Divine Dinner Party

Dry Red Wine Types:
Buying the Best Dry Red Wines

Think choosing between a few dry red wine types should be easy? Think again! When you're trying to find the best red wine for a dinner party or special meal, you'll probably find the sheer range of red wine choices more than a little daunting.

You know you want a wine that makes the whole meal work together and taste balanced and beautiful. You know you want your wine to be truly scrumptious. You know you want to please as many of your guests' palates as possible. So, how do you get started putting together a best red wine list for your party?

Step one is knowing the most common dry red wine types you'll encounter when you're out shopping. Read below to learn a bit more about the different types of dry red wines, and what to look for. Or check my Choosing Wine for a Party page for resources on red wines, whites, and pairing wine with food.

Red Wine Tasting Dry Red WIne TYpes

Types of Dry Red Wines

Here is a list of some very common red wines, including how they're flavored and where they tend to come from. Or you can check this page for an overview of all the common wine types, including white, champagne, and sweet wines.

This guide is to different varieties of grapes. However, dry red wines can be either "regional wines" or "varietal wines"-- some wines are defined by where the grapes are grown (regional), and other wines are defined by the variety of grape (varietal). Many regions have specific blends of grapes they use to produce a different flavor, while most grape varieties are grown in a number of regions all over the world. You can read more about those at my Choosing Wine Page.

Barbera Wines

Most of this dry red wine comes from the Piedmont region of Italy, though it is also becoming a popular grape variety in California wines. More aged versions of Barbera tends to be very full bodied (great with heavy food) but with a nice balance of acid. Lighter, younger varieties are medium bodied and fruity.

Pairing Food with Barbera: Barbera has very little tannins, and tends to pair better with lighter foods than most red wines. Try:

  • Fish: A lighter Barbera is especially good with fish.
  • Tomato Sauces: The acid in Barbera cuts through the tomato's acid and makes it shine
  • Fennel Sausage
  • Spicy Foods: The sweetness of the fruit helps balance
  • Ricotta and Light, Mild Cheeses

Cabernet Franc Wines

France and California are both famous for growing this dry red wine type. But this wine is often mixed with other grapes or flavorings, and is not commonly used on its own.

You'll generally find Cab Franc mixed with Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Merlot (as with French Bordeoux wines) and occasionally with other varieties for use in Chianti. You'll also find this variety mixed with other grapes in Spanish (Catalan), California, Washington State, Australia, South Africa, Chile, and Argentina.

Pairing Food with Cabernet Franc: Pairing Cabernet Franc with foods will depend greatly on what this wine variety is mixed with. When made on its own, this rather rare of dry red wine types pairs well with:

  • Most cheeses
  • Tomato-based dishes
  • Ham, pork, and veal
  • Pizza
  • Red meat and game

Cabernet Sauvignon Wines

This is one of the most popular dry red wine types there is, and is grown all over the world. The most famous probably comes from France near Bordeaux, but you can find it grown all over the world. This grape is either produced on its own, or blended with merlot, shiraz, cabernet franc, you name it.

The beauty of this wine is how it ages to perfection. It's powerful, full-bodied, and takes on a lot of flavor from the aging process. Some versions of this wine are a bit more subtle, but many are very intense, with a lot of sharp or bitter-tasting tannins. Not a wine for people who don't like the flavor of wine! It also tends to be a bit higher in alcohol, making it difficult to pair with very spicy foods.

Pairing Food with Cabernet Sauvignon: Because of its intensity, Cabernet Sauvignon is one of those dry red wine types that can overwhelm lighter dishes. Fatty dishes help moderate the bitter/sharp tannins. It pairs well with:

  • Beef: Fattier cuts are great with Cabernet
  • Heavy Sauces (butter or cream based): These ease the sharpness of the wine
  • Grilled or BBQ Meats
  • Smoked Meats
  • Bitter Greens
  • Bitter Chocolate
  • Cheddar, Brie, and Mozzarella

Grenache/Garnacha Wine

This is another one of those dry red wine types grown all over the world. The most famous Grenache (or Garnacha in Spain) wines come from California, Spain, and France. The most famous varieties probably cone from Spain.

This dry red wine type has berry overtones and a high-medium body, and is often blended with other varieties of wine to add body and fruitiness to wines. It has a higher amount of alcohol and low amounts of tannins (which make the wine a bit bitter/sharp but help it to age well).

Pairing Food with Grenache/Garnacha: This wine can range from mild to intense, which will of course affect food pairings. Lighter grenaches can be paired with a large variety of foods, while fuller ones should get heavier foods. Try:

  • Sausage, Ham, and other Semi-Cured Meats
  • BBQ
  • Mild Cheeses
  • Shellfish
  • Roasted Chicken
  • Roasted Red Peppers

Merlot Wines

This is probably one of the most user friendly dry red wine types in the world. Merlot has become an incredibly popular wine in the last decade because it has a low acid content and very smooth flavor. It also has strong berry tones. This wine is grown all over the world, to be made alone or mixed with other varieties.

Merlot tends to be a fruity wine, with hints of plum and currant, and is lower in tannins than more intense reds like Cabernet Sauvignon. Merlots grown in cooler areas tend to be fruiter and more acidic.

Pairing food with Merlot: This is a great dry red wine type for people who aren't used to a red wine-- it goes with nearly everything. Which foods this dry red wine type pairs best with depends on whether they're lighter (cooler-weather) merlots or more intense. Try out:

  • Grilled Steak
  • Pork
  • Veal
  • Leg of Lamb
  • Venison
  • Seared or Grilled Tuna
  • Cheddar Cheese

Pinot Noir Wines

This variety of wine has always been known as a very finicky grape, but, when well executed, produces lovely, complex wines-- the most famous of which come from France (such as Burgundy wine) and California. This is a delicate wine that, depending on the vintner, will have a variety of flavors. It's generally light-to-medium bodied, and filled with aroma and flavor, ranging from fruity to floral to herbal.

This is also one of the wine grape varieties used in French champagne.

Pairing food with Pinot Noir: This wine is so complex and variable that its pairing will depend greatly on the one you buy-- so ask questions! In general, though, Pinot Noir pairs well with:

  • Pate
  • Leaner Meats
  • Mushrooms
  • Carrots
  • Red Peppers
  • Tomatoes
  • Mild, Creamy cheeses
  • Salmon
  • Pork Loin

You'll find a much more in-depth Pinot Noir wine description right here!

Sangiovese/Brunello Wines

Brunello and Sangiovese are two names for essentially the same red wine grape. However, Brunello is produced only in Italy, while Sangiovese is produced in Italy, California, Australia, South America, and a bit in South Africa. This wine tends to be a bit on the pricey side.

This wine's flavor will depend on where it's produced and how long it's aged. A young Sangiovese will be fruity and spicey. An oak-aged one will take on a lot of oak flavors. This is a grape commonly used in Chianti (a regional Italian wine). It's often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon.

Food Pairings for Sangiovese: This acid, oakey (when aged) wine pairs well with:

  • Tomato Sauces: This wine's high acidity pairs well with tomato
  • Pizza: Again, the tomato in the pizza pairs well with this acid wine
  • Roast Chicken: This wine brings out the flavor in simple dishes
  • Warm-Weather Herbs (basil, sage, thyme)

Shiraz/Syrah Wines

This dry red wine type is used both as a varietal on its own, or mixed with other grapes, such as Cabernet Sauvignon. Depending on where this wine originates, it may be acidic or fruity. French Shiraz tends toward the acidic side, which makes it a good companion for meals. It's probably most famously grown in Australia.

Most Shiraz/Syrah wines are high in tannins, which give them a sharpness or bitterness, but they tend to have a lot of fruit flavor that balances this out.

Pairing food with Shiraz/Syrah Wine:

Tempranillo Wines

Tempranillo is the quintessential Spanish wine grape, and is the most commonly used grape the famous Spanish wine region of Rioja. Once exclusively Spanish, this grape is now grown in Australia, California, South America, and South Africa, as well.

This is a wine that is either drunk young or aged, and it takes very well to a long aging process. It is often used on its own, especially in Rioja wines, but is also mixed with other varieties all over the world. It can be either light and mild, as in a young Tempranillo, or oakey and intense when aged.

Pairing food with Tempranillo wine: This famous Spanish wine goes well with anything Spanish. Aged, or Reserva wines go well with strongly flavored dishes, while younger Tempranillos are more versatile. Some good options are:

  • Spanish food dishes
  • Spicy foods and BBQ
  • Milder blue cheeses
  • Cured meats, such as jamon, chorizo, bacon, etc.
  • Chicken
  • Grilled Fish
  • Bell Peppers

Red Zinfandel Wines

Most wine newbies think Zinfandel is a bad thing-- and only comes in a sweet white. Not true! This grape is also one of the more popular dry red wine types to come out of California. This type of red wine has both spice and fruit tones, depending on how it's produced. Cooler areas produce a more berry flavored wine, while warmer areas produce a spicier wine.

Pairing Food with Zinfandel: this is a very versatile wine that matches well with many different dishes, including:

A Guideline to Dry Red Wine and Food Pairings

Merlot Wine for a Wine Pairing TastingTo be honest, one of the best ways to know what dry red wine types go best with what foods is to try as many different red wines with food as you can. The best way to do this? Go to a wine tasting (or several)! That way, you'll be able to choose far more intelligently. If you can't do that, then you'll have to buy a few select bottles and try them with various of your favorite menus.

If you're a newbie at picking wine for different foods, don't sweat it. Contrary to what some people may say, pairing wine with food isn't an exact science... if you like it, then it works! But if you have any doubts, simply ask at the wine store. They hear "Do you have anything for under 25 bucks that will taste great with the rosemary roast chicken I'm making?" all the time!

And check out this nifty Wine and Food Pairing Guide for more tips!

The History of Red Wine

History indicates that red wine began being produced around 6,000 BCE. More than likely our ancestors discovered the process of fermentation by happenstance-- perhaps even by eating an overripe grape! No matter what, the discovery of wine and beer transformed the known world... since generally these beverages were safer to consume than most local waters.

In terms of what dry red wine types are new on the block vs. more traditional, this timeline should help:

1800s: Zinfandel, one of the most popular wines is also among the youngest historically.

1700s: Sangiovese from Tuscany (and now California)

1400: Cabernet Sauvignon and Chianti

1300s: Claret (France)

1 A.D.: Merlot: Leave it to the French to cultivate a lovely wine that enjoys a cool climate

Ancient Rome: Pinot Noir is one of the oldest wines tied to the Pinot family of Noble birth. It was the key wine used in Catholic churches. In fact, monks were the principle growers for the grapes.

Learn more about the specific different dry red wine types at Choosing Wine Central!

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