Rich alluring aromatics, dark color, and loads of sweet spices and berry flavors, red wine is the perfect finishing for a barbecue night. And for a good reason, red wine is scientifically proven to have some health benefits due to its potent antioxidant profile. That’s right! It is believed to lower cholesterol levels and reduce insulin resistance when taken in moderation (duh!).
They are so many different types of red wine, perhaps unsurprisingly, due to the large variety of red wine grapes. However, one thing’s for sure; it is easy to get intimated by the sheer amount of varietals when starting out with wine. But, it doesn’t have to be that way.
Here is a comprehensive list of the top 8 red wine grapes. Of course, we’ll give a little background of each and which foods you should pair them with.
And if you are a wine enthusiast, you will understand more about the red wines you enjoy and what makes them up.
There are a thousand varieties of grapes grown worldwide, some being better at winemaking than others. According to the International Organization of Vine and Wine (OIV), the noble varieties occupy a third of the vine area of the world. Quite impressive! These 8 red wine grapes varieties are the cornerstone of red wine production.
Let’s dive in.
8 Most Popular Types of Red Wine Grapes
1. Cabernet Sauvignon
Comes with a touch of sophistication, Cabernet Sauvignon is the most popular red wine grape globally.
It is complex, layered, powerful, elegant, and worthy of aging. It is aged in oak barrels, which gives it a deep earthy flavor. Its higher acidity and bold tannins give a long-lasting finish on the tongue.
It was first planted in the Bordeaux wine region of France. Today it is also grown in Australia’s Coonawarra and California’s Napa Valley wine region. It requires warm conditions to ripen fully.
Cabernet Sauvignon is a full-bodied red grape with moderate acidity and flavors of baking spices, black currant, mint, cedar, and black cherry.
The wines are best paired with meat, especially the fatty type- smoked meats, lamb, beef- firm cheeses and savory foods.
The world of wine may daunting, but Merlot is a great entrée into wines if you are just getting started. Merlot red wine grape is the most grown grape in the Bourdeaux region and the third most planted grape in the whole world.
It is also now grown in other parts of the world, including the US states of Washington and California, Italy, Argentina, Chile, and Australia.
It has a smooth and fruity taste, with low tannin levels, making it easy to drink without making your mouth pucker. You can call it a gentler version of Cabernet Sauvignon. They share many flavors, but Merlot has a more velvety taste that makes it more approachable in the world of red wine.
Besides, merlot grapes get the upper hand over Cabernet grapes because they ripen two weeks faster.
They are more versatile and make two styles of wines; they can be fruity and taken young or more complex and worthy of aging.
It is best paired with almost everything, including chicken, dishes with strong cheese, and light meats.
3. Pinot Noir
We call it the heartbreaker grape. Why? We hear you ask. Pinot Noir is probably the most difficult grape to grow. It is small, precocious, and requires delicate conditions. If it’s too hot, it gets jammy, and if it’s too cold, it doesn’t ripen. Instead, it remains green and bitter.
The good news- with cool conditions and great care, Pinot Noir is the holy grail for winemakers. It is the noblest red wine grape, interesting and complex, with a peacock tail of flavors that produces sensational wine. It tastes more like bright berries such as cranberry, cherry, and raspberry but can also be woodsy and earthy based on where it is grown.
This light-colored grape with higher acidity and low tannins was first grown in the Burgundy wine region in France in two different villages, resulting in two grapes that are quite different from each other. And this versatility has made Pinot Noir to be highly sought by many. As a result, it is now universally produced in the United States, Germany, Sonoma, Italy, South Africa, and Oregon.
It goes well with fish, including shark, salmon, swordfish, and light seafood. Ok, I know what you are thinking; fish and red wine…mmmh. It goes pretty well. Try it!
Moreover, Pinot Noir goes with almost everything on the table, especially dishes that include mushrooms.
Note: It does not go so well with spices.
California’s heritage grape, Zinfandel, is a red grape variety that makes bold red wines with unique spicy notes. It is one of the oldest grapes grow in California and it has become such an American darling.
For a long time, the origins of Zinfandel could not be found until recently, when it was discovered to have its roots in Croatia.
It’s fruit-forward, juicy, thin-skinned, with raspberry and blackberry flavor, making delicious dark wines with medium to high tannins and high alcohol. The aroma varies from fruity, spicy to jammy depending on the time of harvest.
Some of the Zinfandel wines can be enjoyed young, while others are built for aging due to their tannin structure. They make rich and fulfilling wines.
Zinfandel is best paired with spicy or savory dishes, roast beef, grilled chicken, burgers, and sausages.
Syrah is one of the international red wine grape varieties. It originates from Rhône Valley in France and has become the most widespread grape in Australia, referred to as Shiraz.
This grape produces full-bodied and dark-colored single varietal wines with different aromas.
It is an interesting wine to taste -it can be bold, spicy, fruity, and jammy depending on where it is grown. The aroma ranges from fruits like blackberry, olive, violet, and smoked meat.
The French Syrah contains moderate tannin and moderate-to-high acidity. It is taken young and is rarely aged. Australian Shiraz has high alcohol content, riper, and higher tannin.
Shiraz is perfect for bringing during barbecue. It blends well with beef stew, grilled meats and veggies, wild game meat, and hamburgers.
Malbec has become a star in Argentina and even has its holiday: Malbec World day celebrated every April 17. But its origins lie in Southwest France; it’s one of the indigenous five Bordeaux wine grape varietals. But due to the grape’s poor resistance to pests and weather, it never become a top French variety.
A French botanist introduced Malbec in 1868 in Mendoza, and that’s how it found its new home. As a result, Mendoza provides the perfect terroir for this red wine grape, helping it produce at its best.
This flavorful and fruity grape is yet another crowd-pleaser with spicy and tannin characteristics and myriad flavors, including prune, coffee, black cherry, chocolate, and blueberry ending in a hint of smoke. It produces deep-colored wine with balanced acidity, supple texture, and freshness. Malbec wines portray a bright magenta rim. Now you know how to tell if you are testing Malbec wines.
However, Malbec wines in France are often tannic and rustic and are used as part of a blend. Therefore, they are quite different from the wines in South America.
Malbec wines are food-friendly, making them easy to pair with almost any type of food. We recommend pairing with steak, barbecued meats, hard cheeses, stewed dishes, and burrito-basically foods with big flavors.
Tempranillo is the noble grape of Spain; it is the dominant grape in red rioja, Spain’s most famous wine.
It’s an earthy and vibrant variety with savory characteristics and cherry and plum notes. Through aging, Tempranillo produces wines that have tobacco leaves and leather notes due to their oaky character.
The flavor is more savory than sweet, and the smell hints more like fresh tobacco leaves. Not sure if you have smelt tobacco leaves, but it is more fresh, sappy, and vegetal.
It is an early ripening grape grown throughout Spain but is commonly linked to the Rioja wine region and Ribera del Duero. It is known by other local names, including Tinta del Pais, Cencibel, and Tinto Fino.
Also, it is grown in South Australia in McLaren Vale and Barrosa valley regions, and Texas Hill Country in the US.
This variety produces full-bodied wines with a low viscosity due to their somewhat thinner skins. If you like complex flavors without the syrup nature, Tempranillo might be your best shot. They are often aged in oak.
Due to the spice notes, Tempranillo is best paired with meat such as braised pork ribs and seasoned poultry such as duck or chicken.
If you are into seafood, heavier oily fish will do the trick.
Note: Avoid white fish.
Sangiovese is the most notorious and grown red wine grape varietal in Italy, with its origins from Tuscany.
It is the leading grape in Central Italian red wines, primarily used in Chianti in particular. This variety is a bit of a chameleon, but the good news, it has something for everyone.
It is not aromatic like other varietals but comes with different flavors due to their different mutations throughout Italy. They range from intensely tannic wines to floral strawberry aromas. They have high tannin and acidity, giving notes of some herbs, plum, sour cherry, and cherry.
Sangiovese varietal produces wines that can be enjoyed young and can be aged in oak barrels giving it a more oaky character.
When it comes to food pairings, Sangiovese wines stick to the ‘red to red’ rule. As a result, the wines go well with tomato-based dishes like pizza and pasta. But, of course, most Italian dishes with herbs will do the trick.
There are many different wine grape varietals globally, but this is just a comprehensive brief on the top 8 red wine grapes. Different terroir and maturation affect the type of aroma and flavor, resulting in thousands of wine varieties.
Having a bit of wine knowledge is excellent; it helps you dive in easily and identify the aspects of the wine that you like. Also, try out new tastes to find out what you enjoy and what food pairs best.
Have fun exploring the world of red wine!