A Guide to Red Wine Varieties

Do you ever go to buy a bottle of wine and wind up baffled by the selection because you don't know the difference between a Cabernet and a Merlot, not to mention a Shiraz or a Pinot Noir? This guide is meant to give a basic outline of what types of red grape varieties are available and some background on each. Looking for white wine, try here.

Grape Varieties


* Barbera has aromas of red fruit, currant or blackberries that are enhanced by vanilla, smoky or toasty notes added by barrel aging. * Has some flavor characteristics to Cabernet Sauvignon, with more acidity. * It is the second most widely planted varietal in Italy. The best Barbera wines come from Northern Italy, though the grapes are grown elsewhere, including the central coast of California.


* Brunello is known for its aromas of wood and blackberries. * Also known as the Sangiovese Grosso, it is a clone of the Sangiovese grape. * Grown primarly in the Sangiovese region of Italy. The only grape used to make Brunello di Montalcino.

Cabernet Franc

* Cabernet Franc is characterized by aromas of blackberry and strawberry. * A light, unstructured variety, often blended with other grapes. * One of five major grapes grown in Bordeaux, France. It is also grown in Friuli region in Italy, Australia, New Zealand, California (mainly Napa and Sonoma), Washington state, and Long Island, New York.

Cabernet Sauvignon

* Cabernet Sauvignon has aromas of black currant, violet, green pepper, which can develop into cedar, violets, leather or cigar box with age. * Best when older, as it has a high alcohol content and is very tannic. * This is the most widely planted and significant among the five dominant varieties of the Medoc district of Bordeaux. It is also successfully grown in Long Island, NY, Northern California and other cool climates, such as Argentina, Chile, Italy, and New Zealand.


* Carignan has aromas of black fruits, black pepper, and anise. * The most widely planted grape in France, Carignan is mainly confined to Languedoc and Southeastern France. It is also widely grown in Spain and Algeria * It has a spicy taste and is associated with Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah


* Wines made from Carménère grapes have dark fruit and pepper aromas. * One of the six varietals allowed to be used in making red wine from the Bordeaux region in Southwestern France, but because it is difficult to grow it is rarely found in the region. * There is a huge crop of Carménère in Chile, where it was until recently mislabeled for Merlot. There are currently some vines in California.


* Cinsault wines feature aromas of fruit. * This is most often used as a blending grape with other types of wine. * Most often planted wine in Southern France, Morocco and Algeria and is a major red varietal is South Africa, Corsica and Lebanon. There are some planted in Australia, but it has yet to gain popularity there.


* Gamay is known for its aromas of red fruits and spices. * The primary grape of France's Beaujolais region, though also planted in the Loire, Rhône, Jura and Savoie appellations in France and California. * The main grape in French Beaujolais, Beaujolais-Villages and Beaujolais Nouveau.


* Grenache is characterized by its aromas of red fruits, thyme and lavender, which makes for a sweet wine that is high in alcohol. * The world's most widely planted grape used to make red wine. * Most notable as the base for Chateauneuf du Pape, Cotes du Rhône and Gigondas. It is also a base for rosé. * Origins are in Spain, but most of its fame came from France. It's also grown in California (primarily in the Central Coast region) and Australia.


* Malbec has aromas of black and red berry fruits, earth, smoke and black pepper. * One of the traditional Bordeaux varieties, it has characteristics that fall between Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. It is no longer widely used in France, but can still be found. * The major red varietal of Argentina; and it is also planted in Chile. The grape is also found in small quantities in California and Australia where it is used as a mixing varietal.


* Merlot is characterized by aromas of blackberries and currants. * Mostly widely planted grape in Bordeaux, it is among the traditional red grapes of the region. It is also well-produced in California, Washington state, Long Island, Chile, and New Zealand. * Used to make a soft, full-bodied wine that is rich in flavor. Often blended with Cabernet to add tannins. * Also known as Petit Merle, Vitraille, Bigney, Crabutet Noir, and Medoc Noir.


* Mourvèdre has aromas of black fruits and licorice. * These grapes are used to make a full-bodied wines, such as the French Chateauneuf du Pape or Coteaux du Languedoc varieties. * Grown mainly in along the French and Spanish coasts on the Mediterrean Sea.


* With Nebbiolo wines, look for aromas of tar, roses and red cherries. * Traditionally an Italian red grape from the Piedmonte region, used in make Barbaresco and Barolo. * It is also found in California, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and South America.

Petite Sirah

* Petite Sirah wines have ripe black cherry and berry fruit aromas, and often vague black pepper flavor and lots of tannins. * Primarily grown in France and California, newer version are popping up from Argentina, Brazil and Mexico. * Also called Durif, Petit Sirah, Petite Syrah, or Petit Syrah

Petit Verdot

* Petit Verdot has aromas of black cherry and mint. * One of the traditional Bordeaux grapes, it is mainly used for blending. A good part of the French harvest is often lost to rain, so it is near extinction in the area. * Plantings of the grape are on the rise in California, and some wineries have even bottled wine with Petit Verdot as the main grape.

Pinot Noir

* Pinot Noir is known for aromas of cherry, black currant and anise. * The hardest grape to cultivate, Pinot Noir done correctly makes one of the best red wines. * Made famous in Burgundy, France, it is also a component in fine-quality Champagne and California sparkling wines. * This varietal is grown in France, Oregon, California, Italy and British Columbia.


* Pinotage is a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault varieties. * Earthy aromas mix with a hint of black fruits, which is also on the palate. * Traditionally grown in South Africa and surrounding areas, this grape can also be found in California, New Zealand, and British Columbia.


* Syrah's aromas are spicy with violets and raspberry. * This rich wine is known to be strong and complex in flavor. * More than half of the world's acreage of Syrah is planted in France, where it is the only grape used to make Côte Rotie and Hermitage. * It is also planted in Australia (known as Shiraz), California and South Africa.


* Zinfandels have aromas of red fruits and berries. * The main red grape varietal of California, where they make a red and rosé wine popular White Zinfandel.

International Resources

For this resource in your home country, please see: ! DE: Rotwein
ES: Vino tinto