With more than a thousand varieties of grapes used to make wine, it's probably no surprise there are so many different types – at least 31 popular varietals – of red wine.
Most popular types of single-varietal red wine
Cabernet and Merlot are two of the most well-known and widely produced red wine varietals. They are also two of the most popular red wine grapes used around the world.
1. Cabernet Sauvignon
Generally big, full-bodied and tannic, Cabernet Sauvignon is a robust red wine with strong character. It can age for years.
Merlot is a medium-bodied wine with fruitiness and softer tannins than Cabernet Sauvignon.
3. Pinot Noir
Typically medium to light-bodied with a soft tannic structure, Pinot Noir is a dry red wine with berry overtones.
4. Syrah (Shiraz)
Jammy, fruity, and spicy, Shiraz is a grape that can take on different characteristics depending on terroir and growing conditions. 4
Typically zesty, Zinfandel wines run the gamut in flavour characteristics and range from big and hearty to light and delicate.
This red wine is more on the earthy side in flavour characteristics with medium tannins and high acidity.
Nebbiolo is a medium-bodied wine with strawberry characteristics and powerful tannins. It can often be aged for longer than a decade.
8. Grenache (Garnacha)
Grenache is often earthy, smoky, and soft.
Malbec is a medium-tannin wine with flavours of cherries and cocoa.
Carménère has raspberry and peppery flavours.
Barbera is a low-tannin red with soft plum flavours and zingy acidity.
12. Cabernet Franc
Cabernet Franc has medium-tannins with flavours of plums, berries, and spice.
One of the sources of confusion about different wine types is due to the different labelling of wine from different parts of the world.
In America and other parts of the "New World" (for example, Californian wines), wine is typically labelled according to the variety of grape (such as "Cabernet Sauvignon").
However, in Europe, wine is labelled by the region where the wine was produced (for instance, "Rioja" which is a Spanish wine made primarily from the Tempranillo grape).
Furthermore, many types of wine are actually blends of grape varieties, with brand names invented by the winery. Often, though not always, the label will indicate the types of grapes in the blend.
Types of red wine from around the world
While it's impossible to list every red wine in the world, there are many common reds to learn about.
14. Bordeaux - France
Bordeaux wines must come from the Bordeaux appellation of France. Labelling and winemaking laws govern the types of grapes that can be used to produce Bordeaux wines. Red Bordeaux wines coming out of one of the best-known wine regions in the world are rich and complex.
Grapes found in Bordeaux blends include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petite Verdot and Carménère.
15. Burgundy (Bourgogne) - France
Burgundy wines are another French-labelled wine named after the region in which they are produced and governed by labelling and winemaking laws. Red Burgundies are complex and have flavours of ripe dark berries. They are some of the most expensive and sought-after wines in the world. While Burgundy is primarily Pinot Noir, it may also have some Gamay grapes blended in for balance.
16 Beaujolais - France
Beaujolais is a sub-appellation of Bourgogne in France. There are two types of labelled red Beaujolais: Beaujolais Nouveau and Beaujolais. Both are fruity wines meant to be drunk fairly young. The primary grape used in Beaujolais is the Gamay grape.
17. Châteauneuf-du-Pape - France
Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a sub-appellation in the Southern Rhône region of France. It is almost always a blend of grapes, although you can find a few Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines that are made strictly from the Grenache grape. It's a smoky, earthy, lightly fruity wine that pairs well with food and can have good ageing structure.
18. Côtes du Rhône - France
A Rhône Valley AOC* wine, the blended Côtes du Rhône is affordable, spicy, and full-bodied, making it a great table wine.
(*The term appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC) means “controlled designation of origin” in French.)
There are many varieties of grapes allowed in Côtes du Rhône, although at least 40&% must be Grenache noir.
19. Côte-Rôtie - France
Another Rhône Valley AOC wine, Côte-Rôtie is spicy, elegant, and fragrant. They are complex wines with pleasant red berry fruitiness.
20. Hermitage - France
Hermitage is also an AOC in the Rhône Valley, and it produces big, collectable reds that can be aged for decades. These are rich, savoury wines with flavours such as black fruits and leather.
21. Chianti - Italy
Chianti comes from Italy's Tuscany in the Piedmont region. It is a DOCG* region with many subregions.
(*DOCG stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita or Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin, which under Italian wine law is the highest designation of quality among Italian wines.)
Chianti, which must contain 70% to 80% Sangiovese, is a fruity, medium-bodied, acidic wine that pairs really well with spicy foods and tomato sauce. It is perfect for Italian cuisine such as pasta and pizza.
22. Barolo/Barbaresco - Italy
Barolo and Barbaresco are two DOCG regions in Piedmont with one big thing in common: the Nebbiolo grape. The wines are big and tannic and made to age for years; but they're also surprisingly delicate with medium-bodied fruit flavours such as strawberry. Barolo is often referred to as the "king of wines," and the wine can be quite expensive and sought after.
23. Brunello di Montalcino - Italy
Sometimes just called Brunello, Brunello di Montalcino is a DOCG wine grown in Montalcino in Tuscany. It is made up of 100% Sangiovese and local Sangiovese clones. It is acidic with medium tannins and flavours such as sour cherry and figs.
24. Rioja - Spain
Rioja is Spain's most famous wine. It has strong tannins with fruity flavours such as cherry. Rioja’s main grape is Tempranillo.
For wine beginners
Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Zinfandel are good choices to start with. For food pairing, if it is a light-bodied red wine, go with grilled vegetables, white meat or chicken. A medium-bodied to full-bodied red wine can get along well with meat dishes such as steaks or smoked meat.
Cabernet Sauvignon is always a safe (yet sophisticated!) bet to order at just about any meal to please the whole group. While California Cabs can be a bit fruitier, and French Cabs a bit more herbal, a glass is always delightful to drink as you look for notes of cherries and currants, as well as spices. A Cabernet Sauvignon would be delicious with a short rib, or lamb.
Merlot is a great entry point for someone trying to get into red wine. The wine is really "easy" to drink, meaning it's fruity and yummy, and won't make your mouth pucker up with tannins. Drink with poultry like duck or chicken.
Among the lightest and most delicate wines with this hue, Pinot Noir won't punch you in the face like some reds can; it has a "light body" in the lingo and feels silky to the tongue. You might taste raspberry or cranberry. Drink with sushi or salmon. Yes, you can drink red wine with fish!
Zinfandel is an interesting wine because the taste can really vary based on where it's grown, though it's usually nice and juicy and high in alcohol content. Imagine juicy, spicy strawberries that get you smashed. Drink with meats like pork ribs.
For wine lovers
With wine lovers, the quest for a perfect bottle of red wine never ends. Hence, the way to go is to be open to new things. Trying a little of everything – a Cabernet from Italy or a Pinot Noir from Spain. These wines may not be the most famous or popular from Italy or Spain but that doesn't necessarily mean they are bad wines. So, be open to new tastes. You never know what hidden gems you will uncover.
For the adventurous, Sangiovese will do weird things to your mouth, as the acids will make it water and the tannins will stick to the sides. You might also taste tobacco, soil, and pepper. There's a whole lot going on with this one!
Nebbiolo also has strong tannins and tons of acid. It's a tricky wine, as the light colour belies the insane flavour coming to smash you. The flavours of this wine get more interesting and complex as it ages, which is why it's a great one to splurge on...and then save for a special occasion.
Drink with gamey, fatty meats like wild boar, goose, duck, pork shank. Basically, this is what you'd drink if you'd just won a battle in the Middle Ages and were enjoying a celebratory feast!