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In Good Taste

The Basics of Red Wine

Wine is a complicated subject to understand, especially for those who are learning. Even walking into a wine shop can be intimidating. If you have ever traveled to a foreign country, you may remember looking around and thinking that nothing seems familiar. All of the signs are in another language, and the people seem strange and foreign. But then you spot something familiar, a mother laughing with her child or a group of teenagers gossiping on the street corner. Suddenly, you realize that the world is not strange at all. All you needed was a friendly face and something you recognized. 

When learning about wine, you only need a few familiar faces and reference points to keep you from feeling lost and overwhelmed. How do you talk about red wine? How is it made, and how should it smell and taste? To know everything about red wine would take a lifetime, but the basics are simple enough for anyone to master. This article provides the answers. 

Red Wine Production

The process of making red wine is not a complicated one. It consists of growing grapes, harvesting, fermenting, bottling, and aging. While the process itself seems simple, creating a truly exceptional one is another matter entirely.

The main difference between red and white wine is that red wine ages on the skins, while white wines are pressed before fermentation to remove them. As red wine ferments, the skins impart characteristics such as added tannins and acidity.

White Wine

Orange Wine vs White Wine

Red Wine

Orange Wine vs Red Wine

You may have heard that white wine tends to have more sugar than red wine. Aging the wines on the skins is the reason. The yeast from the skins converts the natural sugars from the grapes into alcohol while the skin contact itself adds flavor, texture, and body. This first stage of fermentation is called alcoholic fermentation.

Occasionally, wines go through a second fermentation process. First, the skins and liquid are separated, which causes the strong-tasting malic acid to turn into a more mild lactic acid. The second fermentation, called malolactic fermentation, helps soften harsh wines and gives them more complexity. Malolactic fermentation is mostly reserved for red wine, although some whites like Chardonnay and Viognier also undergo this process. In most whites and rosés, the process would eliminate acidity and freshness.

What are Tannins?

When red wine is fermenting, the skins, seeds, and stems create tannins in the wine. Red wine contains more tannins than either white or rose wines. Different grape varietals produce distinct levels of tannins. Italy is known for producing some of the most tannic wines in the world, including Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, and Montepulciano

Tannins in Red Wine - what are tannins?

Tannins make a wine taste dry and tart. Tannins are naturally occurring in wine and are a natural antioxidant. They are essential for aging wine because they attach to oxygen compounds and keep them from oxidizing.

To combat the dry feeling of tannins, you need fat. Fat softens tannins so that they do not overwhelm your palate. Tannins are one of the reasons wine and cheese are such a classic combination. Rich, fatty foods that contain lots of olive oil, butter, or even avocado pair well with tannic wines. 

What is Acid?

The level of acid in wine depends on several factors. Unripe grapes have more acid than ripe ones. The longer a grape stays on the vine, the more sugars it develops. Wines from colder regions tend to make more acidic wines since the growing season is shorter. Tartaric acid helps winemakers in warmer regions balance out grapes that have spent too long on the vine. They add it to the grape juice before fermentation.

You taste acidity on the sides of your tongue. Like when you bite into a lemon, your whole face might pucker and your mouth with water involuntarily. The level of acidity in good red wines helps with the aging process. As the wine ages, the wine will taste less acidic, although the actual acidity level does not change. Acidity adds complexity and depth to the wine.

Acidity also helps wine pair well with certain foods. Acid cuts through fats and overly sweet foods, but it also pairs well with acidic foods. A classic pairing for the acidic red Chianti would be pasta with tomato sauce.

What is "Body" in a Wine?

When people talk about the body of a wine, they are talking about a couple of different factors: acidity, tannins, and alcohol level. You determine the body of a bottle of wine using all five senses: look, touch, scent, taste, and feel. 

Light-bodied red wines are usually refreshing, crisp, and bright. While a light-bodied red will not linger long on your tongue, that is not to say that they do not have plenty of character. Acidity and fresh fruit are prevalent in light-bodied reds, and, therefore, they pair best with delicate foods like vegetables, shellfish, poultry, and fish. 

Light-bodied reds tend to have fewer tannins and a lower ABV (below 12.5% percent). Examples include Gamay, Pinot Noir, and Grenache.


Medium-bodied red wines have varying levels of acidity, tannin, and alcohol. Typically they have an ABV between 12.5% and 13.5%. Medium-bodied wines tend to be popular because they pair with a variety of foods and are especially palatable. 

Examples of medium-bodied red wines include Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc, Barbera, and Merlot.

Full-bodied red wines tend to be rich, muscular, and intense. Often full-bodied wines come from a warmer climate. The flavors last longer in your mouth and stand up to more flavorful foods like pasta with cream sauce and grilled steaks. 

Heavy- or full-bodied reds often have lots of tannins and an ABV higher than 13.5%. Examples of full-bodied red wine types include Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Mourvedre, and Syrah.

Types of Red Wine Grapes


While knowing the basics about acidity, tannins, and body will help you sound and feel more knowledgeable about wine, they are only the beginning. Knowing the most popular red wine grapes will make it easier for you to pick out a wine in a wine shop and provide a guide for choosing the right wine for every occasion. 

Cabernet Franc

Cabernet Franc

Tasting Notes: sour cherry, dried oregano, violets, blueberry, earth, black olive, coffee

Medium-bodied and slightly tannic, Cabernet Franc is well-known for its place as one of the three varietals in Bordeaux wine blends (alongside Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot). However, Cabernet Franc can also make exceptional wines all on its own. When done well, the types of wine made from this black grape are a balance of earth, red fruit, and herbs.

Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Sauvignon

Tasting Notes: bell pepper, green olive, herb, cassis, black cherry, tobacco, black pepper

Full-bodied and boozy, Cabernet Sauvignon is the most recognized varietal in the world. This familiar red forms another part of the Bordeaux wine blend. Cabernet Sauvignon blends well with many varietals, which is part of the reason it is so popular with winegrowers worldwide. Dry red wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon taste of red and black fruit combined with green and earthy notes like green bell pepper and tobacco.



Tasting Notes: strawberry, raspberry, cherry, violet, lilac, cranberry

Light-bodied and bright, Gamay is the darling of the Beaujolais and Loire Valley regions in France. Wines made from the Gamay grape smell perfumy and floral, while their flavor is bright, fresh red fruits. Occasionally, winemakers use carbonic maceration to give Gamay wines a slight effervescence.



Tasting Notes: cinnamon, cherry, violet

Medium-bodied and boozy, Grenache looks like a light-bodied red. However, the tannins and acidity weigh heavily on the tongue. Grenache requires a long growing season to reach its full potential and grows best in the wine-growing regions of Spain and southern France. It forms part of one of the world's most prestigious wine blends, Cotes du Rhone (alongside Mourvedre and Syrah), produced in the Rhone Valley. Wines made with Grenache are known for their spice and fruit.



Tasting Notes: sour cherry, vanilla, tobacco, chocolate, oak, smoke

Full-bodied and deep purple, Malbec originated in France. This grape requires long, hot days to fully develop its signature rich fruit flavors of sour cherry and chocolate. Malbec is also present in small amounts in Bordeaux blends. It has also developed a reputation in South America, where it is often paired with grilled meats. 



Tasting Notes: strawberry, raspberry, blackberry, black cherry, plum, vanilla, mocha

Medium-bodied and easy to drink, Merlot is well-known for its versatility and approachability. Merlot goes with a variety of foods, a true middle-of-the-road varietal. Finding a quality Merlot used to be a challenge as the varietal was known for making watery and weak wines. When made well, this dry red wine often exhibits flavors of chocolate and raspberries.



Tasting Notes: blackberry, cherry, black pepper, rose, smoke, meat

Full-bodied and bold, Mourvedre is also known as Monastrell or Mataro depending on where it’s grown. Mourvedre usually has fairly powerful tannins, a high ABV, and a touch of sweetness. This meaty red wine usually exhibits flavors of cherry, smoke, and meat. Perfect for your next charcuterie board.



Tasting Notes: cherry, tar, raspberry, rose, anise, cranberry

Full-bodied but lightly colored, Nebbiolo is one of the oldest varietals in the world (dating back to the 13th century). The potent tannins make it the ideal wine for aging, and the acidity makes it the best red wine to drink with classic Italian dishes heavy with tomatoes or cream. Nebbiolo is known for its delicate aromas of violets and roses, as well as potent cherry and cranberry on the tongue.

Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir

Tasting Notes: cherry, blackberry, raspberry, mushroom, forest floor, vanilla

Light-bodied and fruity, Pinot Noir is known for its elegance and complexity. This wine varietal has fruit, flower, and spice notes, predominantly cherry, earth, and warming spices. Originally from France, Pinot Noir is increasingly popular among North American winemakers in both California and Washington. This versatile wine pairs well with turkey, chicken, duck, and mushrooms.



Tasting Notes: cherry, tomato leaf, oregano, espresso

Medium-bodied and tannic, Sangiovese is Italy’s most-planted grape varietal. Typically, Sangiovese tastes of cherries and black stone fruit with subtle herbal undertones. The heavy tannins on this wine make it the best red wine to drink with braised meats.

Syrah / Shiraz


Tasting Notes: blueberry, blackberry, tobacco, plum, green peppercorn, clove

Full-bodied and meaty, Syrah tends to be intense, peppery, and savory, but it depends on the region. In France, Syrah makes some of the most complex and delicious savory expressions of the grape. In Australia, where the varietal has had great success, Syrah is called Shiraz and makes a notable version with plenty of ripe fruit notes. This dry red wine pairs well with game, mushrooms, and stews.



Tasting Notes: peach jam, raspberry, blackberry, strawberry, raisin

Medium-bodied and sweet, Zinfandel is beloved for its high ABV and candied sweetness. The fruit in this grape expresses itself as jammy and intense. Unfortunately, these qualities have also given it a reputation for being cloying. This sweet red wine pairs well with the potent flavors of curries and barbecue. 

To the novice wine taster, every wine is going to taste like fruit. All wine is fermented grape juice when it comes down to it. But certain methods and techniques bring out the character of each grape varietal, and those who are well-versed in wine can smell and taste the subtle differences of each grape. It takes practice, patience, and lots of wine! One of the best ways to learn about wine is to organize a wine tasting with your friends.


Ways to Serve Red Wine

Over the centuries, serving and drinking wine have both been turned into an art form. The glass, temperature, and way you drink it can all have subtle but significant influences on the experience. The proper tasting technique can reveal a lot of wine differences.

Glass: Red wine is best when served in glasses with large bowls. A large bowl means more air comes into contact with the wine as you drink it. More exposure to oxygen helps the more subtle tasting notes appear. 

Temperature: Each wine is best when served at a certain temperature, depending on the levels of sugar, alcohol, and tannins. Light-bodied reds like Pinot Noir and Grenache are best chilled somewhere between 55-65 degrees. You can accomplish this by putting your bottle in the fridge an hour before opening it. Medium- and heavy-bodied reds are best when served between 60-68 degrees. As long as you store these wines in a cool, dark place, they should be ready to drink.

Tasting: Wine is made to be experienced with all five senses. The color and swirl, smell, taste, and texture all tell you something different. When you swirl the glass, it reveals the ABV. The color denotes both age and body. Smell and taste can give you clues to the varietal. The texture of the wine reveals acidity and texture, more clues to which varietal you are drinking and where it was grown.

As you learn and grow on your wine journey, you will notice more subtleties in each of your favorite wines. 

Can All Red Wine be Aged?

Although many people believe that all red wine ages well, the truth is that 90% of red wine should be consumed within a few years of bottling. Some of the greatest wines in the world are best when you drink them young. 

High levels of tannins and acidity preserve the wine and help the more delicate flavors of the grape appear. Without tannins or acidity, the wine will lose most of its flavor as the bright fruit character disintegrates with age.

Aging Red Wine in Bottles

If you are looking to try aging a couple of bottles, look for high-quality Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sangiovese, Monastrell, Cabernet Franc, Nebbiolo, Malbec, and Syrah. Check with the producer or look online to determine if your bottle is worth the wait.

Red Wine Education

The best-tasting red wine is the one that appeals most to you. If you are unsure of where to start, look for local wines that are popular near you. You know the terroir better than anyone and can begin to taste how location and climate can influence a wine. While learning the basics can be intimidating, the result is opening the door to a whole new world. Cheap or expensive, young or aged, light or heavy- there is a bottle of wine for every occasion.

Rosé of Sangiovese


Sangiovese can be found in both the Chianti and Montalcino regions of Tuscany (it all sounds so romantic, right?) and is known for producing classic medium-bodied wines. Rosé wine is actually made from red grapes, and this is where the Rosé of Sangiovese comes to play. Crisp, fruit-forward, and easy-to-drink, it's everything you want in your bottle of Rosé and more.



Big, bold, and full of flavor—exactly what you’d expect an Italian wine to be! This classic Italian grape produces some of Italy’s most straightforward red wines and is often used as a blending grape. Not here, though. We let Montepulciano do the heavy lifting as a heavy red wine and shine on its own. If you enjoy the smell of leather bound books, nibbling on dried fruit, and complementary notes of bitter, dark chocolate and sweet plums, you will love this Italian wine. No need to pair it with any certain dish—Montepulciano tastes great with all the Italian classics.

Cabernet Sauvignon


If Pinot Noir is the light and juicy queen of reds, Cabernet Sauvignon is her bolder, heavier, meatier sister. Often referred to as just “cab,” it’s the wine of France’s Bordeaux and California’s Napa Valley. There’s nothing subtle about Cabernet Sauvignon—high in alcohol, full-bodied and robust, you can usually find this red served with a ribeye, New York Strip, or filet mignon (re: carnivores love cab). Classic cabs usually offer tasting notes of chocolate, coffee, and darker fruits like prunes and plums. The Unprecedented Cabernet Sauvignon is as classic as they come, and we highly recommend letting the bottle sit and mellow until your next red meat and potatoes dinner!

Pinot Grigio

La Pluma

If you’re looking for more zest in your life, a bottle of Pinot Grigio can provide that. We included a classic Pinot Grigio in the La Pluma collection because we’re all about light and easy here, which is exactly what this grape from Italy is. It has that dry sense of humor that seems so effortless with a punchy acidity to keep you on your toes, all while offering notes of lemon, limes, green apples, and honeysuckle. Long story short; when it’s been a heavy day and your soul is seeking light things only, you’ll be happy to have this bottle on hand.

Pinot Noir


We couldn’t create the In Good Taste Unprecedented collection without the Golden Retriever of wines: Pinot Noir. Pinot is likable, it’s easy, and its natural state of being is simply charming. It’s an incredibly easy red wine to love, which is why so many people do. The grape itself is from the Burgundy region of France, but has made its way to California, Oregon, Australia, Italy, Argentina, and Germany since. Our Pinot Noir has no surprise twists—it’s a classic light red with just the right amount of sweetness to keep you coming back for another glass (or two).

Coteaux Bourguignons


The Burgundy region of France is home to their best Pinot Noirs, but we took the grapes into our own hands to create something extra special with our Coteaux Bourguignons. It’s a blend of Pinot Noir and Gamay, which results in a French red that’s light in body but full in flavor. The ripest blueberries and freshest herbs can be easily detected in this French burgundy blend. May we suggest pairing it with some creamy brie and freshly baked bread? It’s a oui-ning combo.



A little sweet. A little tart. A little salty? You truly get it all with this white Italian wine. If you're into that biting acidity, Verdicchio will probably be high on your list of most-loved wines from our Andiamo collection. Citrus fruits like mandarin, lemon, and grapefruit are at the forefront, but what really sets this Italian wine apart is its distinct notes of almond. While our Verdicchio can start out tasting a bit tart, the more you sip, the smoother it becomes. In fact, we suggest approaching it as an aperitif (Italian for an alcoholic drink sipped before a meal to stimulate the appetite) to experience its full effect.


Côtes du Rhône White


This was one of our first French wines to join the Passport collection and one sip will explain why. Some background on the Rhône Valley in France: While this region is known for its dark, juicy reds, a very small amount of special white wines are made in the Rhône Valley. Our Côtes du Rhône is packed with French-perfected, floral flavor and Old-World charm. Its natural tang paired with the weighty Marsanne grape and aromatic Roussanne grape results in a crisp, savory sip that’ll transport you to a sunbathing chair by the Rhône itself.


Bordeaux Rouge


When you picture medieval folk sitting around a feast with goblets of wine, chances are they were drinking Bordeaux. This wine has been made in France since forever and is arguably the most classic French wine out there. Bordeaux is known for its full body, smoky notes, and rich, oaky taste. If you love cabs, chances are you will adore Bordeaux. For our Passport wines, we had to include this classic French red for you to sip and enjoy to your heart’s content. Best savored over a rich meal like lamb ragu, ratatouille, or BBQ.

Ventoux Rosé


You probably know that the Tour de France is held on Ventoux Mountain in France, but did you know that the same area is known for its high-altitude rosé? This is the kind of quintessential French rosé that you don’t need to spin your wheels over—it’s simply delicious, crisp, and perfect for warm weather. Despite its delicate, pale pink color, each sip is lush with flavor, from tropical passionfruit and zesty citrus to refreshing melon. This has the potential to be your new summer go-to, so we’d suggest stocking up.



Wild Child

Say “¡Hola!” to Spain’s main grape: Tempranillo. This red grape put Rioja wine on the map and is un vino tinto classico. It’s best compared to a classic cab, but with a bit more unique magic that’s hard to put your finger on, which is why it’s a part of our Wild Child line. This medium- to full-bodied wine with its relatively higher tannins usually offers complex notes of cherry, fig, cedar, tobacco, and dill. This is the type of red wine you want to buy and pour for a Latin-infused meal; think carne asada, tacos al carbon, or just perfectly cooked steak fajita meat.


La Pluma

We knew the only red in the La Pluma collection had to be exceptionally good and exceptionally light. That’s why including a Grenache was a no-brainer. If smooth, fruit-forward, light-bodied reds appeal to your tastebuds, this could be your new favorite. The grape itself is tricky; depending on the climate of where its grown, Grenache wines could be light, dense, or somewhere in the middle. La Pluma’s version has all the airiness and flavor notes we wanted in our Grenache, which is how we know you’ll love it. Get the most of this red by pairing it with roasted meats, spice-heavy vegetables, and Mexican-inspired dishes with lots of cumin.




This grape goes by different names in most European countries, but what remains the same is its fruity floral nature. Delicate in every way and extremely quaffable, this wine is as dainty as they come.



We really try not to play favorites at In Good Taste, but there is just something about an Italian Barbera that hits different in the best way. Barberas are the perfect wine for pizza night; they're low in alcohol, and medium-bodied but taste super light, and their berry and plum flavors pair incredibly well with savory tomato sauce and cheese! Another fun thing about Barberas? They actually taste great when chilled, which is not something we're in the habit of suggesting for our red wines. Our Italian Barbera lies somewhere between the body of a cab and a pinot and is the ideal choice for a "ladies who lunch" kind of afternoon.


Wild Child

We couldn't not have a weird white in the mix, right?! The Vermentino grape is native along the coast of Italy on the island of Sardinia (yeah, like the fish). Because of its origin, this grape offers a salty, crisp flavor that's incredibly easy to drink and enjoy. We say it's "weird" only because it's not widely known by name, but chances are you've probably had it before if you've ever ordered white wine in an Italian restaurant. If you love peaches and lemons and get a kick out of anything that reminds you of the sea, our Vermentino is the perfect Italian white to experience on a sunny day outside.




For the Chardonnay lovers who are looking to dig a bit deeper in the world of bold whites, a Viognier (pronounced vee-own-yay) could be your next big adventure. Viogniers tend to have more range; while they can be creamy with hints of vanilla like their Chardonnay counterpart, they also offer lighter, fruitier flavors like tangerine, mango, and honeysuckle. It’s still a more full-bodied white wine, but unlike Chardonnay, it’s softer on acidity and more perfumed. Spend an afternoon with a glass of Viognier amongst the flowers and it’ll all make sense.


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