It’s made using dark coloured grape varieties, which makes the wine dark in colour.
This can range from a bright violet - which is common with young wines - to brown colour, which is what you can expect for older wines.
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Red Wine Guide: Everything You Need to Know
In this guide, we go over everything you need to know about red wine.
What is Red Wine?
Red wine is an alcoholic drink, made using grapes.
It’s created by fermenting the juice of the grapes, in a similar way to how white wine is made, but using much darker grapes.
During the wine making process, pressed grape juice is macerated and fermented with the grape skins.
This adds colour, flavour and tannin to the beverage.
Once the yeast converts the grape sugar to ethanol and carbon dioxide, the drink becomes alcoholic.
What to Look Out For In Your Red Wines
Here are some common terms used to describe red wine, which will help you choose and understand what you're drinking:
This is a term used to describe how rich the wine feels when you are drinking it.
There are a variety of different bodies, ranging from dainty to full bodied wines.
Light bodied red wines include pinot noir and beaujolais, whereas malbec and shiraz are full bodied.
Merlot and carignan are somewhere in the middle.
Red wines that are lighter in colour are usually younger, whilst older wines are darker.
Some can even have a brown colour that’s similar to rust if they have been aged for many years.
Depending on where the grapes have been grown, red wine can have a variety of characteristics.
There can even be differences amongst the same grape variety, depending on where the specific grapes being used were grown.
For example, a pinot noir from Burgundy will taste very different to a pinot noir from Napa Valley.
Despite being the same grape, the climate and winemaking practices are different.
We have region guides for popular wine countries below:
The grape variety used will impact the tannins in the wine.
Tannins naturally occur in grape skins and stalks, and so different types of grapes will have a slightly different tannin taste.
Usually, thicker grape skins and those that have been left to blend for longer, the higher the tannins in the end result.
Medium bodied red wine tends to come from cooler climates, and they generally have a bit of acidity and fruitiness to them.
Red wine from a warmer climate is more likely to be full bodied and bold, and even higher in alcohol content.
Some red wines are aged, which adds another level of flavour to the flavour and complexity.
A lot of this change is to do with the type of oak the winemaker uses to age the wine.
For example, oak injects a nutty and toasty hint into red wine, and it turns the wine into a more rusty and autumnal colour.
We have a more in-depth article on the types of red wine here.
Types of Red Wine Grapes
There is no shortage of red wine grapes to choose from, and they all differ in one way or another:
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- Pinot Noir
- St Laurent
- Cabernet Franc
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- Petite Sirah
However, there are certainly some red wine grapes that are more commonly used than others.
Below, we have taken a look at the flavour profiles and regions of some of the most popular varieties:
Cabernet Franc boasts flavours such as blueberry, earth, coffee and black olive.
It’s a key part of the three trio that are blended together to make a lot of Bordeaux and Meritage red wines found in the US.
It’s more earthy and tannic than Cabernet Sauvignon.
Outside of Europe, where it’s a lot warmer, Cabernet Franc has notes of violets and blueberries.
Sometimes, the tannies smell similar to fresh coffee. It’s often blended with Merlot to add a spicy and occasionally minty note, which is common in Pomerol and Saint-Émilion.
Cabernet Sauvignon boasts flavours such as black cherry, green olive, herbs, peppers and cassis.
It’s the main component of Bordeaux wines and a key part of those made in Napa Valley.
It’s grown all over the world, but it’s rarely considered to be a great variety. This is why it’s usually blended in Bordeaux and Tuscany, as a way to soften the intense tannins.
In Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon is extremely dark and tastes similar to currants, black cherries and jam.
Gamay is all about strawberry, cherry and raspberry notes.
It’s the grape of Beaujolais and it tends to be used young, which is why it has a flavour driven by fruits. It’s often considered to be tangy and sweet, and bright in colour.
When Gamay is made using the carbonic maceration method, it smells similar to bananas. Beaujolais Nouveaus is the most famous example of Gamay red wine grapes.
You can expect spice and cherry flavours from Grenache, a wine that’s popular in Spain and Australia.
It’s one of the earlier ripening grapes, and it tends to have low acidity and high alcohol contents. It’s a fruity, old and spicy wine.
Malbec boasts sour cherry and spice flavours, and this is due to the fact that it is aged in new oak barrels.
It’s one of the main blending grapes in Bordeaux, but it’s also popular in Argentina. There are a lot of Malbecs made in Washington and California.
Merlot is a very versatile wine and it’s hugely popular.
This is largely due to the fruity taste associated with it, such as watermelon, strawberry and plum.
However, some do argue that Merlot lacks anything that makes it a unique character. It’s commonly from Bordeaux, though Washington state does also produce easy to like Merlot.
Mourvèdre has flavours of spice and cherry, and it’s a grape that’s very popular in France and Spain.
It’s medium bodied, lightly spiced and has a fruity flavour.
Depending on where the grape is grown, Mourvèdre sometimes has a gravelly minerality to it. It’s often part of a blend with Shiraz and Grenache.
Nebbiolo is often described as being one of the great wines of the world. It has flavours of cherry pie, plum and tar.
It’s the main grape in Gattinara, Barbaresco and Barolo wines.
It’s difficult to grow, which is why Californian versions of Nebbiolo are somewhat lacking.
You can expect flavours of tomato, beetroot, blackberry, cola and plum from Pinot Noir.
It’s a grape that many winemakers critice, even though it’s a versatile and unpredictable variety.
Pinot Noir comes from Burgundy, but even there it’s prone to weedy flavours and fragility. It can be ripened to produce wines with a jammy flavour in California and New Zealand, or it can be used as a component of many Champagnes and sparkling wines.
Sangiovese boasts flavours of cherry pie, anise and tobacco. It’s the main grape of Tuscany, where it is used in Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino.
It’s light in colour, acidic and varies hugely depending on where the grape was grown.
In Italy, you can expect anise and cherry pie flavours. Elsewhere, Sangiovese can be a lot more understated.
Blackberry, plum, pepper and clove can be expected from Shiraz.
Shiraz in California and Washington creates spicy, peppery and sappy wines.
In Australia, it is light and fruity, and occasionally more dense. Shiraz is a deep red, sparkling wine with a lot of tannic elements.
Zinfandel has flavours of raising, prune, raspberry, blackberry and cherry.
It was the ‘go to’ grape in California for many years, but now it can be found around the world.
Despite also being grown in Australia and Italy, Zinfandel from California is the model for everywhere else.
There are a lot of different types of Zinfandel wines, including those with Asian spice flavours and others with raspberry notes.
In Napa Valley, you can expect Zinfandel to be ripe, sweet and full of black cherry flavour.
Pairing Food with Red Wine
Red wine is extremely diverse and there are a lot of styles available, which makes it the ideal choice for pairing with food.
- When paired with strong flavours, red wine is able to hold its own more so than white wine or a sweet rosé.
- One of the most popular pairings is steak and cabernet, as full bodied wines pair well with heavy foods
- If you have a lighter bodied red wine, you should try pairing it with a lighter food, such as chicken or vegetables
- The key is to match the weight of the wine with the richness of the food
A lot of people follow the adage “what grows together, goes together” when pairing red wine.
This means pairing red wine with food that’s grown close by.
For example, pairing tomato sauce dishes from Italy with acidic wines of Chianti.
Storing & Serving Red Wines
One of the main selling points of red wine is how well it ages, but it must be stored correctly in order to do so.
There are a lot of things that factor into the ageing process, including temperature and light. Humidity also has an impact.
For the ideal wine, red wine should be stored at around 13°C, which is below the serving temperature.
If red wine is stored somewhere that’s too warm, it will speed up the ageing process, and some that are stored in extremely warm spaces can begin to cook.
You can make this easy by investing in a wine cabinet, such as the range of red wine cabinets available on expertwinestorage.co.uk.
This changes the fruit flavours hugely. Red wine can also be hindered if it’s stored somewhere that’s too cold, though this is not as impactful as being stored too warm.
Storing red wine in a place that’s too cold will slow down the ageing process, but it’s unlikely to cause any damage, as long as it doesn’t freeze.
For short term storage, a refrigerator is okay. It’s important to ensure red wine doesn’t freeze, as this could cause problems. As the liquid expands, the cork could come out and the bottle itself could crack.
The key is to keep red wine at a consistent and recommended temperature.
If you simple want a place to store wine before drinking, then a red wine fridge will keep your wine at the perfect temperature.
You might have noticed that red wine is usually stored in green or brown bottles. This is to protect it from UV rays, which could damage the makeup of the wine by breaking down compounds.
If the compounds of red wine break down, it could age too rapidly. This is more of a concern for light bodied wines, though it’s always better to avoid exposure to any natural or artificial light.
Humidity is also something to consider when ageing red wine, and getting the balance of humidity right is key. If the environment is too dry, the cork is at risk of drying and shrinking.
This could allow oxygen into the bottle, or wine could even leak out.
Related: How To Store Red Wine
Light-bodied red wines prefer the lower temperatures in the range, whereas full-bodied red wines prefer the warmer temperatures.
|Red Wine||12 - 18°C or 55°F - 65°F|
A wine served above 18°C will change the structure of the wine, softening it.
This leads to the taste of the alcohol being more noticeable.
However, chilling the red wine to temperatures around 12-15°C will make the flavours more focused and the alcohol taste won’t be noticeable.
Bear in mind, that if you serve the same wine at a temp below 12°C, the wine will taste completely different.
The overall flavour of the wine will feel somewhat subdued and the alcohol would be barely noticeable.
Cooking with Red Wine
There are many ways to cook with red wine.
You might use it to glaze or braise, or you might use it in a pasta dish.
Regardless of what you are cooking, choosing the right wine is important.
More often than not, the recipe will dictate the exact type of red wine you should use, making your decision making a lot easier.
If your recipe asks for one cup of wine, it’s probably best to buy half a bottle of wine. This will contain around one and a half cups of wine, giving you a little bit extra should you need it.
If you are only deglazing the pan, you could use leftover wine from a day or two before.
However, if the wine is a key part of the flavour of the dish, take the time to choose the right wine.
If you are unsure of which red wine to cook with, select a dry red wine with moderate tannins.
This will complement most dishes, regardless of what you are cooking. If you are cooking a dessert, opt for a sweet wine.
How is Red Wine Made?
There are big differences in the red wine making process, depending on where you are located in the world.
The more modern the winery, the more modern the process.
The climate the grapes are grown in also has an impact, as does the personal preference of the winemaker themselves.
Making red wine can be a time consuming process, and it’s not a process that can be rushed.
It starts by the winemaker choosing the grape variety and waiting for the grapes to ripen.
Once they are ready, they are picked and selected by the winemaker.
They are then taken to the winery where they are sorted, and any leaves or stems are removed.
Once the ideal grapes have been singled out, they are crushed.
After being crushed, the red wine grapes need time to ferment.
This is when the yeast turns the grape sugar into alcohol, making the wine an alcoholic beverage.
Next, the wine is pressed to remove the skins and aged.
The ageing process varies depending on the winemaker's preference, and some wines are aged for far longer than others.
The last step is bottling and labelling the wine, and sending it off to suppliers.
What Makes Red Wine Special?
There is research to suggest that red wine, when ingested in moderation, can lead to a healthy heart.
This is because red wine contains alcohol and antioxidants, which could help to prevent coronary artery disease and therefore, prevent heart attacks.
Though the link between red wine and heart health are not completely understood, there is research to suggest the link is there.
Is Red Wine Alcoholic?
Red wine is alcoholic, though there are certainly alcohol free versions available.
Usually, the alcohol content of red wine is around 12% to 13%.
The majority of red wines have a higher alcohol content than wine whites.
Can You Drink Red Wine Every Day?
Red wine should be enjoyed in moderation and it’s widely accepted that drinking one to two glasses a day is okay.
In fact, it could even lower the risk of heart disease.
However, drinking a lot of red wine could have detrimental health effects.
What Makes Red Wine Red?
Though the juice from purple grapes is a green or white colour, the wine itself is still red.
This is because of anthocyanin pigments found in the skin, which is why a lot of red wine production involves a process that removes the colour and flavour from the grape skin itself.
Red Wine Stemware (Glasses)
There are a lot of wine glasses on the market, so knowing which to choose can be difficult.
There are traditional red wine glasses, and those that are more unique and quirky.
It’s sometimes tempting to choose a fun shaped glass, especially if you are planning an informal occasion, but there’s no denying that having a proper red wine glass will really improve the drinking experience.
There are two main types of red wine glasses available:
One is a tall and tapered Bordeaux glass, and the other is a wider bowled Burgundy glass.
The Bordeaux glass has a tapered opening that concentrates the aromas of the wine. The height of the glass allows the ethanol aromas to disappear, leaving the true aroma behind.
This is why the Bordeaux glass is ideal for full bodied red wines with high alcohol contents.
It’s commonly used for Cabernets and Merlot based wines.
The Burgundy glass is better suited to lighter bodied red wines, those with delicate aromas.
This is because the shape of the bowl helps to contain the aromas, giving you the chance to fully appreciate everything that the wine is offering.
Regardless of which glass you choose, all red wine glasses should be stemmed.
Though there are stemless glasses on the market, these run the risk of having heat transferred from your hands to the wine.
This would impact the taste and compromise the optimal drinking temperature.
Fun Facts About Red Wine
- A standard bottle of red wine, a 750ml measure, contains around 10 units of alcohol
- 1 ton of grapes can create close to 720 bottles of wine
- Red wine should be stored at a temperature between 10 and 13°C once opened
- Red wine should be consumed within 3 to 5 days of being open
- Wine dates back as far as 6,000 BC where remains were found in Georgia
- A 175ml glass of 13% ABV red wine contains around 160 calories, and a 250ml glass contains approximately 228 calories
Before You Go...
We hope you enjoyed our article all about red wine.
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