Ever find yourself staring at a wall of red wines, wondering where to start? Well, buckle up because we’re about to explore various types of red wine. You can dive into these delicious reds by how they make your taste buds dance – from the dry, “pucker-up” types to the sweeter ones.

And hey, if you’re curious about what grapes are doing all the heavy lifting in your favorite bottle, we’ve got that covered too. Whether you’re a fan of the bold Cabernets or the light and fruity Pinots, there’s a red out there with your name on it. So, let’s pop some corks and get into the fun world of red wines by taste and type.

Dry Red Wine

How do you know if a red wine is dry? Well, the taste is pretty unmistakable. When a red wine is dry, it is because there is less sugar in the wine. When you take a sip, you will feel your tongue reacting, it will suddenly feel rough. This is the reaction between the tannins in the wine and the proteins in your saliva. Very dry red wines will be more savory or bitter in flavor and perhaps have earthy undertones.

Before cracking out the bottle, you may be able to determine if the wine is dry or not:

  • Look at the label. Some winemakers may include terms like dry,” “off-dry” (slightly sweet), or “sweet” will give you a clue. You could also look for information on residual sugar content.
  • Familiarize yourself with different types of red wine. For instance, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Merlot are often made in a dry style. However, they all can also be less dry if the winemaker has added extra sugar during the winemaking process.
  • Sometimes the alcohol content can give you a clue. Wines that have undergone complete fermentation where all the sugar is converted to alcohol tend to have higher alcohol content and are dry. However, this isn’t a foolproof method.

What Red Wine is Dry?

The dryest red wines, sometimes called ‘bone dry’ Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempranillo (pronounced “tem-pra-NEE-yo”) are commonly known as dry red wines.

Sweet Red Wine

Opposite to dry wine, sweet wine will have a higher sugar content and usually less alcohol. This is typical because not all the sugar is converted into alcohol during fermentation. The earlier the fermentation process stops, the lower the ABV, and the more sugar remains.

You will notice a very different taste compared to a dry wine. Due to the lower level of tannins, sweet wines tend to have a fuller, rounder mouthfeel. They might feel a bit velvety on your tongue. These wines are more likely to have ripe fruit flavors, vanilla, and other light flowery flavors.

Which Red Wine is Sweeter?

Red wines can vary in sweetness levels, but generally, the sweetest type of red wine would be a port, which is a desert wine. If you are looking for a red wine that is not so dry to have with dinner, try a Pinot Noir or a Shiraz.

Types of Red Wine Sweetness Chart

Red Wine Sweetness Chart

How Many Calories Are in Red Wine?

Popular red wines like Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot Red typically contain 115 to 125 calories per 5-ounce glass. Some types of red wine, like ports, will contain more calories, 200+ in general.

If you want to cut down on calories, pay attention to the sugar and alcohol content of the wine. If the label contains information about the sugar, it is important to note that 1 gram of sugar is 4 calories.

If the label only notes the ABV, or alcohol by volume, you can use it as a guide. The higher the ABV, the more calories it has. If the ABV is 12.5% or less, that would be considered low alcohol. Moderate-alcohol wine is 12.5%-14% ABV,  and high-alcohol wines contain anything at or above 14.5% ABV.

If you are looking for the lowest calorie red wine, look for a combination of low sugar count and ABV below 12.5%.

Full Bodied vs Light Bodied Wine

Full and light bodied are terms used to describe the feel of the wine in your mouth. Light bodied wines are more refreshing and less intense, often compared to the feeling in your mouth of drinking water or skim milk. Sticking with the milk metaphor, a full bodied wine will feel more like whole milk or cream.

In short, a full-bodied wine refers to the texture and weight of the wine, not its sweetness. A full-bodied wine will have more tannins. Over time, tannins in the wine will soften, leading to a smoother mouthfeel and potentially more complex flavors as the wine matures. All of these things contribute to the ‘fullness’ of the wine. Both Full and light-bodied wines can be either dry or sweet.

Examples of light-bodied red wines include Pinot Noir

Common full-bodied types of red wine include Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Malbec.

10 Red Wine Types by Sweetness

Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Sauvignon, pronounced ka·br·nay sow·vuhn·yown, is a type of red wine made from the Cabernet Sauvignon grape. Originating in France, it is a cross between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc grapes. It is now widely popular, perhaps in part because it is an easy grape to grow. Its thick skins contribute to the high levels of tannins, and it is resistant to rot and other diseases.

What Does Cabernet Sauvignon Taste Like?

One of the most popular types of red wine, the flavor profile of Cabernet is often one of blackberries, plums, and black cherries. The fruit flavors are mixed with with warmer, spicier hints of black pepper and clove and sometimes has hints of cedar or tobacco. It is known for its deep ruby to almost inky purple color.

Cabs are often paired with steak or roasted meat and vegetables, burgers and other rich foods with creamy, buttery sauces. IT also pairs very well with cheeses like blue cheese.

Is Cabernet Sauvingnon Sweet?

No, Cabernet is not considered a sweet wine. In fact, it is considered a bone dry wine due to the high level of tannins in the wine. The tannins and bold flavors also put Cabernet Sauvignon in the full-bodied column.

The high levels of tannins also dictate that this wine should not be consumed too young, in fact, you can keep a bottle for 7 to 10 years if it is unopened.

Wine Background

Cabernet Sauvignon vs Merlot

Cabernet Sauvignon, as mentioned, has a high tannin level which contributes to a higher alcohol content and robust flavors of black currants, plums, and sometimes a sprinkle of spice. Cabernet Sauvignon often requires some aging so the tannins can soften, making older vintages more sought after.

Merlot, on the other hand, tends to be softer and more approachable with a lower tannin level and a more medium-bodied feel. It has a lot of the same flavors as Cabs, including plums and black cherries, but it can generally be enjoyed earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon due to the lower level of tannins.

Cabernet Sauvignon Alcohol Content

The alcohol content in wine is tightly linked to the region the grapes are grown in. The longer the grape can grow and ripen, the higher the alcohol content will be. In California, this grape is one of the last grapes typically harvested, allowing it to have a higher ABV. Cabernet Sauvignons, from California, Australia and Chile, often have an ABV 14.5%, to 15%. Other regions such as Bordeaux and Tuscany will have a lower ABV typically 13.5% or lower.

Cabernet Sauvignon Calories

Calories ABV Region
Caymus 120 13.9% ABV Napa Valley CA
Josh 122 13.5% ABV Napa Valley CA
Decoy 122 13.9% ABV Napa Valley CA
Justin 125 15% ABV Central Coast, CA
Duckhorn 123 14.5% ABV Napa Valley CA
J Lohr 120 13.9% ABV Central Coast, CA
Stags Leap 125 14.8% ABV Napa Valley CA
Robert Mondavi 122 15.5% ABV Napa Valley CA
Silver Oak 130 14.5% ABV Napa Valley CA
Daou 125 14.5% ABV Central Coast, CA
Louis M Martini 125 14.5% ABV Sonoma County, CA

Tempranillo Red Wine

Temparnillo Grape

Tempranillo, pronounced tem·pra·ni·luh, is a variety of red grape widely grown to make full-bodied red wines. Native to Spain, the name is derived from the Spanish word “temprano,” which means “early.” It was given this name because this grape ripens several weeks earlier than most Spanish red grapes. Tempranillo grapes have a thick skin, contributing to the deep color and tannins.

Tempranillo Wine Taste

Tempranillo is a medium to full-bodied red wine known for its rich and savory flavors. The grape itself offers a fairly neutral profile and is often blended with other varieties to add complexity and depth. When young, Tempranillo wines can offer flavors and aromas of red berries and plums. The oak aging process helps the wine develop notes of leather, tobacco, and spices.

Wine Background

Tempranillo vs Rioja

The key connection between Tempranillo and Rioja is that Tempranillo is the dominant grape variety used in the production of red Rioja (a wine region in Spain) wines. It is often blended with other varieties such as Garnacha (Grenache), Graciano, and Mazuelo (Carignan).

Nebbiolo Wine

Nebbiolo Grape

Nebbiolo, pronounced neh·bee·ow·low, is one of the most prestigious grapes used for making Italian red wine, and is renowned for its ability to age. If you haven’t guessed it by now, yep, that means it is also high in tannins.

It is a difficult grape to grow because it buds early and ripens late, making it susceptible to spring frosts and requiring a long growing season with warm, sunny days and cool nights to fully develop its flavors and aromas. This makes wines produced from this grape a bit on the expensive side.

The name “Nebbiolo” is believed to derive from the Italian word “nebbia,” meaning “fog,”. The reference could come from a couple of different reasons. One, it is typical that a fog will envelop the Piedmont hills in the period when the grape is harvested. An alternate explanation is the “fog-like” white film that appears on the grapes during harvest season.

Nebbiolo vs Barolo

Barolo is a type of red wine made from the Nebbiolo grape variety.

Nebbiolo vs Barbera

Nebbiolo is known for producing wines with complex flavors, high tannins, and aging potential. It showcases flavors of red cherry, dried herbs, and tar, and over time may develop flavors of leather and licorice.

Barbera is another grape that is grown in Piedmont Italy and is more widely grown than the Nebbiolo. typically produces wines with lower tannins which makes it more approachable. Flavors often include vibrant berries and hints of cherry and spices.

Sangiovese Wine (Chianti Wine)

Sangiovese grapes produce wines that are both robust and savory, with flavors that can range from sour cherry and earthy to floral and spicy, depending on where it is grown and how the wine is made.

Sangiovese Grape

Sangiovese, pronounced, san·jow·vay·zuh, is a grape used in the production of several Italian wines, including Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. The name Sangiovese is derived from the Latin “Sanguis Jovis,” which means “blood of Jupiter.” The grape is thin-skinned, tightly clustered, and tends to ripen late, all of these factors make it difficult to grow, and naturally means these vines prefer warmer climates.

Wine Background

Sangiovese vs Chianti Wine

Sangiovese refers to a specific red grape variety. Chianti is a type of red wine made from Sangiovese grapes, not all Sangiovese-based wines are Chianti.  Chianti is made only in Italy, and must be a blend of at least 70% Sangiovese grapes. It is then aged for three months. 

Chianti Classico has even stricter rules, it is made from the best grapes and must be 80% Sangiovese, and is aged for 10 months or more.  Outside of Italy, wines made from the Sangiovese grapes are just called Sangiovese.

Merlot Wine

Merlot, pronounced mr·low, is a medium-bodied red wine known for its approachable and fruit-forward profile. It is considered a dry wine but has lower tannin levels than a Cabernet, so sometimes it can be perceived as sweet. This type of red wine typically displays flavors of plums, blackberries, and cherries, with a velvety texture and soft tannins.

Merlot Grapes

The Merlot grape produces large berries with a thin skin, which contributes to its lower tannin levels and softer profile compared to more tannic varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon.

Merlot Alcohol Content

The alcohol content of Merlot wines typically ranges between 13.5% to 15% by volume. Merlot wines from cooler regions like France often have a 13–14% ABV. In warmer regions like California, or Australia the grapes have time to achieve a higher level of sugar so the wines can reach an ABV of up to 15% or slightly above.

Merlot vs Pinot Noir

Merlot typically offers a plush, velvety texture with flavors that range from black and red fruits (like plum, black cherry, and raspberry) to notes of chocolate, bay leaf, black tea, and in cases where it’s heavily oaked, vanilla and cedar. Merlot wines are generally full-bodied, with medium acidity and tannin levels.

Pinot Noir is known for its lighter body and more delicate structure, featuring high acidity and low to medium tannin levels. It boasts a broad flavor palette, from ripe red berries (strawberries, cherries, raspberries) to earthy and floral undertones like mushroom, soil, and rose.

Syrah Wine vs Shiraz Wine

Syrah and Shiraz wines are made from the same grape variety, but they often go by different names depending on where they are grown. The wines do end up having different flavor profiles as a result of how they are made.

  • Syrah: The grape is known as Syrah in regions like the Rhône Valley in France. These grapes produce a wine with flavors of blackberries, plums, black pepper, and sometimes smoked meat or olives. It often has higher tannin levels.
  • Shiraz: This name is commonly used in Australia and some other New World wine regions. Shiraz wines tend to feature riper fruit flavors and a bolder, more robust character but with softer tannins. Australian Shiraz can be as high as 16% alcohol.

Syrah Grape

The grape does have very thick skins, which then produce a wine with firm tannins. Syrah grapes produce wines with a deep, inky color, often so dark that it’s nearly opaque.

Syrah pairs well with a variety of foods. Its bold flavors can stand up to rich meat dishes, barbecue, hearty stews, and a variety of cheeses. The wine’s peppery notes make it a particularly good match for dishes with herbs and spices.

Petite Sirah vs Syrah

Petite Sirah and Syrah are two different types of wine made from two distinct grape varieties. People often get confused about the two due to their similar names, but they produce very different wines with unique profiles. The Petite Sirah grape is a cross between the Syrah grape and the now-rare French grape Peloursin. A Petite Sirah wine will also have even higher tannins than the Syrah.

Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir, pronounced pee·no nuh·waar, is a type of red wine that’s made from the Pinot Noir grape. This particular grape is a black-skinned grape from the Vitis Vinifera species. The name is derived from the French words for “pine” and “black,” alluding to the grape’s tightly clustered pine cone-shaped bunches of fruit and its dark color.

This grape is challenging to grow and make into wine. It is difficult to grow because the Pinot Noir vine is sensitive to a variety of factors in its environment, including frost, disease, and vineyard pests. The vine prefers cooler climates and is famously associated with the Burgundy region of France, although it’s now grown in wine regions all over the world.

The grapes themselves are relatively small with thin skins, which contributes to the lighter color and lower tannin levels of the wine compared to other red wines like Cabernet Sauvignon. This thin skin also means that the grape is susceptible to bunch rot and other diseases, which adds to the challenge of growing it.

Pinot Noir Grape

Despite these challenges, Pinot Noir is known for its ability to convey the characteristics of its terroir (or the natural environment where it grows, including factors like soil and climate) in a way that many other grapes cannot.

Though it is considered dry, Pinot Noir produces light to medium-bodied wine with flavors of cherries, raspberries, and strawberries. The fruity flavors and lighter body can make the wine appear less dry. Sometimes a word used to describe the wine is ‘deleicate’, do not confuse this with the lack of a complex flavor profile. These wines are often quite complex in flavor.

Wine Background

Pinot Noir vs Cabernet

Pinot Noir has a lighter, smoother, almost silky texture that dances on your tongue. Pinot Noir tastes of red cherries and strawberries. It’s the kind of wine that doesn’t overpower your meal but complements it.

Cabernet Sauvignon, on the other hand, is bold, it’s assertive, and it’s not afraid to make its presence known. It has more tannins than Pinot Noir (those things that make your mouth feel a bit dry), and a robust flavor profile that shouts of black currants, plums, and sometimes a sprinkle of spice.

Pinot Noir Alcohol Content

In the cooler locations of France and Germany, the climate directs a more subdued growth pattern, resulting in Pinot Noir grapes that achieve a modest level of ripeness. This translates to a slightly lower alcohol content that hovers around 12–13.5% ABV (alcohol by volume). In the sunnier locales of California and Australia, the grapes have more time to ripen, which boosts the alcohol content to 13.5–15% ABV.

Pinot Noir Calories

Regardless of the climate, a five-ounce glass of Pinot Noir typically contains around 125 calories, with 4 grams of carbs or less. There are some calorie counts for popular Pinot Noirs. Just remember, that different vintages could have slightly different ABVs.

Calories ABV Region
Meiomi 130 13.5% Sonoma County CA
Meiomi Bright 90 8% Sonoma County CA
Mark West 120 13.5% Sonoma County CA
Bread and Butter 120 13.5% Napa Valley CA
Erath 125 13% Willamette Valley OR
Elouan 116 13.6% Willamette Valley OR
Josh 122 13.5% Central Coast CA
A to Z 125 13.5% Willamette Valley OR
Angeline 120 13.8% Russian River Valley CA
Banshee 124 13.9% Sonoma County CA

Zinfandel Red Wine

Zinfandel Grape

Zinfandel, pronounced zin·fuhn·del, grapes are typically small to medium in size, with a thin skin that contributes to a high skin-to-juice ratio. What is really interesting is that the grapes can ripen unevenly, which means at havest time, not all the grapes have the same sugar levels. This can affect how the wine tastes.

Red Zinfandel can be perceived as a sweet wine due to the bold fruit-forward flavors, but, it is a dry wine. ers notes of ripe berries, black pepper, and occasionally hints of sweet spices. Zinfandel pairs well with grilled meats, barbecue, hearty pasta dishes, and spicy cuisine due to its bold flavors.

Zinfandel Alcohol Conent

Zins are known for their high alcohol content due to how the grape ripens with high sugar levels. In places like Central Valley, where there are some of the highest temperatures in California the wines regularly hit 16% to 17% ABV.

Zinfandel vs Cabernet

Zinfandel can range from medium- to full-bodied, with a moderate to high alcohol content (often 14-17% ABV). The tannin levels can vary but are usually less pronounced than in Cabernet Sauvignon.

Cabernet Sauvignon is generally full-bodied, with high tannins and a notable acidity that contributes to its aging potential. The alcohol content is also high, typically around 13.5-15% ABV.

What Does Old Vine Zinfandel Mean?

Old Vine Zinfandel refers to wines made from Zinfandel grapes that come from older, more mature vines. These vines are typically at least 50 years old. At that age, the vines produce fewer grapes, but the grapes often have more concentrated flavors. The term Old Vine is not regulated, so its exact meaning can vary between different wine producers.

Is Zinfandel Red or White?

Zinfandel can be both red and white. It primarily is a red wine, however, the Zinfandel grape is also used to make a rosé style wine known as white Zinfandel. This version of the wine is much sweeter.

Malbec Wine

What is Malbec Wine?

Malbec is a full bodied type of red wine that is primarily grown in Argentina, though it originated in France. A Melbec from Argentina will have undertones of milk chocolate and violet flowers. While a Malbec from France will have more undertones of black pepper and spice.

Malbec Grape

The Malbec grape thrives in warm, dry climates, which has allowed it to flourish in Argentina.The high altitude and dry climate in Argentina produces wines that are more fruit-forward and less tannic than their French counterparts. Thought the grape has thick skin, it is vulnerable to vine disease and frost. This is the reason its prominence in France has declined.

Malbec wine typically tastes rich and juicy, making it a favorite among red wine lovers. The sweet flavors of blackberry, plum, and black cherry often make the wine taste sweet when in reality it is a dry red wine. On your tongue it will feel smooth and velvety texture.

Melbec Alcohol Content

Malbecs verge on the high side of average but can vary based on the region. In Argentina, the high sugar levels in the grape result in wines that commonly have an alcohol content ranging from 13.5% to 15.5%. In France, the grapes have less sugar due to the cooler climate. This results in wines with slightly lower alcohol content, typically around 12% to 14%.

Wine Background

Malbec vs Merlot

Malbec wines are known for their deep color and intense fruity flavors, often with notes of blackberry, plum, and black cherry, accompanied by earthy and dark chocolate undertones.

Merlot wines tend to be softer and more rounded than Malbec, with flavors of red fruits like cherries and raspberries. Merlot has lower tannins than Malbec, making it smoother on the palate. Of the two, Merlot is more versatile in food pairing.

Red Blends

Red blends can be on any spectrum of sweet to dry depending on which grapes are used and what the fermentation process is. These types of red wine are made from a combination of different red grape varieties. It is quite common though that even ‘single varietal’ wines are blends. In the US, a wine only needs to have 75% of the main grape to be labeled that varietal.

Blends are often named by the place the wine is made rather than by grape, or, in the US, simply labeled Red Blend.

  • Bordeaux – Made from grapes grown in Bordeaux France, this win is typically a combination of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec depending on the region. Flavors include dark fruits, like blackcurrant and plum, along with earthy notes, cedar, and tobacco.
  • Meritage – These are wines made from grapes grown in the US, but are Bordeaux blends. The word, a combination of the words “merit” and “heritage,” was created to signify the high quality of the blend.
  • Rioja – These types of red wines are made from grapes grown in the Rioja region of Spain and are a combination of Tempranillo, Grenache, and Mazuelo grapes. They have a wide range of flavors, from bright and berry-fruited to deeply savory, often with notes of vanilla, leather, and spice.
  • Super Tuscan – Red wine blends from Italy, Super Tuscans use a base of Sangiovese, while others are made entirely from or include significant portions of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and sometimes Syrah. Flavors can vary significantly based on the dominant grape used.
  • GSM – GSM stands for Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre – a blend of grape varieties that has its origins in the Rhône Valley of France. The wine is balanced by the sweet fruitiness of Grenache, the spicy and dark fruit flavors of Syrah, and the tannins provided by Mourvèdre.

Red Wine FAQs

How Long Does An Open Bottle of Red Wine Last?

Once opened, a bottle of most types of red wine can be stored for up to 3-5 days. After 5 days, yes open wine can go bad.

What Is The Best Red Wine For Beginners

Beginners should start with wines that are low in tannins. An excellent choice would be a Pinot Noir or a Beaujolais. Both are light-bodied, fruit-forward, and have low tannin levels. Serving it slightly cool, at about 6 degrees, can also make the wine taste more refreshing.

Are There Red Wines Without Sulfites?

No, there are no red wines without sulfites. Sulfur dioxide is a natural byproduct of the fermentation process so it is impossible for a red wine to not have sulfites. However, you can find wine without added sulfites. There are two things to look for on a wine label. The first is an organic label. By law, organic wines cannot have any added sulfites. There are also regular red wines that may not be organic but are produced without added sulfites. Look for labels specifying no sulfites added.

Is red wine good for your health?

Red wine, when consumed in moderation, can have potential health benefits. It contains antioxidants and polyphenols that may contribute to heart health. However, it’s important to consume alcohol responsibly and consult with a healthcare professional if you have any health concerns.

What is the ideal serving temperature for red wine?

The ideal serving temperature for red wine varies depending on the type of wine. Lighter red wines can be chilled, around 55-60°F (13-15°C), while fuller-bodied red wines are best served at room temperature, around 60-65°F (15-18°C).

Does Red Wine Need To Be Aerated?

No, red wine does not need to be aerated, but, some, those high in tannins, can benefit from it. Aeration exposes the wine to oxygen which helps to soften tannins. You can create wine by decanting it, using an aerator, or simply by swirling the wine in your glass.

How Long Should I Let Red Wine Breathe Before Drinking?

The ideal time to let red wine breathe before drinking varies based on the type of wine and its age. Young tannic wines like Cabernet Sauvignon, Bordeaux blends, Syrah, and Tempranillo should “breathe” for 1 to 2 hours. Merlot, Sangiovese, and lighter Syrahs may only need 30 minutes to an hour. Older wines should not breathe for more than 30 minutes. Lighter reds like Pinot Noir and Beaujolais really don’t need to breathe at all.

What Red Wine Has The Least Sugar

When looking for red wines with the least amount of sugar, your best bet is to focus on dry red wines. Cabs, Merlots, and Pinot Noir are all known for low sugar levels.

Can I Age Red Wine?

Yes, you can age some red wines. Wines with higher tannins and acidity, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Nebbiolo, have the potential to age well. Storing them in a cool, dark place with consistent temperature and humidity is important to making sure they do not go bad.

What Red Wine Is Best For Sangria?

Red wine varietals that work well for sangria are Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Rioja, or Malbec.

Best Red Wines For Cooking

Almost any red wine is good for cooking. The general rule of thumb is to only use a wine you would be willing to drink. Popular red wines used include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Shiraz/Syrah and Zinfandel. Pick whichever wine fits your taste preference.