Our Complete Guide to Red Wine
Trying to choose between serving Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir? You'll be a stellar party hostess with our guide to red wine. Learn the basics about the five most popular types of red wine and the foods they pair well with (we give you recipe ideas), plus helpful tips including how to properly store and serve red wine.
From Merlot to Chianti, we tell you about the five most common types of red wine and the types of food they go well with. On the next page, we list some of our favorite recipes that pair nicely with each of these wines.
It's helpful to keep a simple journal of wines as you taste them to record brands you prefer and pairings that stood out.
Red Wine Type: Merlot
This common red wine is popular because of its middle-of-the-road character--soft, fruity, and mild. In Bordeaux, France, the native Merlot grape is usually used to blend into other red wines, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, but on its own it carries a smooth and earthy tone. It's a great wine for entertaining and can be enjoyed with a wide range of foods.
Good food pairings: pork, beef, turkey, burgers, and veggie dishes
Look for these labels: Clos Du Bois, Blackstone, Forest Glen (California), and Casa Lapostolle (Chile)
Red Wine Type: Cabernet Sauvignon
Black cherry, cassis, and cedar flavor this bold red wine that has a firm texture and plenty of tannins. The wine's smoothness and flavor concentration pairs well with hearty foods, such as grilled or broiled steak, beef tenderloin, and sausage dishes.
Good food pairings: beef tenderloin, prime rib, steaks, sausage dishes, plus full-flavored cheese and stews; lighter versions pair well with anything from burgers to burritos
Look for these labels: Beringer Knights Valley (California), Hogue (Washington), Chateau Graysac (Bordeaux, France), and Los Vascos (Chile)
Editor's Tip: Tannins, the compounds that come from oak barrels and the seeds, skins, and stems of grapes, can make a young wine taste dry and puckery. As wines age, the tannins smooth out and add to the wine's character.
Red Wine Type: Pinot Noir
From the Burgundy region of France, this crowd-pleasing red wine is perfect as a table wine because of its broad appeal. The silky texture and medium body make it versatile, and the juicy fruit and bright acidity complement fish (especially salmon), meat, poultry, and anything with mushrooms.
Good food pairings: salmon, tuna, various meat and poultry dishes
Look for these labels: Gallo of Sonoma (California), Cloudline (Oregon), and Stoneleigh (New Zealand)
Editor's Tip: Serve this refined wine in a large glass with a bulbous shape, which allows more flavor and aroma development.
Red Wine Type: Syrah/Shiraz
This uniquely flavored red wine, grown in both France (Syrah) and Australia (Shiraz), sports a blend of fruit and spice with a bit of a bite (think dark berries, pepper, and smoke). The flavors vary by price point, with the under $10 versions leaning toward a light and jammy flavor and higher priced versions featuring more body, concentration, and tannins.
Good food pairings: lamb, spice- or herb-crusted beef, stews, burgers, sausages, and anything cooked on a grill
Look for these labels: Fess Parker (California), Columbia (Washington), Penfolds (Australia), Red Bicyclette (France)
Red Wine Type: Chianti
The Tuscan Sangiovese grape makes this classic (and affordable) Italian red wine with a tart cherry flavor. Bottles labeled Chianti Classico contain wine from a specific region in the Chianti zone, and wine labeled Chianti Riserva has been aged longer than other varieties.
Good food pairings: pasta with red sauce, such as spaghetti or lasagna, and dishes with potent ingredients such as capers, garlic, olives, and lemon
Look for these labels: Cecchi, Monte Antico, and Antinorni Santa Cristina (Italy)
How to Serve Red Wine
Serve most red wines, including Cabernet Sauvignons and Merlots, slightly cooler than room temperature (about 60-65 degrees), and serve lighter reds, such as Pinot Noir, anywhere from 55-60 degrees. Chilling red wine briefly (10 minutes in an ice bucket or 30 minutes in the refrigerator) can help bring it to the temperatures listed above.
Next, see our favorite recipes to pair with red wine.
Based on the basic wine and food pairing suggestions from the first page, we've chosen three of our top recipes that pair well with each red wine. Whether you make these recipes for a special occasion, a party, or dinner tonight, you'll know the perfect red wine to complement your food.
Recipes to Try with Merlot:
Recipes to Try with Cabernet Sauvignon:
Recipes to Try with Pinot Noir:
Recipes to Try with Syrah/Shiraz:
Recipes to Try with Chianti:
Want more recipe and wine suggestions for a special occasion? See our favorite romantic food and wine pairings, below.
Choosing wines and cheeses from similar regions almost always guarantees a good complementary flavor match, but it's also fun to mix things up. We give you a good cheese pairing for five red wines so you can plan a wine and cheese tasting party in no time.
Editor's Tip: We recommend purchasing handcrafted artisan cheeses instead of mass-manufactured cheeses (if you don't have a gourmet cheese shop near you, artisan cheeses are sold online). To create a wide flavor palate, choose cheeses from each of the three sources of milk--cow, goat, and sheep.
This soft, fruity, and mild red wine goes best with Parmigiano-Reggiano, a hard cow's milk cheese that sports a nutty and tangy flavor.
Maytag Blue, a soft cow's milk cheese from Iowa that's crumbly and tangy, pairs well with this bold and tannin-heavy red wine.
Pair aged Gouda, a hard cow's milk cheese with nutty and caramel flavors from Holland, with this silky and bright red wine with an earthy edge.
This red wine's mix of fruit and spice will go nicely with aged cheddar, a firm, sharp, and crumbly cow's milk cheese from England or the United States.
Regional similarities between red wine and cheese make for great pairings. Try Parmigiano-Reggiano, a hard and nutty cow's milk cheese, with the tart cherry flavor of Chianti.