Wine Essentials

11 Types of Dry Red Wine to Know and Love 

Discover the most important types of dry red wine from around the world, including their flavor profiles and blends. 

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Types of Dry Red Wine

Red wine types vary greatly, from light-bodied, drinkable bottles that can be chilled and then sipped as an aperitif to full-bodied pours that accompany a classic meat course to fortified dessert wines that are viscous, sweet, and one would never describe as dry. 

Dry simply refers to the sweetness of a wine, whether that’s natural — residual sugar that remains after fermentation — or added sugars. The latter is done as a winemaking technique to balance acid. A dry red wine, therefore, isn’t sweet. Discover the most important types of dry red wine here. If you’re hosting a dinner party and want to offer white wines as well, read our selection of the best dry white wines.

The Main Types of Dry Red Wine

What Is Dry Red Wine?

Often, recipes call for dry red wines for cooking (if you don’t finish the bottle, here’s how to store opened wine properly), or certain menu items call for dry red wine as a pairing. But as someone unversed in the wine world, the term “dry” is easily misunderstood.

Dry red wines are any wines with low residual sugar; though there’s no regulation in the U.S. In the European Union, the sugar content of a dry wine is marked between one to eight grams per liter (a very minute amount). To put that into perspective, a very sweet wine can have up to 120 grams of sugar per liter. A majority of the red wines you already know and likely adore are dry. Including Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Malbec, and Tempranillo. 

Though some of these grape varieties are used in blends, many of them also produce wines from a single grape variety — which is called a single-varietal wine — where dry isn’t their only defining characteristic. Read on to learn more about these red wine types.

The Best Dry Red Wines

Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Sauvignon | Types of Dry Red Wine

A native French grape, Cabernet Sauvignon has grown to be the most popular type of dry red wine in the world. The titled single-varietal wine of Cabernet Sauvignon (or Cab for short) is full-bodied and highly tannic with robust black fruit like black cherries, blackberries, and black plums. Popular regions for growing Cabernet Sauvignon include the Left Bank of Bordeaux, Napa Valley, Tuscany for Super Tuscan wines, the Colchagua Valley in Chile, Stellenbosch in South Africa, as well as the pockets of moderate climates in Australia and New Zealand. Depending on where it is grown, Cabernet Sauvignon will be blended with Merlot to add red fruit. As well as soften the tannins and high acidity. 

Merlot

Merlot | Types of Dry Red Wine

Merlot is another French grape native to Bordeaux where it is commonly used in blends to soften wines with higher tannins, like Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc. It is also used to create varietal wines that are eponymous to the grape. In this case, 100% Merlot wines offer a generally medium body packed with ripe red fruit like strawberries and notes of green bell pepper (herbaceous). Merlot grapes grown in a warmer climate (like Napa Valley or South Africa) can produce a fuller-bodied wine marked by stewed black fruit.

Pinot Noir 

Pinot Noir | Types of Dry Red Wine

This thin-skinned black grape produces a beautiful dry red wine of the same name. Pinot Noir is classically low in tannins but high in acidity. Which makes for a beautifully balanced sip with or without food. The fruit characteristics of Pinot Noir are typically ripe and red (raspberry, red cherry). But if the Pinot Noir grapes are riper from warmer climates, it can take on more jammy flavors. Outside of France’s Burgundy region, Pinot Noir is popular in Sonoma County, California, Oregon’s Willamette Valley, and throughout New Zealand. In Germany, Austria, and Italy, Pinot Noir is labeled as Spätburgunder, Blauburgunder, and Pinot Nero, respectively. Though Pinot Noir is typically a single-varietal wine, the grape is one of the main varieties used in Champagne (bringing body and structure to the sparkling wine) alongside Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier.

Cabernet Franc

Cabernet Franc

Another Bordeaux variety, this medium-bodied red wine from the Cabernet Franc grape is as versatile as its French counterparts. As a single-varietal, Cabernet Franc is bold with high tannins and high acidity. With red fruit punctured by peppery notes (a very distinguishing characteristic of the wine). Yet, since it’s a lighter wine than Cabernet Sauvignon, it is often blended to create a more balanced palate (it softens tannins but brings structure to the wine with its acidity). Cabernet Franc can also be blended into Super Tuscans in Italy (featuring a majority of Sangiovese, but more on that below) and is popular as a single-varietal in Chile and Napa Valley.

Syrah/Shiraz 

Syrah/Shiraz 

In most wine regions around the world, Syrah is a dry red wine referred to by the name of its native French grape. If you’re in Australia and some areas in South Africa, the variety is referred to as Shiraz. Either way, Syrah/Shiraz is the same grape that produces a black-fruit forward wine with a unique note of black pepper that’s frequently described as “spicy.” This spice, combined with its full body, high tannins, and high acidity, creates an intense single-varietal red wine. Syrah is also used to add color and tannins to red blends. Especially in southern France’s Rhône Valley, where it’s part of the renowned Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre (GSM) blend. This is a vibrant and juicy wine that’s balanced by herbaceous notes (pepper from Syrah) and an elegant, medium body. One of the most notable appellations of GSM blends is Châteauneuf-du-Pape. 

Malbec

Malbec Types of Dry Red Wine

Despite originating in France, today, the black grape of Malbec is most synonymous with Argentina. In fact, it’s so important to the South American country’s wine scene that Malbec is classified as Argentina’s signature grape. The wine of the same name is full-bodied, highly tannic, and presents special notes of leather, tobacco, molasses, and coffee among its profile of ripe, dark fruit, such as red plums and black cherry.

Sangiovese

Sangiovese Types of Dry Red Wine

Sangiovese is one of the most important black grape varieties in Italy, especially in the central regions like Tuscany. Though Sangiovese can produce a single-varietal wine (100% Sangiovese), it’s typically blended with small amounts of other regional red grapes due to its high acidity. It’s most commonly used in Tuscany’s famed Chianti wine. Where it’s regulated that the base comprises 70% of Sangiovese for Chianti and 80% of Sangiovese for Chianti Classico. The remaining 30% and 20%, respectively, are typically a blend of three to five other grapes to result in a light-bodied red wine with medium tannins and tarter more savory tasting notes like cherries and eucalyptus. 

Tempranillo 

Tempranillo bottle

Just as Malbec is significant to Argentina and Sangiovese to Italy, Tempranillo is the most important black grape for Spain. The Tempranillo grape can produce a single-varietal wine of the same name (which is increasingly popular on the West Coast of the U.S.). But the grape is most famed for its production in Rioja wines and, after that, Ribera del Duero. The wines of Rioja are classified into three categories based on the duration of the wine’s aging — Crianza, Reserva, and Gran Reserva — which impact the style of the wine greatly.

A Crianza Rioja ages the least amount of time in barrel and bottle for a primarily fruity wine. With some subtle notes imparted by the oak, like vanilla or cedar. Reserva wines present softer tannins alongside stewed fruits for a more layered wine. In Gran Reserva wines, it’s all about dried fruit on the palate alongside aromas like mushroom and wet earth imparted by its five-year aging period (two in oak barrels, three in the bottle).

Zinfandel 

Zinfandel bottle

This thin-skinned black grape flourishes in a warm climate like the Napa Valley and the south of Italy, where it’s called Primitivo. The former produces a full-bodied, single-varietal Zinfandel wine with blue and black fruit on the palate, ranging from overripe blackberries to dried raisins or prunes. The wine can be extremely tannic and high in acidity. So it often spends a long time aging in oak barrels. Here, it picks up notes of dark chocolate and coffee. In Italy, specifically the southern parts like Puglia, Zinfandel (or Primitivo) is still bold. But can often showcase distinguishing notes of dark cherry, anise, and an earthen savory quality.

Barolo 

Barolo bottle

In Italy’s northern Piedmont region, Barolo wine reigns supreme. Produced from the Nebbiolo grape, the wines are full-bodied, high in acid and tannin. But are balanced by juicy red fruit that makes them drinkable upon release, yet simultaneously offers a lengthy aging potential. Oftentimes, Barolo wines feature floral notes, most typically rose petals, that add to the complex character of this single-varietal wine. The Nebbiolo grape is the only grape variety allowed in wines from the appellation of Barolo. 

Grenache 

Grenache

The nominative wine produced from the Grenache grape is most typically used in blends from its native of Spain (where it’s called Grenacha) to France’s Rhône Valley. By itself, the wine is fruity and low in both tannins and acidity. This is what makes it so complementary in a red blend like Châteauneuf-du-Pape, a Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre (GSM) blend. In Spain, Garnacha adds freshness to Rioja wines when blended with Tempranillo. 

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