Everything You Need To Know About Red Varietals

I have a passion for wine, specifically red wines. But I didn’t always know this and I didn’t always drink wine in the pattern I do today. It took me years, seriously, years to discover I even had a palate and then to learn more about it. One of the biggest conclusions I’ve come to in recognizing my preferences: I like dry, red, medium to full body, medium to high acidity and medium to high tannins. If you find yourself asking, “What does this even mean?” Consider finding your palate the same way I found mine… DRINK EVERYTHING. See Also: Drinking Around the World in 30 Days.


Like most beginning wine drinkers, I started off consuming light-bodied, sweet wines. In my honest opinion, they weren’t bad. It wasn’t until I began experimenting with dark reds that my obsession truly began. I’m a person who is naturally curious and observant. Just knowing I liked the wine wasn’t good enough for me, I needed to know WHY I liked it and WHAT I like about it.

This has helped SO much in situations where I’m in a store picking out a bottle or making a selection off of a wine list at a bar or restaurant. Once you learn what you like, you can begin your search to find one to enjoy. In most situations, with the exception of repeat buying my favorites, I rarely see the same wine twice- especially on a menu. That’s why its important to recognize tasting notes and associate them with your own pallet.

Through trial and error I have found my palate and am able to navigate the selection progress through buzz words like; Body, Acidity, Tannins, Finish, Cask Oak Aged, producer, varietal, vintage and terroir. First, lets start with those buzz words. This will help, 1. By matching what you are tasting and putting it into words describing what you like about the wines and 2. What description or tasting notes to look for when making a purchase at a wine merchant or a selection off of a wine menu.

Acidity: sour quality of the grapes from fermentation
Appearance: the color and clarity of the wine, depends on how long the grape spent with the skin in the fermentation process
Aroma: the “nose” of the wine, you can literally smell the ingredients used in production
Balance: how all of the elements work together to create the taste
Blend: combination of grapes
Body: the “weight” of the wine when you consume it
Complex: the flavor of the wine changes as you drink it
Dry: little residual sugar
Earthy: notes of soil, plant, mushroom, etc *I do not like earthy wines*
Finish: the last taste the wine leaves in your mouth
Producer: maker responsible for growing the grapes
Tannins: elements used to make the wine that have not softened with age
Terroir: describes the environment of the region where the wine comes from
Varietal: type of grape
Vintage: the year the wine was harvested

Now that you are familiar with how wines are typically described, you can begin to choose a wine based on those factors that compliment your palate. Below I’m going to outline some of the most common wines you will come in contact with, the rest will be up to you to explore!

Barbera: Medium Body/ High Acidity/ Low Tannins (Fruity and Earthy)
Cabernet Franc: Medium Body/ Medium- High Acidity/ Medium- High Tannins (Fruity and Earthy)
Cabernet Sauvignon: Full Body/ Medium Acidity/ High Tannins (Dark Fruity)
Carnigan: Light- Medium Body/ Medium- High Acidity/ Medium Tannins (Spicy)
Cinsault: Light Body/ Low Acidity/ Low Tannins *Easy to drink* (Fruity and Savory)
Counoise: Light Body/ High Acidity/ Low Tannins *Easy to drink* (Light and Fruity Blend)
Gamay: Light Body/ Medium- High Acidity/ Low Tannins (Floral and Fruity)
Lambrusco: Light- Medium Body/ Medium- High Acidity/ Medium Tannins (Bubbly but not sweet)
Malbec: Medium- Full Body/ Medium Acidity/ Medium Tannins (Dark Fruity)
Montepulciano: Medium Body/ Medium Acidity/ Medium Tannins (An insider once told me Italy does not export “the good” grapes and a true Montepulciano can only be found in Italy)
Nero d’Avola: Full Body/ Medium- High Acidity/ Medium- High Tannins (Dark Fruity and Spicy)
Pinot Noir: Light- Body/ Medium- High Acidity/ Medium- Low Tannins (Light Fruity)
Sangiovese: Light- Medium Body/ High Acidity/ High Tannins (Same grape as Chianti)
Syrah: Full Body/ Medium Acidity/ Medium Tannins (Fruity and Spicy)
Zinfandel: Light Body/ High Acidity/ Medium Tannins (Fruity and Smoky)

Like I said, this was an extremely beginner version of red wines. The best way to get familiar is to choose one and create your own tasting notes. Write down the facts, what you know about the wine based on the label- note of the Grape, Region, Vintage and how it was aged, the appearance and the aroma. Sip the wine to understand the how it feels on your own pallet- create notes of berries and other fruits, herbs and spices, the taste of the front palate vs. the back palate, how the taste changes from start to finish. I challenge you to open a bottle of wine and follow along with the tasting process outline in How to Taste Wine, Not Just Drink It ! As always, I appreciate your feedback! Let me know what you think, did you find this helpful,? Do you understand your pallet? Are you able to choose wine with ease?

If you’re interested in learning more about wine, check out some of these other blog posts!


All the Wine 2.0

The Best Wine & Food Pairings

Hosting A Wine Tasting Party

I’d love to hear your thoughts, leave a comment below!

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8 thoughts on “Everything You Need To Know About Red Varietals

  1. I love wines; my faves amongst the reds are cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, and zinfandel. I ‘ve been trying different wines but I’m not that familiar with the buzz words. I learned a lot from this post. Thanks! 🍷🍷🍷

    Liked by 1 person

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