red wine grapes

Red Wine Types Explained

People have all kinds of reasons for choosing the wines they do. Perhaps you sampled a memorable glass on a foreign holiday and prefer stick to that grape or wine-growing district forevermore. Maybe you're drawn to the quirky label, or even the price - bargain basement or sky-high expensive vintage red wine varieties. But if you’re a true lover of red wine, whether English red wine or other red wine varieties, it’s worth properly understanding the differences so that you know what you’re drinking. Then perhaps you can expand your repertoire. Wine tasting is the real experience, but written descriptions can help. So let’s wet your red wine appetite with some basics.


Merlot. It goes with anything, and is smooth and easy to drink. In fact, if you’re with someone who is trying red wine for the first time, Merlot is a great suggestion. This grape is produced everywhere from Australia to Chile, from California to Italy, although it’s predominantly been a Bordeaux variety in the past. Merlot aromas are red fruit, cherry and plum, as well as some herbs.


Barbera. It might not spring to mind in your most well-known red wine varieties, but this lesser-known Californian beauty is fairly similar to Merlot. Originally from Italian, Barbera is smooth like silk and it's a really good match if tomatoes are on the menu.

Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the most popular of the red wine types, often blended with merlot, and when its matured in oak that can lend a gentle hint of vanilla. It’s a very good choice to accompany meat dishes, and it has a fuller body than merlot. Cabernet Sauvignon can come from the hotter areas of the world, such as California, Chile or Australia.

Pinot Noir

Pinot noir is another favourite red wine type, and not an easy one to grow. This goes very well with white meat and fish, and has a lighter, delicate flavour that is nothing like Cabernet Sauvignon, although it also has a similar scent of red fruits, as well as an earthy, leather note.


Shiraz is actually the same grape variety as Syrah. Europeans tend to use the Syrah name for their version. As well as France, this can also be grown in Australia or California. The flavour is blackcurrant, with peppery, meaty tones to produce an impressively full and intense taste.


Malbec can be grown across the world, but it started as a Bordeaux variety, and it also has a strong association with Argentina. It’s a wine that could work with spicy dishes if you like wine with your curry (not everyone does). It’s easy to drink, and you'll often find it blended with other varieties.


Sangiovese should be your wine choice for Mediterranean dishes. It's a popular favourite from Italy, but these days California is also a prominent producer of Sangiovese.


Finally, Zinfandel, and if you’re having a barbecue or a tomato-based meal this evening, Zinfandel is a good bet. It came from Croatia a few hundred years ago, but it’s predominantly a Californian wine nowadays.

So there you are for starters. The next time you order a decent red, try something a little different, and try to match it with your meal. Armed with our guide to the main red wine varieties, now you’ll know your Zinfandels from your Merlots.