An Introduction to Red Wines

An Introduction to Red Wines

When you walk into a restaurant and look at the wine list, you will usually find the wines grouped into two main categories: red and white.  Red wine is obviously named for its color.  Red wines are red; white wines are white or close to it.  Red wines may range in color from almost black to a maroon color with a trace of violet to a true red.  What gives red wines their distinctive hues?  The colors are derived from the grape varietals which are used.  As wines age, their colors may transform.  Aging can deepen the complexity of the flavor palate for a bottle of wine—thus the term “well aged” when referring to wines.

The interior of the grapes are of course clear (you probably know this from eating red grapes yourself).  It is the skins which hold the color, and the skins which are responsible for the colors of red wines.  The skins are used during the fermentation process in order to provide tannins and color (tannins are polyphenols which give wine its “dryness”).  Based on the types of grape varietals which are used, there are roughly 50 varietals of red wine.  Sweet red wines do exist, but they are relatively uncommon.  The vast majority of red wines are dry.  In other words, they have a low sugar content, so the tannins produce the main effect.

What are some common types of red wine?

  • Cabernet Sauvignon

  • Merlot

  • Cabernat Franc

  • Zinvandel

  • Chianti

  • Pinot Noir

  • Bordeaux


These are just the most common and well-known types of red wine.  There are many, many more besides.

Red wines may be classified as light, medium, or full-bodied.  Sometimes full-bodied wines are also referred to as “heavy” wines.  This description refers to the consistency of the liquid and how thick or watery it is when you drink it.  A light wine is more watery, while a heavy wine is thicker.  Generally speaking, heavier wines contain more alcohol and tannins.  Full-bodied wines are rich and leave a lingering aftertaste.


While alcohol is not good for you, red wine does contain significant nutritional value, and therefore is not entirely bad for you.  Red wines retain nutritional compounds from the grapes used in their fermentation.  Resveratrol is a special antioxidant contained inside of red grapes which has the power to combat free radicals, boosting the health of your immune system, skin, and other body systems.  Most famously, resveratrol is associated with cardiovascular health.  Doctors often recommend that patients suffering from heart problems partake in red wine.  Furthermore, the compound can boost enzyme levels in the brain which may prevent Alzheimer’s.  Resveratrol can decrease blood sugar levels, and may help with diabetes.

To fully enjoy red wine, you will want to invest in some proper wine glasses which allow you to swirl without spilling (red wines can seriously stain garments and tablecloths), and also learn about food pairings.  It may be intimidating at first to think about learning all those dozens of varietals, but even just a basic understanding of common types of red wines and how to pair them with food can really boost your enjoyment of wine.

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