Red Wine Types: A Beginner’s Guide

Learn everything you need to know about red wine types, glasses, vocab, pairings and more with our red wine guide.

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Let’s be honest, a glass of wine can be enjoyed on any day that ends in “y.” A glass (or the bottle, no judgment) pairs well with any occasion. Celebrating a raise? Wine. Going through a breakup? Wine. Charcuterie board? Wine. Still coping with the Schitt’s Creek finale a year later? Wine. 

When you’re new to wine, being asked to talk about your favorite red wine types can feel like a pop quiz that you’re not ready for. Wine, like coffee, is a taste you learn to appreciate over time. When you’re not sure what to look for, finding the perfect bottle for your taste buds is intimidating—especially with wine snobs tossing around fancy vino lingo like “varietals” and “tannins.”

But you shouldn’t let this jargon scare you from the special journey that is tasting a fine red wine! We all started out as newbies, after all—it’s just a matter of doing a little research to understand the basics. To help you get started, we’ve put together everything you need to know about red wine. 

Once you’ve reached the end of this guide, we’re sure you’ll be ready to pop corks and drop knowledge at your next dinner party with some mouth-watering red wine suggestions.

Winemaking basics

Today, red wine is made pretty much the same way it was made 6,000+ years ago. In the simplest terms, red wine is made when rouge-colored grapes are collected, crushed, fermented, mixed and then separated from the grape skins.

Of course, wineries now have better storage units, presses, tools and cellars, which have helped to improve the efficiency of red wine production—but it’s still a relatively simple process. The only ingredients red wine production requires are grapes, yeast and, sometimes, a preservative like sulfur dioxide.

Red wine terms to know

For most people, processing wine lingo is the same as trying to learn a second language. Many of us just want to enjoy our wine without needing a translator to help us order, so it’s no surprise most people limit their vocab to “red” or “white.” But by understanding the basic wine terms below, you’ll start to discover the kinds of wine you like to drink. Plus, you’ll become more knowledgeable when it comes to buying wine.

Varietals

A varietal is used to describe a wine made from a single variety of grape. Some of the most popular kinds of varietals are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec, but there are over 10,000 other types of varietals. When you shop for wines, you might want to check out some lesser-known varietals like Barbera and Carménère. Not only are they delish, but they can often be of great value too.

Body type

A wine’s body type is how heavy or light a wine feels in your mouth. Depending on your personal preference, you might like a light-, medium- or full-bodied wine, and can use these three terms to make a selection whether you’re at a restaurant or a liquor store.

Dry (a.k.a. not sweet)

“Dry” is a common way to describe the taste of some wines—it simply means the wine isn’t sweet. When talking about wine, most people refer to the level of sweetness by using one of three terms: dry, off-dry (a little sweet) or sweet. The majority of wines that aren’t from a box or that have some fruit or chocolate flavors added to them are dry.

Tannins

We know what you’re thinking, and no, tannins aren’t the stuff that red wine headaches are made out of. Tannins are actually an attribute of a wine that add to its taste and body. Red wine will either have low, medium or high tannin. Raw tannin is somewhat bitter, kind of like licking a used tea bag. Most people mistake tannin for dryness, since it adds a prickly drying sensation to the tongue and on the roof of the mouth.

Acidity

Acidity, like tannins, is another way to describe a wine. If a wine is particularly acidic, it might taste zesty and will sometimes make your tongue wet. Acidity basically gives wine its sour and tart taste. As a general rule, wines from warmer climates are usually less acidic, while wines made in cooler climates are more acidic. Now that you know about acidity, you should think about the kinds of wine you like to drink, whether you appreciate a more tart flavor or a fuller body, and make your selection that way.

Red wine types

You might be considering starting to drink red wine for its health benefits (i.e., its keto-friendliness, its antioxidants, etc.) or because you love rosé and have decided to go full rouge. Whatever your reason is, the main problem many new red wine drinkers struggle with is learning to choose a red wine type they’ll love. It’s especially hard sometimes to select a bottle of red because there are so many choices. In our opinion, some of the best red wines for beginners are crowd-pleasers like Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Nero d’Avola and Merlot. These are all fruit-forward, with smooth finishes. But we’ve also broken down some other options for you based on body type.

Light-bodied red wine

In addition to the crowd-pleaser reds that we’ve mentioned above, you might also start with some light-bodied red wines if you’re looking to switch over from Team White to Team Red. These types of reds are light and refreshing, and tend to pair well with different types of foods.

Shop these types of light-bodied reds:

Medium-bodied red wine

Medium-bodied red wines are the perfect blend of light and bold flavors. These types of red have a bit more tannins than light-bodied reds, but they don’t go overboard with intense flavor.

Shop these types of medium-bodied reds:

Full-bodied red wine

Of the three types of reds, full-bodied reds have the most tannins and (usually) the highest alcohol content. As a result, full-bodied reds have a bolder taste and leave a heavier feeling of weight on the palate.

Shop these types of full-bodied reds:

How to taste red wine

When you’re doing a wine tasting with loved ones, or even if you’re sippin’ solo, it’s important to think about the wine quality. You can use your four senses to judge wines on a scale from poor quality to outstanding. You can also get fancy and assign points to the different aspects of a wine to grade on a scale, like James Suckling’s 100-point scale. Whatever scale you decide to use for your wine tasting, remember to write down your thoughts in a notebook so you can remember what you tasted and which ones you liked the best.

Serving wine and choosing glassware

How long an open bottle lasts

Once you open a bottle of red, it typically lasts 3–5 days in a cool, dark place with a cork. A good rule of thumb is that the more tannic and acidic the red wine is, the longer it’ll last after opening. For example, a light red wine with fewer tannins, like a Pinot noir, won’t last after being opened as long as a bold red.

Red wine glasses

Some people are sticklers about wine glasses. You may find yourself thinking, “What’s the big deal if I drink my wine out of a Solo cup?” While there’s nothing wrong with Solo cups (in our opinion), using the proper glass will help you better understand the wine, and can even enhance its flavors. 

Choosing a red wine glass has a lot to do with mitigating the bitterness of tannic or spicy flavors to deliver a smoother tasting wine.

After a few years of tasting wines from different glasses, we’ve noticed that red wines tend to taste smoother from a glass with a wide opening. Of course, the distance to the actual fluid affects what you smell.

Bordeaux glass

The Bordeaux glass is made for heavy, full-bodied wines (think Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Bordeaux blends). These glasses are made a bit taller than other red wine glasses to maximize the flavor. How? When you sip from a taller glass, the wine immediately goes to the back of the mouth.

Standard red wine glass

Standard red wine glasses are designed for medium- to full-bodied red wines with spicy notes or high alcohol content. Why? Because the smaller opening of the glass helps to soften the flavors of spice in the wine since it’ll hit your tongue at a slower pace. Try wines like Zinfandel, Malbec, Syrah (Shiraz) and Petite Sirah in a standard glass.

Bourgogne glass

The Bourgogne glass is perfect for lighter and more delicate red wines. It’s also known as the “Aroma Collector” because the big round bowl helps gather all the aromas of the red wine. Use this glass shape with red wines such as Pinot noir and Nebbiolo.

Red wine cocktails

If you’ve tried several types of red wine and still have trouble getting into it, you might want to consider trying some red wine cocktails first. A great bottle of red—even the one you’ve had sitting on your wine rack for ages—can help shape the flavor profile of your next cocktail. Plus, there are a ton of delicious options such as red sangria, Kalimotxo, the New York Sour or a red wine spritzer to choose from.

What pairs well with red wine

The rules in regard to what foods pair best with certain red wine types can be too strict. We happen to think you can honestly pair whatever food you want with whichever wine you want. Are you pairing a cheeseburger with a glass of Merlot? Sounds fantastic. Would it be recommended in most food-pairing guides? Probs not, but we’re sure it’s delicious anyway. If you want to learn more about what foods to pair with red wine from a more traditional POV, be sure to check out some of these guidelines to help you better plan any meals or parties you’re looking to host. 

As you learn more about red wine and start to try new types, remember that Gopuff can deliver all of the red wine you want in 30 minutes or less.

Do you have the Gopuff app yet? Download it from the Apple Store or Google Play to make ordering even easier. 

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