Basics of Red Wines
Here is a quick guide to red wine grapes, and storing and drinking red wines.
There are a small handful of core red grape varieties that make up most of the world’s red wines. These are Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah (Shiraz), and Pinot Noir. Cabernet Sauvignon makes a full-bodied dry red wine, and typically shows blackberry and blackcurrant flavours, along with robust tannins in youth. It flourishes in many wine regions around the world, but is most famous for making red Bordeaux wines. Syrah (Shiraz) also makes a medium to full-bodied dry red wine, depending on where it is made. It shows peppery characteristics, but also black, blue and sometimes red fruits. Tannins in Syrah are not as potent as those in Cabernet Sauvignon. It goes into the Rhône Valley reds of France, as well as Australia’s famous Shiraz region, the Barossa Valley. Pinot Noir is known for making red Burgundy wines, but flourishes in the USA and Australia also. It is lighter bodied than the others, and shows cherry flavours. Other common red grape varieties include Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Tempranillo, Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Gamay, Monastrell (Mourvedre/Mataro), Carmenere, and Grenache.
Clos de Vougeot, one of the greatest Pinot Noir vineyards in the world.
Why are they red?
Red wine grapes contain the same white juice as white wine grapes, but the skins contain more tannin and also the chemical anthocyanin, which colours the skin.
Making red wine
You can find out all about this in the Winemaking section!
Red wines are as sensitive to serving temperature as white wines are. Serving temperatures for most reds should be around 16-18 degrees Celsius – the top of that range for top, long-aged wines. Aged red wines also have a tendency to develop sediment in the bottle. Careful decanting can remove this, and in general the younger and more fuller-bodied the wine, the longer it will need to be decanted to show its proper flavours, although winemaking also has a say in this.
For glassware (if you want glasses to suit your wines), a standard red wine glass won’t always do the trick. Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz generally need bigger glasses to express themselves properly. This also has to do with winemaking, as use of oak can also make the wine need more air and swirling space in the glass.
Pinot Noir grapes on the vine.
This space is too small to list all the available food pairings with red wines. I do try to give food pairings or food recommendations with the wines I review. Check out my tasting notes to see if I’ve given food recommendations.
Wines from Vosne-Romanée, one of the great Pinot Noir 'appellations' in Burgundy.
Cellaring and storing red wines goes by the same principals as for white wines and champagnes/sparkling wines: darkness, temperature around 11-14 degrees Celsius, and no vibration or movement. Humidity is also a factor, so make sure your cellar is not too dry otherwise corks will dry out.