The world of red wine is rich with hundreds of grape varietals and thousands of blended bottles. You could spend days studying one region alone and student sommeliers often take three or more years to become certified.
Luckily for most wine drinkers, there’s no need to memorize an endless list of wine facts. If you’d like to form a solid foundation of wine knowledge, all you have to do is read about just the five most popular varietals.
1) Cabernet Sauvignon
Cabernet Sauvignon is the most widely-cultivated red wine grape in the world.
Profile: Cabs are medium- to full-bodied, meaning the texture feels a bit heavy, but not syrupy.
Cabernets present a dark berry flavor such as black cherry, blackberry, and black currant.
- Northern California, USA
- Burgundy, France
- Central Otago, New Zealand
Recommended Food Pairings: We recommend you pair your Cab with a rich, flavorful dinner. Consider a meal that highlights a fish or meat protein such as:
- Steak and Russet Potatoes
- Fettuccine Alfredo with Chicken
- Baked Salmon over White Rice
Fun Fact: Cabs have an incredibly long shelf life. In fact, wine aficionados often recommend wine drinkers wait a decade or two before uncorking a top-shelf Cabernet.
As Cabernet Sauvignon’s less-expensive, dark-berry-flavored cousin, Merlot is a popular runner-up for the title of Most Popular Red Wine.
Profile: Not too thick, not too thin; Merlot is a medium-bodied wine, perfect for wine drinkers that prefer a balanced sip.
Merlot takes on different flavors depending on where it’s grown. In warmer growing regions, Merlot tastes fruity and creamy; think plum, black cherry, and vanilla. In colder regions, Merlot tastes more bitter, with notes of blueberry, dark chocolate, and coffee.
- Bordeaux, France
- Tuscany, Italy
- Apalta, Chile
Recommended Food Pairings: Much like Cabernet, Merlot pairs well with meaty, roasted dishes. Unlike Cabs, Merlot can also goes well with sweets and dessert.
- Irish Shepherd’s Pie
- Dark or Milk Chocolate
- Roasted Broccoli, Asparagus, and Brussels Sprouts
Fun Fact: Merlot grapes are the second-most grown red wine grape in the world, just behind Cabernet Sauvignon.
3) Pinot Noir
Pinot Noir is the king of light-bodied red wines, offering a lighter, fruitier alternative for red wine drinkers who prefer a more subtle flavor profile.
Profile: Light-bodied, Pinot Noir is smooth, easy to drink, and mellow in flavor.
Pinot Noir has two flavor profiles: red fruit and earthy umami. On the fruit side, Pinot Noir tastes a bit tart, tasting like raspberries, cranberries, and cherries. On the earthy end, Pinot Noir tastes like mushrooms, cloves, and licorice.
- California, United States
- Burgundy, France
- Ahr Valley, Germany
Recommended Food Pairings: Owing to its fruity-and-earthy combo, Pinot Noir can pair well with meats, mushrooms, and nutty cheeses.
- Grilled Cheeseburgers
- Gruyere Cheese
- Grilled Portobello Mushrooms
Fun Fact: Due to its thin skin and preference for a colder growing region, Pinot Noir grapes are the most highly-priced varietal in the world.
Heavy, near-sweet, and oak-aged, Malbecs pack a powerful, fruit-flavored punch.
Profile: Malbecs are full-bodied wines, meaning that in every sip, the flavors arrive at the tastebuds loudly and recede slowly.
Malbecs balance the sour-sweet of blueberry and plum with the bitter notes of cocoa and tobacco. Wine drinkers often describe a chocolate vanilla finish, reminiscent of a half-moon cookie.
- Mendoza, Argentina
- Catamarca, Argentina
- Colchagua Valleys, Chile
Recommended Food Pairings: Malbecs pair best with dark meat and pungent cheese.
- Dark-Meat Turkey
- Blue Cheese
Fun Fact: Argentinian winemakers saved the Malbec grape, transforming it from a once thrown-away varietal in South France to the fourth most popular red wine in the United States.
Syrah to some, Shiraz to Aussies (where it’s the most-planted grape in the country), this rich varietal is Malbec’s more peppery counterpart.
Profile: Syrahs have a similar build to Malbecs: full-bodied texture, in-your-face flavors, and semi-sweet taste.
That said, Syrahs present a spicier flavor combination than Malbecs. Blueberries and black plums form the fruit notes of a Malbec, while sharp pepper and unsweet tobacco color the Malbec’s spicy aftertaste.
- Côtes du Rhône, France
- California, United States
- Barossa Valley, Australia
Recommended Food Pairings: Syrah pairs best with foods that complement its spicy finish, such as lamb and bland cheeses.
- Lamb Gyros
- Shepherd’s Pie
- Smoked Gouda
Fun Fact: Syrah is a popular grape for a blended wine, playing well with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and even some white grapes.
Find Your Personal Favorite
These red wines might be the most popular on the market, but now we want to know: which red wine is your personal choice? Do you have a favorite ready to go or are you still searching for the right red?
No matter where you’re at in your red wine journey, a wine club can get you where you want to be. Wine clubs ship delicious varietals to your home as often as you like, making it easy to taste-test new grapes or store multiples of your favorite. To find the most popular wine clubs on the market, check out our list below.