What Does Red Wine Taste Like?

Monday, May 18th, 2020
Woman drinking glass of red wine

So, you are new to wine and want to know what to expect from red wine. Is it sweet? Is it dry? Where should a beginner start? We will break it down for you.

Red Wine for Beginners

Let’s start with what makes red wine…well red. It’s the skin of the red grape. If you take the skin out early, the grapes will make white wine. If you take them out mid-process, they make rosé. The longer you leave the skin in, the deeper red it becomes. If you are starting your wine drinking journey with reds vs. whites, you probably want to start sweeter and work your way up to the drier full-bodied versions. Red wine generally should be consumed at room temperature. Some sweet versions are better chilled, however, so you need to know what you are working with. Red wines are most often consumed with a hearty entrée, though some pair excellently with chocolate. As a general rule of thumb, think red wines with red meats and red sauces. There are many red wine blends out there, but as a beginners guide, we are just focusing on the most accessible single varietals.

Sweet Red Wines

Red wines are not known for being sweet, so there is a shortlist of sweet reds that aren’t a blend. Sweet reds have become more popular in recent years for health benefits. More are now available on the market and are usually made from a combination of grapes, with some version of the Muscat grape giving them the sweetness.


Lambrusco was THE sweet red wine on the market for years. It’s fizzy and often best served chilled. The sweetest version is labeled dolce (sweet in Italian). Lambrusco wines range in color from pale ruby to dark purple with aromas of blueberry, cherry sauce, violet, and red currant. Most Lambrusco wines have light alcohol content.


Ports are fortified wines, which means that another alcohol, typically Brandy, has been added. Generally, they come out of Portugal. Expect aromas of blackberry, raspberry sauce, licorice, cocoa, juniper berry, and anise with mineral notes. Wines taste sweet but have ample tannin to balance this sweetness. The alcohol content is substantially higher in Ports. They are excellent with chocolate and cheese. They can be sipped as an aperitif with an assortment of cheeses, or as an after-dinner drink when paired with a chocolate dessert.

Light-Bodied Red Wines

Lightweight and refreshing, these are your “gateway reds” — perfect for white wine drinkers looking to cross the bridge over to Team Rouge. Light-bodied reds can be drunk alone, but also pair really well with food thanks to their lower tannins.

Pinot Noir

This light, dry red has high acidity and big aromatics. The grape is grown everywhere and expresses itself a bit differently depending on where it originated. A typical flavor profile, however, is red-fruit-forward with earthy and herby notes. Think PN with salmon, duck, casseroles, and beef stew. It is an easy red to drink, so sipping on it anytime is considered appropriate.


Beaujolais reds are made with the Gamay grape and share a name with the region of France they come from. These young wines (recently bottled) are staples at Thanksgiving feasts, since their red berry flavors and high acidity pair flawlessly with turkey, gravy, squash, cranberry sauce, etc. Feel free to enjoy Beaujolais all year long with any roasted white meat dish or cheese board.

Medium-Bodied Red Wines

Not too light, not too bold, they’re just right. Medium-bodied reds showcase a little bit more tannins than lighter wines but still don’t hit you over the head with a complex structure or intense flavor.


Merlot tastes like cherries and chocolate. It has soft tannins, so it doesn’t leave your mouth feeling dry. Much like Pinot Noir, Merlot is an easy-drinking, versatile red that goes well with almost any food, even a pizza, spaghetti, or cheeseburger!

Red Zinfandel

Red Zin is renowned for its jammy, candied fruit flavors, and spicy tobacco finish. With mid-range tannins and high acidity (plus high alcohol content), it’s bold without being heavy. Partner it with a sweet-’n-savory dish like curry or tangy BBQ ribs.

Full-Bodied Red Wines

Full-bodied reds have the highest tannins (and often, highest alcohol content), creating a feeling of weight and dryness on the palette. Wines like these are best for pairing with rich, substantial foods because they’re bold enough to hold their own while still letting their flavors shine through.

Cabernet Sauvignon

Cab is the red wine king. The typical taste profile of Cabernet Sauvignon is high acidity, high tannin, and medium to full body with notes of black cherry, green pepper, and spice of vanilla from oak aging. It’s grown and enjoyed all over the world and the first-choice wine to accompany a steak dinner. Cab’s big body, bold flavors, and mile-long finish can match meat and marinade like none other.


In the past 10 to 15 years, Argentina’s pride and joy has made a name for itself in America as the go-to, crowd-favorite red that loves food. Malbec is a dark-fruit-forward wine with a little spicy finish (kind of like a fuller, rough-around-the-edges Merlot). Serve it with beef empanadas and friends will come flocking.


Syrah from France/Shiraz from Australia provides a powerful fruit-and-spice blast to the mouth, with high tannins that help it age well. With food, Shiraz has the body to stand up to intense flavors — from a fatty blue cheeseburger to saucy BBQed ribs. Added perk: Syrah/Shiraz boasts one of the highest levels of antioxidants. (Yay for healthy drinking!)

How to Experience Wine

We have only touched on the most common red wines. You will run into many others. The best way to experience wine is to order a glass, breath in the aroma then take a sip—do not gulp. Explore what it tastes like and the way it makes your tongue feel. Every wine will have a different effect. Make sure you make note of the wines you try and the ones you really like so you can find them again. Not every bottle of the same kind of wine will taste the same—some are wildly different. If you have the opportunity to do a wine tasting, do it. It will really help you to understand the flavors and find the types of wines that best suit your palate.


Heart of the Desert is a working pistachio ranch and vineyard with four retail establishments in New Mexico. They are best known for their farm-fresh pistachios and Award-Winning New Mexico wines. Each store offers wine and pistachio tastings. They offer worldwide shipping and produce attractive gourmet baskets that make great corporate and family gifts. The main store, on the ranch in Alamogordo, offers farm tours that showcase how pistachios are grown and processed as well as a stunning Tuscany themed patio that overlooks the groves and is available for weddings, private parties or enjoying a relaxing glass of wine.