While there are thousands of red grape varieties — many we will never even taste — there are five major reds that are present in many of the most popular wines.
Cabernet Sauvignon — This is the workhorse of the great red wines of the world. It’s grown almost everywhere and is the backbone of many of the premier wines on earth. It’s a thick-skinned grape that’s often described as a dark garnet purple and opaque in the glass.
Merlot — This is a grape that can stand very well on it’s own and is widely used as a blending grape to make other wines better. It’s thick-skinned though not as much as the Cabernet and tends to be softer than the Cabernet. The grape is a deep ruby color, and the predominate red grape of Pomorel and St. Emilion right bank of bordeaux.
Pinot Noir – This is a thin-skinned grape that is difficult to grow – and that’s being kind — but when done right is considered one of the greatest of fine-wine grapes. It’s what makes the red wines of Burgundy so distinctive and it’s that extra something that gives Champagne its specialness. Take a deep whiff of it: It’s aroma is compelling with the red fruits of strawberries, red cherries as well as a hint of minerals, soil and the earth.
Syrah/Shiraz — This is a versatile grape that can be a powerful wine from Australia and a very different version from the Rhone Valley in France. It does best in warmer weather and is an easy transplant in other parts of the world. In the Rhone Valley, it is most often used in a meritage.
Zinfandel — The zinfandel wine is a deep, inky red that looks almost black. It’s spicy and peppery – you can feel it tickle your nose – with dark berry or cherry undertones. It’s a Croatian grape that has been widely transplanted in California and tends to be very high in alcohol. In Italy, it’s called the Primitivo. Typically it’s considered very robust, but as a rose, it’s sweet and known as White Zinfandel.