The Red Wine Types You Should Know, from Sweet to Dry
Whether you're looking for a wine to serve with dinner or something to satisfy your sweet tooth, these are the red wine types you should get to know.
If you want to discover more red wine types, we’ve got just the list for you! We’ve rounded up the need-to-know grapes and the styles of wine they make, plus a few food pairings—get our complete guide here! And while most red wines are dry, there are definitely a few sweet reds out there. You can also look for riper, fruit-forward red wines which won’t be truly sweet but will give you enough of that juicy flavor to satisfy your palate. Now, let’s get started!
This grape has an interesting story. Carménère went from almost extinct to the poster child of Chile’s wine industry. How’s that for a success story? The grape is a member of the Cabernet family and shares the same blackcurrant, blackberry, cocoa and cedar flavors—but it’s famous for its distinctive green bell pepper aromas. It’s magical with this mushroom pepper steak recipe.
Many wine drinkers will associate Zinfandel with California, but the grape actually has Croatian origins. It’s also heavily planted in the south of Italy where it’s known as Primitivo. There are plenty of impressive dry Zinfandels. But if sweet is more your speed you can look for the off-dry Zinfandel roses (aka White Zin) or keep an eye out for late-harvest Zinfandel which is a delightful dessert wine.
Cabernet Franc is lighter-bodied and more floral than its offspring, Cabernet Sauvignon, but it does share some of the same black fruit, minerality and tobacco notes. You’ll also get more raspberry and strawberry in a glass of Cabernet Franc. Made in both red and rose styles, Cab Franc shines with meat dishes as well as roasted bell peppers.
Another excellent choice for anyone who prefers light to medium-bodied wines is Pinot Noir. The classic grape is pure elegance with flavors ranging from red and black cherry to strawberry, fresh earth, violets and spice. It’s one red wine you can serve up with fatty fish, like salmon.
We’ve covered a few dry styles, so let’s dive into some of the sweets. Both the name of the grape and the wine, Lambrusco is an Italian grape famous for the sparkling and semi-sparkling reds it makes. They come in a range of dry (secco) to fully sweet, so if you’re keen on something with a bit of sugar, look for amabile (semi-sweet) or dolce (sweet) on the label. Drink Lambrusco with pizza, cured meats and pork.
Loaded with dark plum, ripe blueberry and black pepper, Syrah (aka Shiraz) is for lovers of bold wines. Less jammy styles like the ones you’ll find in the Northern Rhone can take on a gamey, smoky note with a hint of licorice. It’s a must for grilling and any time you decide to smoke, roast or barbecue meats.
The quintessential Italian grape is responsible for the wines of Chianti and Brunello. Sangiovese is on the savory side of things, full of lovely herbal notes mixed with cherry, red plum, violets and earth. Uncork a bottle of Sangiovese with pretty much anything in tomato sauce.
Sweet wine lovers take note—Brachetto d’Acqui is the sparkling dessert red you’ve been searching for. Another Italian grape, this time from Piedmont, Brachetto is usually made into a semi-sparkling sweet wine. Raspberries, cherries and rose petals characterize this lovely bubbly wine. We’d definitely serve this one up with chocolate cherry desserts or as something unique for Valentine’s Day.
Tempranillo is one of Spain’s great wines. The best of the bunch comes from Rioja and Ribera del Duero, but marvelous examples exist across Spain into Portugal where it’s called Aragonez or Tinto Roriz. Tempranillo unravels with aromas and flavors of cherry, red plum, dried herbs, leather, clove and occasionally, dill. Lamb dishes always complement a glass of Tempranillo, as does roasted veggies, tapas and savory dishes with plenty of tomatoes.
Grenache boasts plenty of lovely berry flavors like strawberry and raspberry. It’s a dry wine but gets quite ripe. Folks who like fruit-forward wines should pick up a Grenache from a warm region (read: Spain or blends from the south of France). It’s a versatile grape. Red wines made from Grenache go well with everything from grilled fare to your favorite hearty dishes. Grenache is also made as a rosé and is fortified for certain dessert wines. Look for examples from Banyuls.
Famous for making up a large part of the legendary Italian wine Amarone, Corvina and its blending partners are also responsible for the sweet red wine Recioto della Valpolicella. It’s made by partially drying the grapes on straw mats to concentrate flavor. The wine itself tastes of ripe black fruits and chocolate. While it makes a sensational dessert on its own, you can also drink a glass of recioto with your most decadent chocolate desserts.
With its splendid raspberry, plum, baking spice and vanilla notes, Merlot is a fantastic choice for people who enjoy a bit more ripeness in their wines. Merlot may be bottled solo or it can be blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Cabernet Franc. One thing we can assure you, it makes a truly fine wine. Meat and cheese go well with Merlot (hello, cheese board!). Pork and veal are also especially tasty pairings.
Probably the highest quality grape to come out of Portugal, Touriga Nacional has been making waves for its intense dry wines. Packed with blackberry, blueberry, earth and herbs, as a dry wine, Touriga Nacional is exceptionally complex. Sweet wine drinkers should note that Touriga Nacional is the main grape of Port and you can’t go amiss with Port if you have a sweet tooth. Drink dry Touriga with stews and roasts and save your Port for nutty chocolate desserts.
Editor’s Tip: Pick up a bottle of Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) Port. It’s all of the Port flavor at a fraction of the Port price.
Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the most popular wines around. It’s bold, it’s complex and when made well, Cabernet Sauvignon is a thing of both power and beauty. This black, fruit-driven wine intermixes bramble fruits with a hint of mint and spice. Serving up meat dishes? When in doubt, go with Cabernet.
Named for the fog which blankets the vineyards in autumn, Nebbiolo is one of Italy’s finest wines. Outrageously complex with cherry, rose petals, earth, violets, truffle and licorice notes, it’s also high in acid and tannins, making it a real sensory experience. Drink with duck, beef, mushroom dishes or truffles.
Like all grapes in the Muscat family, the aromatic Black Muscat gets ultra-ripe, making it the perfect candidate for dessert wines. Sweet Black Muscat wines taste of roses, dried stone fruit, cherry, lychees and berry jam. The wines are produced in warmer climates like those found in California and Australia. Though it occasionally makes its way into wine, Black Muscat typically appears as a table grape. Looking for a pairing? Three words: chocolate berry tart.