Behold! We have the guide to different types of red wine and their tastes! There is no simple answer to the question, what does red wine taste like. You can drill down into endless variations of red wine flavor profiles based on grape, region, hemisphere, altitude, winemaker, vintage, weather, soil and more. Thankfully, wine peeps in the know can pretty confidently identify typicity, or what grape varietals from certain regions typically taste like. We have the cheat sheet on that below to keep handy for your next wine fueled soiree!
Born on accident in France through the breeding of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon’s durability and tannic nature caused it to spike in popularity starting in the 17th century and into modern day. Through oak barrels, winemakers were able to tame the muscular grape and create an oaky, full-bodied wine that thrived within the gravelly soil of the Bordeaux region. When grown in the rich soil of new world regions, typical flavor profiles include black cherry, black currant, and black berry hints which come out in full force to create the wonderful Napa Cabernets famous to California.
Flavors: Black cherry, black currant, tobacco, chocolate, fig
Grown primarily in France, Cabernet Franc thrives in the old world soils of Europe but can also be found within the wine regions of Tuscany, California and Chile. Like it’s child, Cabernet Sauvignon, dark berry flavors are often augmented with an oak barrel aging process. However, with reduced tannins, Cabernet Franc allows for a spicy, lighter texture on the palate.
Flavors: Dark berries, spices, red pepper flakes, chocolate, red currant
One of the most popular and oldest grapes, Pinot Noir is noted for its light body and low tannins. France’s gravelly, coarse soils in places like Burgundy often create a Pinot Noir that is earthier, lighter and more floral than California Pinots, which are noted for their rich fruit flavors. Pinots are notoriously finicky to grow, requiring cool climates and a gentle touch both in the vineyard and in the winery.
Flavors: Strawberries, raspberries, cranberries, roses
Originating in France, Malbec was once a staple in Bordeaux. However, Malbec vines almost completely died off in the great phylloxera epidemic of the 1860’s and is only now starting a mild recovery in places like Cahors, France. However, Malbec survived and thrived in the new world, having been imported during the colonial period. In the last two decades, Argentina has emerged as a Malbec powerhouse. The Argentine Malbec boom has given way to subtle, artistic and experimental winemakers and growers with loads of exciting high altitude Andean wines coming from the Mendoza region.
Flavors: Black pepper, milk chocolate, coffee, raspberries, blueberries, black cherry
Though most reds pair well with heavier foods, Merlot’s smooth finish allows it to be a perfect compliment to lighter foods such as chicken. In cool climates, Merlot almost mimics Cabernet Sauvignon, creating a more tobacco, smoky flavor. In warm climates, the rich soil allows for more fruit forward flavors such as black cherry, raspberries, and coffee. A sip of Merlot will be filled with medium tannins and low acidity, creating an easy finish on the back palate.
Flavors: Black cherry, raspberries, tobacco, cocoa, mocha, clove
One of the darkest and most full-bodied red wines, Syrah is known for its powerful and dry black fruit flavors. Syrah is filled with anti-oxidants and can be found in both new and old world wine regions. It dates back to the Roman days in France. Syrah has a long history in the Rhone, enduring popularity in Australia (known as Shiraz) and growing critical acclaim in California’s Central Coast. Syrah’s thick skin causes many winemakers to cold soak the grapes in order to reduce the tannins and increase the fruit flavor profile.
Flavors: Olives, licorice, blackberry, black pepper, charcoal, smoke
Zinfandel found its success when it arrived in California and thrived within the warm new world soil around the 19th century. Testing has found that zinfandel is identical to the Primitivo grape which both stem from the Crljenak grape from Croatia. It’s fruit forward, dry complexion has allowed its popularity to surge, especially within the United States where it is largely cultivated. It’s light bodied, medium tannic, bold flavor compliments the spiciest of dishes. Its alcohol content is one of the highest of the red wine varieties which gives these wines a thick and smooth texture.
Flavors: Plum, jam, black cherry, blackberries, black pepper, spice
Grenache wines require a fully ripened grape, which has allowed it to thrive within the Spanish wine region where it was born. When grown in warm climates, such as Spain, Grenache has a tart, dark berry flavor. When grown in cooler climates, such as the French region of Southern Rhône, Grenache takes on a lighter and more herbal flavor equipped with tobacco and smoky hints.
Flavors: Cherry, red grapefruit, tobacco, nuts, spices, raspberries, strawberries
Grown primarily in Beaujolais, France, Gamay is similar to Pinot Noir in that it is very light bodied and floral. Gamay thrives in cool climates, which has made it a primarily old world based wine. Because of its light nature and low tannins, it pairs nicely with fish and chicken. Gamay can be an extremely serious wine (look to the grand crus of Beaujolais), or it can be extremely light hearted – the Beaujolais Nouveau style gives it a banana flavor from a winemaking technique known as carbonic maceration, where grapes are fermented in carbon dioxide before they are crushed. (Look for these banana, bubble gum flavored reds to be released on the third Thursday of November).
Flavors: Cherry, herbs, violets, floral, rose, banana, raspberries
This famous Italian red wine takes time to mature and develop its flavor profile. Tuscany’s wine region has become the ideal location for Sangiovese, due to the warm climate and ability to allow the grapes to mature. It’s high tannic profile and medium bodied nature makes it a rich and dry red wine. Various clones exist around Tuscany and it’s a real treat to dive into the nuanced difference between Tuscan wines such as Brunello di Montalcino, Chianti, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, and on. Read our founder’s travel tips on Tuscany here!
Flavors: Plum, violets, cherry, vanilla spice, oak, earthy