All types of red wine come from the harvesting, processing, and bottling of red or black grapes.
The many different types of red wine that you see on the racks at your local wine seller, all tempting and appealing in their beautiful colors and labeling, come from wineries located across the world in regions that are most conducive to growing red wine grapes.
Knowing a little about the background of a wine and what goes into the making of it can go a long way in helping us select the perfect wine for any occasion. Wine is largely about the grapes, but let’s look at all the key factors that go into the creation of a delicious bottle of red wine.
The flavor and appeal of a red wine varies and is based on 4 key factors:
- Where the grape is grown – country, region, environment (climate, temperature, rainfall, and soil conditions)
- The type of red wine grape used to make the wine – Cabernet, Merlot, or a blend of grapes, etc.
- When and how the grape is harvested
- How the winery processes the wine
The best types of red wine are the ones in which all 4 factors blend together perfectly to create a delectable, beautifully balanced wine.
Types of Red Wine Grapes Grown in Vineyards Round the World
Red wine grapes are grown in numerous regions around the world. The United States’ biggest vineyards of red wine grapes are primarily found in California, Oregon, Washington and New York, but other smaller wineries are dotted across the country.
Red wine grapes grown in Europe are primarily located in the Bordeaux, Beaujolais, Bourgogne, Rhone and Loire regions of France as well in the countries of Argentina, Chile, Spain, Australia, Italy, and South Africa.
Top 10 Types of Red Wine Grapes
As you might imagine, the wine’s taste depends much on the grape variety used to make it; the most popular red wine grapes used in winemaking include:
1. Cabernet Sauvignon
Cabernet Sauvignon grapes typically makes a full-bodied, dry wine and is widely known as one of the top varieties in the world. This grape blends well with Merlot, Sangiovese, Shiraz, and Cabernet Franc grapes.
Cabernet Sauvignon is planted nearly anywhere that red wine grapes are grown: California, France (Bordeaux region), Australia, Chile, and more.
Merlot is one of the more popular red wine types due to its smoothness and low-level acidity that make it a very drinkable wine. This grape makes a beautiful stand-alone wine, but it is often used in blends, particular with the Cabernet grape.
Merlot has long been a key ingredient in Bordeaux blends, but due to its increasing popularity it is also now grown in Washington State, California, Chile, Italy, Australia, and Romania.
3. Pinot Noir
The Pinot Noir grape is known to be a difficult one to grow, but when conditions are right, it produces an exceptional light- to mid-body wine with a wonderful complexity. However, the characteristics and flavor of Pinot Noir varies greatly by the area in which it’s grown, making it difficult to pin a “typical” description on wine made from it. This grape is typically used to make stand-alone wine and, with the exception of its use in the reds of Burgundy (Bourgogne, France), it is rarely blended with other grapes.
Pinot Noir grapes are grown in Burgundy, New Zealand, Austria, Oregon, and California. Several California wineries use Pinot Noir grapes to make delicious rose-style champagnes.
4. Syrah (called Shiraz in South Africa and Australia)
The Syrah grape is known to produce spicy, fruity red wine types that have low to mid-range acidity, which, like the Merlot, make it a very drinkable wine. The Syrah grape is often blended with Grenache and/or Cabernet to make a very fine, well-balanced wine.
The best growing regions for the Syrah grape are found in the Rhone Valley of France, California, South Africa, and Australia.
Note: The Petit Syrah grape that grows abundantly in California isn’t related to the Syrah grape.
Unlike many red wine grapes, the Zinfandel grape thrives in the hot sun and is mostly grown in California. This grape produces a low- to mid-range acidity, medium to full-body with fruity, peppery flavors. While it is easily a great stand-alone wine, it is also considered the most versatile grape. It is often blended with other grapes to make anything from a blush to a heavy red wine. While the Zinfandel grape is often used in blends with other grapes, it is not always mentioned on the wine label.
The Zinfandel grape is mostly grown only in California.
The Sangiovese grape is used to produce the famous Chiantis and is Tuscany’s signature grape. This grape produces a beautiful, complex, mid-body, red wine with varying aromas and flavors. It is often blended with the Cabernet grape to create an interesting, complex wine, as well.
Sangiovese is grown in the Tuscany region of Italy, and while there has not been much success in growing this grape outside of the region, recently California has been able to bottle some good wines from this grape.
The Malbec grape produces a wine whose acidic characteristics vary quite a bit by the region growing the grape, but it typically has an easy drinking taste of berries and spice. This grape is often blended with other varietals, such as Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. It is also used to make the red wines of Bordeaux.
Malbec is the most widely-grown and popular grape of Argentina, where it thrives on the hot sun. It is also grown in Chile, Australia, and California, and to a lesser extent in Bordeaux (where it was once very popular).
Nebbiolo is a red wine grape that is responsible for the many fine red wines of Italy. This grape tends to produce a light and very dry wine with high acidity, but does well with extensive aging.
The Grenache grape is increasing in popularity for creating a good stand-alone wine that is mid- to full-bodied with fruity flavors, like strawberry. It is also often blended with other grapes.
The Grenache grape is grown in Rhone Valley (France), Spain, and in California, where it was once commonly used in rose and red jug wines.
The Gamay grape is used in the wines from the Beaujolais region of France. Gamay wines are light-bodied, fresh, and fruity and are meant to be drunk soon after they are bottled.
The Gamay grape is largely grown in Beaujolais, France. Two wineries produce Gamay in California, but some wine connoisseurs don’t regard them as being “real” Gamay wines as the quality is not on par with France’s Gamay.
Types of Red Wine Processing – What Makes Red Wine Dry or Sweet?
The processing of red wine determines whether it will result in a sweet wine or a dry wine. Sweet and dry characteristics of wine are on the opposite ends of the taste spectrum. These characteristics are defined by the amount of residual sugar left in the wine. Sweet wines, of course, contain a greater amount of residual sugar than do dry wines.
Residual sugars are converted to alcohol during the wine making process depending upon the wine makers intended outcome.
On one end of the spectrum, if all (within 1 – 2% remaining) the sugar in a wine is converted to alcohol the result is a dry wine. There is a range of sweet and dry wines, but typically wines having from 5 – 30% residual sugar are considered sweet wines. Wines with a 3 – 5% residual sugar range are considered medium or semi-sweet wines.
Note: The fruity taste in wine shouldn’t be confused with sweetness as any fruity red can be a dry or a sweet wine.
Most red wine grapes produce a more sophisticated/complex wine when compared to white wines grapes. The reason for this is that the red grapes stay on the vine longer than do white grapes (due to their longer growing seasons) and because the skins of the red grapes remain on the grape during wine processing giving us many delicious types of red wine with beautiful color, tannins, and flavor – cheers!