Grapes Varieties

Red Wine Basics: Six of the Best

Becoming a wine connoisseur won’t happen overnight...
Posted 23rd January 2015        

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Becoming a wine connoisseur won’t happen overnight, especially when there are hundreds of varieties of red wine grapes grown around the world. However, there are few basic staples with unique flavours that should help you to discover the type that most appeals to your palate. A little knowledge of red varieties will go a long way towards ensuring make the right choice with your wine purchase.

Pinot Noir

For a light, delicate grape that is smooth on the palate it has to be a Pinot Noir. Loved by wine drinkers the world over, this variety of fruit plays an integral part in sparkling wines and Champagne. In a red, the flavour is subtle but if the grape is left to ripen it can also be surprisingly dense. Open a bottle and the scent will be slightly earthy with a hint of cherries, pair it with meat dishes, or poultry, like duck and goose.


With its fruity and spicy aroma a Bordeaux Merlot is easy to like and not too taxing on the palate. This red complements most meats including steak, lamb, roast beef and also goes well with cheese. Washington State and California have been producing serious Merlots for well over 10 years and in France this is the most widely grown variety of red grape.


Cabernet Sauvignon

This variety is grown around the globe and it’s the abundance of tannins that makes Cabernet Sauvignon such a dry and sometimes bitter option. The older wines tend to be slightly smoother with more refined flavours and the Bordeaux and Tuscany versions are known to be on the whole softer. The scent will include olives, pepper, black cherry and herbs. Match this wine with cheeses, roast meats, beef stews, steaks and lamb.


Shiraz or Syrah provides a spicy and even peppery aroma with a medium to dark colour. Some of the best are produced in Australia, California and of course the Rhone Valley in France. Flavours can be intensely fruity featuring blackcurrants and raspberries but there can also be a hint of toffee provided through oak barrel aging. This is an ideal wine to match up with hard cheeses and lamb dishes.


Dark fruity flavours with a decidedly smoky finish. A Malbec, whether from Argentina or France, goes well with lean red meats and blue cheeses. You’ll taste blackberries and plums in the versions produced in warmer climates while black cherry and raspberries are more prevalent in the cooler climate wines of France or Washington, USA. The Argentinian Malbec will also be slightly sweeter than the peppery or spicy finish of the French and US varieties.


This wine is full of red fruit, leather, vanilla and tobacco flavours, and offers a smooth, mild finish. Tempranillo is commonly grown in Spain, Australia, USA and Portugal, and its medium body is ideal when dining on lasagne, pizza and polenta. Oak aging is traditionally used in Spain, which can sometimes bring out an unusual orange shade to the wine. If you haven’t tried a Tempranillo wine, it has a similar taste to a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Sangiovese.

These are just a few highlights of the many varieties of red grape grown are the world. There are plenty more to try out and a little experimentation is all part of enjoyment of wine-tasting.

Images by Viña Caliterra and Phil Roeder used under the Creative Commons license.

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