Red Wine: Understanding The 8 Most Common Varietals

Red wine can be incredibly flavorful and delicious. But there are so many varieties out there. How do you know which one to try? What’s the difference between them all? Which type of red wine will you like best?

If the thought of delivering into the world of red wine seems overwhelming, don’t worry, we’re here to help. We’ll break down the eight most common types of red wine and the differences between them. Soon enough, you’ll be ordering red wine like a pro.

How many types of red wine are there?

Grapes are the most planted fruit worldwide, and there are over 10,000 varieties of wine grapes. Plus, the same grape can be used in multiple different types of wine. So it stands to reason that there are thousands of varieties of red wine out there. As much as we’d love to, it would be impossible to discuss each and every one of them in this article.

All wines are typically labeled with their production region, maturity of the fruit, type of grape or wine, and year of production. They can be further distinguished by color, sweetness, and aroma.

While this can be a lot of information to understand, the main thing to pay attention to is the type of grape and style of wine. This should give you a rough idea of what the wine tastes like, as it should be fairly similar in style to other bottles of that wine you’ve had before. Sure, a $10 Pinot Noir will taste different from a $1000 Pinot Noir, and a Cabernet Sauvignon from France will taste different from California. However, you’ll still have a rough idea of what to expect from the flavor palette and aromas.

Red wine characteristics

Other than the variety of grapes and the style of the wine, red wines can be further categorized by a variety of other descriptors. Once you’ve tasted a variety of red wines and figured out what characteristics you prefer, you can begin to select bottles with those same characteristics.

The first characteristic you’ll notice in red wine is usually the color. While this doesn’t affect the flavor so much, it can be a good visual indicator to help you compare certain red wine varieties. Red wines range in color from deep, opaque purple to pale ruby and everything in between.

The next characteristic you’ll find in red wine is tannins. Red wine is made by fermenting grapes with skin, juice, and seeds included, whereas white wine uses only the grape’s flesh. The skin and seeds impart tannins into the wine, which help lend texture, structure, and age-ability to the beverage. Tannins are the source of the mouth-drying sensation you sometimes get when drinking red wine. Some tannins are ripe and smooth, while others are rustic, green, and astringent. Some red wines have more tannins than others. They’re definitely an acquired taste, so beginner red wine drinkers may prefer to begin with less tannic wines.

The third characteristic of red wine is the wide range of flavors. Different grape varieties will produce aromas of different fruits, flowers, herbs, spices, and earthy characteristics. Suppose you’ve ever seen a wine described as having notes of things like cherry, licorice, or spice. In that case, these descriptors refer to the flavors and aromas the wine imparts.

The fourth major characteristic of red wine is acid. Acid is an essential component of red wine, as it serves as a preservative and helps provide freshness and structure. When you taste red wine, the acidity comes across as a tart, or sour flavor, which will help to balance the sweet, bitter, or tannic characteristics.

photo-by-rikkia-hughes-on-unsplash_Understanding The 8 Most Common Varietals

Eight common red wine types

We’ve broken down the eight most common types of red wine, along with their typical characteristics. 

Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Sauvignon is the most planted type of grape globally, and it’s a sophisticated yet popular wine choice. In general, Cabernet Sauvignons are full-bodied, with dark fruit flavors and savory, pepper-like notes. It has both medium tannins and medium acidity, so it’s well-balanced and easy to drink.

Common Cabernet Sauvignon notes are fruits like black cherry, black currant, and blackberry, as well as black pepper, tobacco, licorice, vanilla, and violet. California Cab Savs tend to be fruitier, while French ones tend to be more herbal. 

Popular Cabernet Sauvignon bottles include:


After Cabernet Sauvignon, merlot is the second-most commonly planted grape and is a great entry point for new red wine drinkers. Merlot is medium to full-bodied and quite dry. It also has medium-high tannins and medium acidity. Common Merlot notes are cherry, plum, chocolate, bay leaf, and vanilla.

Popular Merlot bottles include: 


Zinfandel is a bold, fruit-forward red with jammy fruit and smoky, exotic, spice notes. It’s usually fairly dry, with a medium-full body, medium-high tannins, and medium-low acidity. Zinfandels vary in taste depending on where the grapes are grown, but common flavor notes usually include blackberry, strawberry, peach, cinnamon, and sweet tobacco.

Popular Zinfandels include: 


This wine is referred to as Syrah in France and other European countries, but Shiraz in Australia, South America, and beyond. No matter what you call it, this wine is a pleasure to sip. It is peppery, spicy, and bold, with rich fruit flavors like blueberry and black plum. Syrah/Shiraz is dry and full-bodied with medium-high tannins and medium acidity.

Popular bottles of this wine are: 


Malbec originated in France but is now most commonly produced in Argentina. Malbec is dry and full-bodied, with medium tannins and medium-low acidity. Malbecs are loved for their rich, dark fruit flavors and their smooth, chocolatey finish. The primary flavors you’ll find in most Malbecs are red plum, blackberry, vanilla, sweet tobacco, and cocoa.

Great Malbec bottles include: 

Pinot Noir

The name “Pinot Noir” may lead you to believe that this wine is dark and intense when in reality, it’s the world’s most popular light-bodied red wine. Pinot Noir is dry, with low tannins and medium-high acidity. Pinot Noir is a true pleasure to sip with red fruit, flower, spice aromas, and a long, smooth finish. The most common flavor notes in Pinot Noir are cherry, raspberry, mushroom, clove, and hibiscus.

Good choices for Pinot Noir bottles are: 


Sangiovese is the biggest red grape in Italy and is particularly associated with Tuscany. Sangiovese is bone dry, medium to full in body, with medium-high tannins and medium-high acidity. When you drink Sangiovese, the acidity tends to make your mouth water, and the tannins will stick to the sides, making it a very interesting taste experience. The primary flavors include cherry, roasted tomato, sweet balsamic, oregano, and espresso.

Popular bottles include Baci Toscana Sangiovese and Amaranto Sangiovese.


Another Italian wine with strong tannins and high acidity, Nebbiolo, has a deceivingly delicate aroma and an incredibly strong flavor. Nebbiolo is bone dry and medium-full bodied, with high tannins and medium-high acidity. It’s definitely the most tannic of the varieties we have discussed today, so if that’s your thing, give Nebbiolo a try. The primary flavors are cherry, rose, leather, and anise. These flavors only get more interesting and complex with age, so it’s a great idea to splurge on a bottle now and save it for a special occasion.

A particularly popular bottle is the Damilano Nebbiolo d’Alba Marghe.

Which type of red wine is best?

Asking which type of red wine is best is just like asking which kind of chocolate is best: there’s no real answer because they’re all delicious. The type of red wine you prefer all comes down to preference. Do you like something acidic and tannic, or something smooth and easy to drink? Do you prefer sweet or dry? Do you want a red wine with a fruity character or more prominent spice notes?

Discovering what you like involves a lot of tasting and a lot of experimentation. Sample a few bottles of different reds, and see which one you gravitate towards the most. 

The takeaway

The world of red wine can be confusing. With so many different varieties and styles, how do you pick which one to try? Hopefully, we’ve cleared up some of the confusion surrounding the various types of red wines and have given you a place to start on your red wine tasting journey.

If you can’t wait to get your hands on a great bottle of red, hop on Saucey and check out our selections. With speedy delivery and no order minimums, you can get exactly what you want, delivered right to your door.

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