You may have heard that you should pair red wine with steak or white wine with fish, but there’s so much more to know! Not all red wines are created equal - consider this article your beginner’s guide to red wine. You may want to bookmark or pin this page so you can have it on hand the next time you’re trying to figure out how to pick the best red wine for dinner.
Types of Wines
Did you know that there are 9 types of wine? Knowing about the different types of wines will help you choose the perfect red wine for your next party, dinner, or gift.
- Full-Bodied Red Wines
- Medium-Bodied Red Wines
- Light-Bodied Red Wines
- Rosé Wines
- Full-Bodied White Wines
- Light-Bodied White Wines
- Aromatic White Wines
- Dessert & Fortified Wines
- Champagne & Sparkling Wines
More on the types of wine to come later!
Types of Wine Glasses
Did you know that there are a variety wine glasses available for serving your wine? Each type of wine should preferably be served in its own distinct wine glass because the shape of the glass impacts the aroma and taste of the wine you’re drinking.
As a beginner, you obviously don’t need to own every single type of wine glass - you can serve whichever wine you have available on hand in a standard wine glass. However, you'll have an important talking point if you take a moment to familiarize yourself with the various glasses professionals use to serve wine. Here are the basics of which red wine to serve in which glass:
An Easy Lesson in Tannins
Red wines have stronger tannins than white wines, which is why red wines age better than white wines. But what exactly are tannins and why are they found in wine?
In their natural form, grapes contain compounds called tannins which make certain wines feel dry and taste sharp. Grapes release their tannins after they’ve been pressed, and the longer the grape skin, stem and seeds have been soaking in the juice, the more tannins they will have. Tannins give more color, complexity, and antioxidants to wine, making them great for heart health. Popular red wines that are high in tannins include Syrahs, Cabernet Sauvignons, French Bordeauxes, and Italian Barbarescos.
What Are Sulfites?
Almost all wines contain sulfites, but so do many common foods like trail mix, deli meat, pizza dough and cheese. Sulfites, aka sulphites, are simply chemical compounds containing sulfur. Sulfites are used to preserve foods and drinks to prevent browning or discoloration. Even though these common foods contain between six and 6,000 sulfites in parts per million (ppm), winemakers whose wines contain over 10ppm sulfites must include the label “Contains Sulfites” because some people have sulfite allergies.
Sulfites may be either naturally occurring or added during the winemaking process. Some people disagree about whether or not sulfites affect the aroma and taste of wine. Warm wines release more sulfur than cool wines, so if your newly popped bottle of wine smells, simply decant and chill the wine for ~20 minutes.
Organic wines contain a maximum sulfite level of 100ppm whereas traditional wines are allowed to have a maximum sulfite level of 350ppm. If you have or are concerned you may have a sulfite allergy, speak with your physician about sulfites in wines and which, if any, may be OK for you.
Differences Between Light-, Medium-, and Full-Bodied Red Wines
Congratulations! Now you know about the different types of wines, which glasses to serve them in, what tannins and sulfites are, and why tannins are found in red wines. If you’re trying to find out which red wine to choose for dinner, though, you first need to know the differences between light-, medium-, and full-bodied red wines.
LIGHT-BODIED RED WINES
Overview: These wines have slightly lower alcohol content, should be chilled to 53-63 °F, and have fruity yet subtle aroma and flavors
Pair With: salty, smoked or lightly spicy foods such as grilled beef, chicken and risotto, or tomato and garlic based dishes
Try It If: you’re new to wine
Varieties To Try: Pinot Noir, Chianti, Freisa
MEDIUM-BODIED RED WINES
Overview: These wines are varied in style - high or low tannins, dark or light fruit flavors, strong or soft aromas - due to regional differences. Serve medium-bodied red wines at room temperature (63-69 °F)
Pair With: hearty or strongly flavored spices such as cinnamon and rosemary. Great with lamb, game, tomato based sauces, and chocolate
Try It If: you’re interested in tasting the differences between wine made in California and Italy
Varieties To Try: Merlot, Bordeaux, Burgundy
FULL-BODIED RED WINES
Overview: Full-bodied, dark, and fruity, these red wines have bolder flavors and a higher alcohol content. These high pigment wines contain more anthocyanin, which is good for cardiovascular health. Serve at room temperature (63-69 °F)
Pair With: simple, roasted or grilled meat such as Mexican food, smoked meat, or charbroiled chicken
Try It If: you want a full, bold taste that makes your head swim
Varieties To Try: Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tannat
Surprising Facts About Dessert Wine
Selecting a different red wine to pair with each course can be unbelievably great fun. If you’re adventurous and considering another bottle of wine to pair with your dessert, you should know that some red wines can pair incredibly well with chocolate. A dessert wine or rich Cabernet is delightful with dark chocolate and strawberries. We do recommend that you start with one bottle of red wine to pair with your dinner though and find what works for you - that way you can try the same dish again, and play around with picking the dessert wine next time!
More Fun Wine Facts
Did you know?
- Some wines taste awful until you eat food with them
- ‘90s throwback: the lead singer of the band TOOL, Maynard James Keenan, owns a great vineyard in the deserts of Jerome, Arizona
- Chambourcin is one such grape variety that most people typically do not enjoy by itself but greatly appreciated in blends
Wine Was Made for Sharing
Did any of these red wine facts surprise you? Are there any red wine facts you’d like to share? Tell us in the comments!