Every Major Type Of Red Wine You Would Ever Need To Know

If you're a beginner in the world of red wine, walking down a wine aisle at a local wine shop or even your grocery store can be intimidating. Sure, you know that Merlot and Malbec are both red, but your knowledge doesn't go too far beyond that. If that's the case for you, don't worry. We're here to shed some light on the red wine section. The truth is, the vast majority of red wines come down to a handful of grapes, so if you know about those grapes, then you'll have a much clearer picture of the wine landscape. That can help you choose the perfect red for that steak dinner or select a bottle for your friend's housewarming party.

We're going to cover 10 common types of red wine you'll find on shelves. Of course, there are countless other varieties out there, but these are the types you're most likely to see regularly. Get acquainted with these varieties first, then make your way to your local wine shop and try them out for yourself. After all, the best way to determine what kind of wine you prefer is by sipping it yourself. Ready to get started? Here's every major type of red wine you'd ever need to know.

1. Merlot

If you're looking for an easy, approachable red wine to start sipping, you certainly can't go wrong with a Merlot. According to Wine Enthusiast, it's one of the most popular red wines in the world, and it comes in at number two in red wine popularity in the United States (right behind Cabernet Sauvignon). It's a versatile grape that can be transformed into fruity or oaky wines alike, serving a variety of taste palettes. 

When you get a good Merlot, you're going to experience a well-balanced wine with moderate tannins, moderate acidity, and relatively high alcohol content. Though individual bottles may vary significantly, you can expect a medium or full-bodied wine. It's common for tasters to pick up notes of cherry, berries, or plums, or you might get a taste of chocolate or vanilla if you're drinking an oakier variety (via Wine Folly).

While a wine featuring only Merlot grapes is common on its own, these grapes also commonly find their way into Bordeaux blends. One thing's for sure: If you bring a Merlot to a dinner party, no one is going to complain. We think this is a great entry point for all those just beginning to get into wine.

2. Zinfandel

Let's clear one thing up right away: Zinfandel is not the same thing as white Zinfandel. The latter is a sweet or off-dry rosé that many wine drinkers dislike. Of course, if you like it, you should enjoy it, but you definitely shouldn't confuse it with Zinfandel, which is a red wine with moderate tannins and high alcohol levels, per Wine Folly. This results in a big-bodied wine that pairs well with various Arabic and Mediterranean cuisines. However, the wine itself is originally from Croatia, which has a thriving wine industry. Fun fact: Per Wine Folly, Zinfandel is the only grape varietal in the world that has an annual festival called the ZAP Wine Festival.

While white Zinfandel might be more common on grocery store wine shelves than red Zinfandel, you can usually find the latter without too many issues. This grape is also often found in California red blends (via VinePair). If you're looking for a bold, robust red that will pair deliciously with all of your favorite foods like grilled meats and mezze, you may find just what you're searching for in a Zinfandel.

3. Cabernet Sauvignon

Moderately bold, full-bodied, and perfect for pairing with food, it's hard not to love a good Cabernet Sauvignon. This is an extremely popular type of wine. In fact, it's the most popular in the world. Like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon is a great variety for beginner red-drinkers, as it's both easy to obtain and has a widely appreciated taste. You may notice notes of black cherry or black currant if you're enjoying a fruitier Cab, while an oakier variety may evoke notes of graphite or cedar, per Wine Folly. Cabernet Sauvignon is produced worldwide, from France, Italy, and Spain to South Africa, Argentina, and even China.

One of the reasons Cabernet Sauvignons are so popular is because they age really well. Tannins and chemical compounds referred to as phenolics ensure that Cabs taste amazing even after they've been in a cellar for decades (via The California Wine Club). The tannins in this wine are more pronounced in younger bottles, but older vintages tend to be more mellow, thus pairing with a wider variety of foods. If you're looking for the perfect entryway into the world of red wine, grab yourself a Cabernet Sauvignon the next time you're out.

4. Nebbiolo

According to Wine-Searcher, while Nebbiolo grapes are produced in many parts of the world, they're overwhelmingly grown in the Piedmont region of Italy. It has high-quality wines that are known for their intense tannin and acidity. Because of these qualities, they pair well with cheese and other fatty, creamy dishes, as the acidity helps cut through those intense flavors (via "Wine Folly: Magnum Edition"). Taste for notes of cherry, leather, rose, and star anise.

You may find cheaper Nebbiolo varieties on the market, but you should expect to pay around $30 for a good bottle. Due to this price point and its intense, bold flavor, Nebbiolo is generally not a wine that new drinkers start with, but it's certainly worth a try if you're looking for something new and interesting. There's a chance that you won't be able to find it in your grocery store wine aisle, but most well-stocked wine stores, especially those with robust Italian sections, should carry a wide selection of Nebbiolo. This wine can be consumed young, but it typically ages well rather quickly.

5. Syrah (Shiraz)

This one causes quite a bit of confusion for some new wine drinkers because it technically has two names. According to Wine Folly, the grape originated in France's Rhone Valley, a legendary wine-producing area. However, since then, it has made its way to Australia, and it's now the most-planted grape in the country. In Australia, they don't refer to it as Syrah like they do in Europe. Instead, it's called Shiraz. If you see different wine bottles with these different names, you'll know that they're the same grape, and it gives you an idea about where that particular bottle was produced.

This full-bodied red wine has a moderately high alcohol level, medium-high tannins, and tends to be on the drier side (though not intensely so). It's excellent when paired with dark meats and intense spices, as those flavors tend to bring out its fun, fruity side. Notes of blueberry and plum are standard, as are tobacco and milk chocolate aromas.

If you're already a fan of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and want to branch out to try something new, Syrah is an excellent option. These wines share many of the same characteristics, but Syrah is a slightly less common find in the U.S.

6. Malbec

Are you looking for a way to get into South American wines? Then do we have a treat for you: it's called Malbec! Malbec is grown everywhere from South Africa to New Zealand, but most of its production comes from Argentina, per Wine Folly. VinePair says that it's been a popular blending grape in France for over 100 years, but Malbec has grown as a wine in its own right over the past few decades. And the stuff from Argentina is generally regarded as some of the best.

If you like juicy, fruity wines, Malbec is going to be perfect for you. Don't assume that juiciness means it will be too sweet, though. Most Malbec is quite dry. We love that this type of wine is affordable so that everyone can enjoy it. If you're looking for a good bottle of Malbec, you can expect to spend around $15. You should be able to find Malbec at most shops that sell wine.

While many red wines tend to have a longer finish (meaning the flavor stays with you for a while after you take a sip), the finish on Malbec is relatively short. This means it's great for pairing with red meats that tend toward the leaner side.

7. Pinot Noir

Burgundy is one of the most legendary wine regions globally, and Pinot Noir is right at home there, according to Decanter. However, it's also grown in other parts of the world, from Chile to Switzerland, so you shouldn't worry about tracking down a Burgundy if you can't find it at first. This light-bodied red is great for those who generally drink white wine but want to branch out and try something new. It's not very sweet, but the acidity is intense, making it ideal for pairing with foods that you normally wouldn't think of eating with a glass of red wine (via "Wine Folly: Magnum Edition"). Chicken, for instance, is an excellent pairing with Pinot Noir.

Unfortunately, Pinot Noir can be more expensive than other bottles, which means you'll want to spend around $30 for a bottle of the good stuff. Pinot Noir is an incredibly finicky varietal for grape growers to work with, per Wine Enthusiast, since it is susceptible to disease and root rot. But even though it is hard to grow, Pinot Noir is a fave for many drinkers, and if you haven't tried it yet, it's worth a sip.

8. Cabernet Franc

Never seen a Cabernet Franc in the flesh before? You're not alone. It's not especially common to see this wine on its own because it is most often used for blending with other varietals into Bordeaux red wines. However, it is sometimes produced as a single varietal, according to MasterClass. When you drink this wine, expect a medium-bodied red with plenty of acidity that makes it sippable and perfect to pair with tomato-based dishes. You might pick up on notes of strawberry or raspberry as well as bell pepper and chili pepper.

If you're looking for intense tannins, then Cabernet Franc is probably not for you. While it can often be confused with Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon grapes have a thicker skin than Franc ones, which gives Sauvignon a heavier and more intense flavor. However, if you're not super into red wines generally, this wine is a great place to start. It's a fun option to serve at a party if you want to introduce your guests to something a little different than what they might be used to drinking.

9. Sangiovese

According to Wine Folly, Italy, Tuscany grows most of the world's Sangiovese, a dry, acidic, savory red wine. Because it's so acidic, it can pair well with spicy and other acidic dishes, making it one of our favorites for a dinner party. It pairs excellently with tomatoes and potent herbs. It can be a great option for vegetarian cooking — as long as the food you're eating has plenty of plant-derived fats. However, Sangiovese generally isn't amazing for pairing with sweet dishes, so if you're looking for a dessert-adjacent drink, it's usually not the way to go.

Wine Folly refers to Sangiovese as a "chameleon," meaning that different wines using this varietal will taste different. The variation is huge, so it pays to learn about the specific region you're getting your Sangiovese from if you're curious about the details. This fun, interesting wine is a great option for food lovers and those who want to branch out to slightly less recognized varietals that are still widely available.

10. Grenache

Grenache, also known as Garnacha in Spain, is a common grape used in wines throughout the world. VinePair describes the flavor as berry-forward with notes of strawberries and white pepper along with a hint of Fruit Roll=Ups. Umm ... sign us up! This varietal was originally cultivated in Spain, and it's sold both as a single varietal as well as appearing in blended bottles. You may want to consider pairing it with autumnal dishes like roasted veggies, lamb, or even prime rib. However, The Wine Cellar Insider shares that it's extremely versatile, so don't be afraid to try some creative pairings if that's what you're into.

While Grenache can be quite expensive, you won't have to spend a fortune to enjoy this wine to its fullest. A $15 to $20 bottle can give you a good idea of what this grape offers and initiate you into a whole new world of red wine. Give it a try the next time you cook a special dinner.