, this is great for sipping and for beginners.

  • Merlot

Merlot is a simple wine that's easy to drink and enjoy. Its simpler and sweeter personality can sometimes be underwhelming compared to the likes of Cabernet Sauvignon, but its charm lies in its delicate and refined quality. 

It's soft and fruity, easy to pronounce, and is versatile enough to fit every occasion. It offers some of the smoothest textures out there, and its fruity and less intense flavor makes it an excellent wine to start with as a beginner.

  • Zinfandel

For a long time, Zinfandel was California’s grape, but now it has spread and is grown all over the west coast of the United States. The taste can vary based on where it's grown, but most often, this high in alcohol content wine delivers a fruity and juicy flavor.

As a fruity wine, Zinfandel is often characterized by its cherry or strawberry-leaning flavor. It's also lower in tannins and has a fuller, smoky body that makes it easy to drink while still displaying some complexity.

  • Malbec

It is a dark-fruit-forward wine that pairs well with many foods. Malbec is a signature grape variety of Argentina but has also become a crowd-pleaser in America recently. 

The grape has been gaining popularity as people have come to love its tartness combined with deep purple color, which hints at plum or cherry flavors before finishing on a smoky note. This wine bottle is the best of both worlds, not too strong like a Cabernet and not too soft like a Merlot.

It’s usually made with oak barrels, so they have some toasty graham cracker-like flavors with an underlying smoky taste, all great for when you want something light but flavorful at the same time! This variety is easy and inexpensive to grow and is versatile enough to please everyone.

  • Syrah / Shiraz

There is an ever-present confusion between "Syrah" and "Shiraz," two grape varieties genetically identical. Syrah, typically associated with France, is leaner in profile than Shiraz, an Australian blend. 

French Syrah traditionally has higher acidity levels than the Australian counterpart, which is higher in tannin levels. These types of red wine can be peppery, spicy, and bold, with the flavor of rich fruits like blackberry.

Shiraz is a versatile wine with an almost "wine cocktail" taste that can vary from juicy blackberries to plums, giving you the option of different flavors depending on your mood. 

Its counterpart in France might have less complexity, but both are easy-drinking wines perfect for parties; if you like red wine, either version will suit your preferences!

  • Sangiovese

Sangiovese is a type of wine that can be pale in color and quite firmly acidic. It's an Italian variety, the most planted red grape there; also, Italy produces more tart wines than other types, lighter-bodied with better acidity.

This is a complex wine that will make your mouth water and has persistent tannins. It is also dry and savory, coupled with its relatively higher acidity. It tastes better with food than by itself because of its intense and robust properties.

  • Gamay

Gamay is a light and delicate red wine with flavors similar to Pinot Noir. Gamay wines are made primarily in Beaujolais, France, where they grow next to Burgundy, Pinot Noir’s motherland. 

One great quality about this type of wine is that these usually have a lesser price point than the likes of Pinot Noir. It has floral aromas and earthy notes, which make it uniquely versatile when paired with most foods.

  • Nebbiolo

This intense and bold red wine is another Italian favorite grown in the Piedmont region. Its strong tannins and high acidity is a stark contrast to its relatively light color. 

It is most known for being the grape variety behind two of the most revered and expensive wines worldwide, the Barolo and Barbaresco.

This red wine type has amazing ageability, as its flavors turn more complex and intriguing the longer it ages. A great wine to splurge on and to invest in for a special celebration in the future.

  • Grenache

The Grenache wine is a red wine that can be distinguished by its sweet fruity flavor. Despite the semi-translucent light color of this wine, it has low acidity and is relatively high in alcohol content.

When grown in Old World regions like Côtes du Rhône, Grenache has an herbal flavor that reminds some of dried oregano and tobacco. But in general, this grape can have subtle aromas of citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruit.

  • Cabernet Franc

Cousin to the famous Cabernet Sauvignon, the Cabernet Franc is a more tannic and earthy type of wine. It makes up a third of the Bordeaux blend of the United States.

The Cabernet Franc has pure notes of violets and blueberries, along with the aroma of freshly roasted coffee. 

Popular Fortified Wines

The fortified wine styles are all unique and can vary by region or by production method. Here are the most common:

  • Port

This fortified wine originated from Portugal and is now produced around the world. The alcohol in this fortified wine comes from a flavorless brandy called aguardiente, which has 77% ABV. 

For Port to be made, the grapes must reach about 7% during fermentation when mixed with this spirit. Port is made from over 80 grape varieties, but these four are among the most popular and high-quality: Tinta Roriz, Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, and Tinta Barroca. 

  • Madeira

Madeira wine originated from Madeira Islands in Portugal, but the process of making it has become more complicated. It is composed of different styles that range from dry to sweet and can be achieved by both Estufagem and Cantiero methods.

The Estufagem method is a popular way of making Madeira wine, and it's often more expensive. This process involves pouring the young Madeira wine in stainless steel barrels for at least three months before being heated with hot water to around 50°C (122 °F). After that, these wines need two years to mature in oak casks after harvest before being sold. 

The Canteiro process may be more conventional. The wines are heated using direct sunlight for two years. About 85% of Madeira wines and most non-vintage wines are produced using the Tinta Negra Mole grape. This grape is a mix of Pinot Noir and Grenache.

  • Vermouth

Vermouth is a wine that has been flavored using spices, herbs, and other ingredients. Its flavor ranges from dry to sweet and can be consumed on its own or blended into martinis as an “extra” ingredient.

Sweet Vermouth or Italian Vermouth is a fortified wine that comes from Italy and has more caramelized flavors. Its fruity taste makes it perfect to be mixed in many classic cocktails like Manhattan or Negroni, but it can also just be enjoyed on its own with soda or ice added.

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Body Types of Red Wines

Man tasting red wine

Light-bodied Red Wines

Light-bodied red wines are a great choice to start fo0r those just getting into the world of red wine. They pair well with a large variety of foods. 

They're light, delicate, lean, and refreshing and tend to have lower tannin levels than other body types. They also have a light viscosity and have consistency closest to water among these body types. Some red wines considered as light-bodied include:

Medium-bodied Red Wines

This type of red wine is the ideal food wine because it has balanced tannins and moderate acidity. Medium-bodied wines are the perfect middle ground between light-bodied and full-bodied reds. 

They have the right amount of tannins and mild intensity to complement food, making them easy to drink. Some red wines considered as medium-bodied includes:

Full-bodied Red Wines

Mouth-coating density is what sets this type of red wine apart from the rest. Full-bodied red wines are high in tannins and alcohol content, giving them a weighty feeling on your buds.

These bold wines are best paired with large and heavy foods because they're strong enough to complement and will not overpower. Some red wines considered as full-bodied includes:

Red Wine Food Pairings

People toasting at a picnic

Red wine is the perfect match for dinners or any celebratory meals in general. Its robust structure prevents it from being overpowered by intense flavors of rich and heavy meals.

Full-bodied red wines are specifically better paired with heavy meats and spicy or intense dishes. The Cabernet Sauvignon and steak combo are some of the most popular pairings, especially to wine enthusiasts. 

Together with Malbec, they are also an excellent pairing for fatty meat dishes like BBQ, pork, or brisket. Shiraz is also a perfect accompaniment to spicy foods like Thai cuisine.

On the other hand, medium and light-bodied red wines pair well with lighter foods. They complement a wide variety of dishes like chicken, cheese, pasta, duck, fish, pizza, or even vegetables. It goes to show that heavier wines would go well with richer foods and vice versa.

It is also worth noting that a glass of red wine would usually pair well with food typical to its region. A good example is how Chianti wines of Tuscany, Italy, would pair well with an Italian cuisine like tomato sauce pasta.


There are many different types of red wines, and we hope you have enjoyed reading about them. If you’ve ever wondered what red wine goes well with your favorite dish, this guide is a must-read!

Do any of these sound like they would taste good to you? Let us know in the comments below. We love hearing from our readers!

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  • Thanks for the article. Pairing light bodied red wine with salmon is the best choice. Try red wine from



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