Types of Red Wine

A Proper Introduction

Many red wine types exist, in a variety of flavor profiles and types. Most people who know anything about wine know this, but most people don’t truly appreciate the diversity of red wines that exist, beginners in particular. This article introduces readers to many types of red wine, sweet and dry, varietals and regionals. If you’re looking specifically for cheap wines, that’s ok too. For the record, “cheap” is not actually a wine type. But if, by chance, you’re interested in finding the best cheap red wine (and white) out there, as per our personal recommendation, well you’re in luck.

First, it helps to know a few wine naming conventions. Most wines, reds included, will be made with one kind of grape. These varietal wines always use the name of the grape they were made with. A red made from Merlot grapes in Washington state might be called Olympia Merlot, for example. Some reds are combinations of different grapes, blended to create a different flavor profile and aroma. Blending is common in the wine world. A good red may be either varietal or a blend.

Red wines also come in a range of colors, from pink to a darker red like cranberry juice. The fermentation process, grapes, and growing conditions all contribute to a light or a heavy flavor. A late or darker color suggests what the wine will taste like. There is so much to know about red and white wines, you need a wine wiki, or a handbook. So pour yourself a nice glass (or 2, or 3) of dark red, take some sips and let’s continue our investigation.


Types of Red Wine Grapes

Many types of wine grapes exist and produce red or white wines after processing and aging. The variety of grape, and the soil and climate where the grapes grow, all influence the type of red or white wines the grower can produce. A vast majority of the red wine in the world comes from Merlot, Shiraz, zinfandel, and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. German wines don’t taste like Australian wines, which tend to be different from California reds. A Spanish Merlot may be different from a California Merlot, for example, though with considerable similarities in color, taste, and aroma.

There are varietals and blends, sweet and dry wines, and wines identified with their country of origin. Italian reds, sweet Washington varietals, and dry blends all exist for example. If you do enough shopping for reds, you will see those types of characteristics used to define the wine. The terms “sweet” and “dry” need explanation of wineries use them to identify and classify their products.

The huge variety of red wine grapes leads to a huge variety of popular red wines. This makes sense because the grapes grow well around the world and often blend quite well. Merlot grapes are famous for producing a smooth, easy drinking red that appeals to novice wine drinkers. Many brands have begun to offer red blends and organic or natural red wines, adding more diversity to the wine world.


Sweet Versus Dry

A sweet wine is just one with more sugar left after fermentation. However, the perception of sweetness can be affected by the wine’s alcohol content and acidity. Tannins also make a wine taste more or less sweet. A dry wine is relatively low in residual sugar and high in acidity. While sweetness is partly a matter of opinion, there is also a Sugar Code used to classify wines.

A wine’s score can range from 0, very dry, to 30, very sweet. Whether you’re choosing with a sweet wine, or a dry wine, it’s important to know a little bit about what these types of wines would pair well with. There are some very helpful wine pairing charts that make that task a simple matter. You don’t have to be a wine connoisseur, just take a minute to look at this wine food pairing chart before you make your next big wine purchase.

The wine’s score depends on the amount of residual sugar. Wine with up to 0.50%, 1 part in 200, sugar gets a score of 0. A dry wine, for example, would score a 1 or 2. If you’re into a semi-sweet wine, look for a score of 6. The sweeter the wine tastes, the higher it will likely score on the Sugar Code. There are wine sweetness charts you can use to place any red or white on the spectrum from very dry to very sweet, based on the typical score.


Types of Sweet Red Wine

A Sugar Code of eight or higher denotes a sweet wine, though the perceived sweetness of a wine doesn’t depend entirely on the sugar content. Red wines tend to fall on the dry end of the sweet-dry continuum, though some varieties do qualify as being sweet wines. The sweetest wine you’ll find is not going to be a red wine.

Some sweet varieties of red are rare, but some are not. Port, tawny port, and Lambrusco all count as sweet wines and can be found at most wine stores. Two varieties of wines that don’t fit the usual classification scheme based on grapes and blends also count as sweet wines. Dessert wines are sweet wines that tend to high in alcohol, over 14% generally. Sparkling red wines sometimes have enough residual sugar to be classified as sweet wines. Sometimes it’s hard to know what food pairs well with a sweet wine. We created a stupid easy wine food pairing chart to help you out with that. At a glance you’ll be able to tell what goes with what.

Sweet wines, like dry wines, may be blends or varietals. How sweet a wine is, or whether it qualifies as sweet at all, depends on the grapes and where they were grown. Dry wines, in contrast, have less sugar and tend to have less apparent sweetness.


Types of Dry Red Wine

A wine that is low in residual sugar is a dry wine. As with sweet wines, tannins, alcohol content, and acidity all affect the perceived sweetness of a wine. The term “dry” can relate to the relatively low sugar content or to the taste of a wine that is not at all sweet.

As reds tend toward being dry in the first place, many common red wines are dry to very dry. Zinfandel, Shiraz, Syrah, and Cabernet franc are examples of drier reds. They are, with the exception of French Syrahs, produced from grapes grown around the world.

Many countries produce red wines of different varieties. However, Italy is the one country most wine lovers tend to associate with reds.


Italian Red Wine Types

There are many different types of red wine exist, with a rich variety of colors and flavor profiles present depending on where the grapes were grown and how long the wine has been aged. Italy has a few growing regions that produce a huge variety of grapes for both red and white wines. A few Italian reds are sure to appear on any list of the best ports or Merlot for example.


The Least You Need to Know: 

Red wines come from a variety of grapes that grow in numerous wine regions, including in Spain, Italy, France, Australia, New Zealand, and parts of the United States. Grape variety, climate, and soil combine to produce reds with a range of colors, aromas, and flavors. Some red wines are varietals, but others are blended table wines or dessert wines. Red wines also remain popular around the world for cooking and for making sangria. If you’re interested in finding the best red wine for sangria, see our post for some excellent suggestions..

While red wine might not be a healthy beverage like milk, daily red wine consumption may in fact have some health benefits. But what if, for example, you have type 2 diabetes? Should you be drinking a glass or two of wine with your dinner? Yes, in fact it may be ok. But before you do, check out this CBS News article that explores the first ever long-term study that addresses this very issue in depth. You can read all about it for yourself. So raise your fruity glasses and let’s cheers, to red wine and to health.

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