Trying to choose the best red wine grapes in the world is an impossible task – but probably one you’ll have a lot of fun with. Red wine grapes come in such fruitful and fantastic varieties all around the world, that you will never stop being surprised about what they can produce.
So, put a group of wine experts in a room and ask them to pick the best red wine grapes, and that’s a discussion that will never end. From classic French grapes to American newcomers, the red wine grape is a diverse fruit.
With that in mind, this list covers 5 of the more popular grapes that produce a fantastic variety of wines. Understanding the grape can help you understand the wine, from the blends it can be used in to the dinners it pairs with.
Bear in mind, this is just the red wine grapes, and not the red wine itself. The 5 best red wines in the world is a question that can never be answered (although we all enjoy the discussion).
The illustrious Cabernet Sauvignon is a grape found across the world, producing wine from the exquisite to the average. Known as either Cabernet or just Cab, this is an incredibly popular grape.
Its true home is the Bordeaux region of France, where it’s made into elegant wines with a refined age.
However, producers of Cab to rival Bordeaux have appeared around the world, with some fantastic varieties being grown in California’s Napa Valley, or Coonawarra in Australia.
In the new world, Cabernet Sauvignon tends to be big and bold, with a powerful fruit finish matching the depth of the body.
The primary flavors of Cabernet Sauvignon wines are dark berries – think blackcurrant and blackberry. But this is a grape that tastes of where it’s grown. In France, expect to find more savory notes, with a smokey undertone.
In Australia, a pepper and spice quality can be tasted in the depths. Elsewhere, herbs and fruits find a different balance.
Cabernet Sauvignon produces wine of a deep red color, with a moderate acidity and a heavy body. The tannin structure is moderate to good, and you’ll often see Cab mixed with other grapes to reduce the tannins.
The rounded flavors of a Merlot makes this grape a popular starting place for those new to red wine. It’s considered to make easy drinking wines, with an earlier ripening that means it often produces inexpensive bottles.
Even first-timers can appreciate the heavy plum notes and slight hint of chocolate that sets a Merlot apart.
However, this is only part of the story of Merlot. This grape can produce some of the finest wines, with the silky texture and smooth finish adding to the luxury. A good Merlot ages in the bottle, gaining a complexity that can be missed on the first sip.
Merlot is another grape from the Bordeaux region, with the best varieties grown on the vines of Saint-Emilion or Pomerol. Outside France, California, Washington, and Northeastern Italy are all known for producing fantastic Merlot.
A cousin of Cabernet Sauvignon, the two are often blended together. The lighter tannins pair well with a richer Cab, and similar flavor profiles make for an easy blend.
One of the highlights of Merlot is how well it pairs with foods. A few bottles around the holidays can match almost anything you might be serving up.
To try a really spectacular wine, a Grand Cru Burgundy red made with Pinot Noir is the way to go. The Burgundy region in France is known for producing some of the best red wine in the world, with Pinot Noir being the primary grape.
A complex flavoring, with notes of strawberries, plums, and cherries, the popularity of Pinot Noir has led to it being grown across the world. Varieties from New Zealand, Oregon, and California can match the richness of a Burgundy Pinot Noir.
However, this is a notoriously fussy grape, which grows badly without the right conditions.
When you get it right, it’s easy to see why Pinot Noir has become so popular. The delicate finish and soft tannins create a wine that is elegant and enigmatic. For that reason, it’s very rarely blended.
Pinot Noir is also a grape with terroir – the flavors of the region it’s grown in. A slightly lighter color, Pinot Noir produces wine with a medium body and higher acidity. Pair with pork, and enjoy a glass on August 18th aka Pinot Noir day.
If Syrah seems a strange choice, then you may know this grape by another name – Shiraz. Syrah is the term often used when the grape is grown in the Old World, particularly in the Rhône Valley of Southern France.
In the New World, the name Shiraz is more commonly used. This is a truly international grape, with fantastic varieties coming from Australia and California.
Syrah is a grape that varies in flavor depending on where it’s grown. Old World Syrah is spicier, but New World Shiraz bursts with fruit. The common thread is a plum and blackcurrant depth, joined by a spicy finish and an unexpected meatiness.
Syrah tends to have a full body, with a medium to high tannin level. New World varieties can be a little lighter. This is a wine that pairs fantastic with heavy meats, and is a popular choice when eating steak.
Tempranillo is the red wine grape of Spain, most well known for being the base of Rioja. It can produce some incredibly distinctive tasting notes, such as vanilla and tobacco, which become clear as it ages in the barrel.
One of the top qualities of Tempranillo is that it produces wine that can age magnificently. A well-made Tempranillo can age for over twenty years, with the flavors becoming more intense every year.
While this grape doesn’t produce the deepest wines, it has a surprising complexity to the body. Even young varieties pair red fruit flavorings with subtler savory notes.
A high acidity level balanced by high tannins is what distinguishes the grape, and as it ages the flavors and finish grow bolder.
This Spanish grape might actually be more popular than first expected, as some vineyards thought to be growing a different grape were actually growing Tempranillo. Best known as a mixing grape, popularity as a standalone is increasing.
But That’s Just That Start
These five grapes produce wines of variety and quality – but there’s so much more out there. From the playful Zinfandel to the grip of a good Sangiovese, red wine grapes are excelling world over.
As well as the grape variety, the growing conditions can have a huge effect on the flavor and body of a red wine.
Pinot Noir grown in two different regions of Burgundy will have unique characteristics, and an Australian Shiraz can sometimes taste like a completely different grape to Old World Syrah.
The pleasure of red wine is in discovering these unique complexities. Finding the best red wine means considering everything from the original grape, to the growing conditions, to how you intend to drink it. The best news is that there’s always something new to try.