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What Is Red Wine?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Red wine is a type of fermented beverage made from cultivars of Vitis vinifera, better known as the European grape. There are a wide range of beverages in the family of reds, ranging from hearty Zinfandels to earthy Merlots. The other main type of wine from grapes is white wine. “Red wine” is a huge category, encompassing a dizzying array of styles and flavors.

When red wine is made, the grapes are crushed whole and the skins are fermented along with the juice and body of the grapes. The skins are what give the wine its distinctive color; red wine grapes are red, deep purple, and sometimes even blue. Depending on the grape cultivar and how the wine is fermented, the wine can vary widely in color, and color is an important assessment tool used in the evaluation of wine.

White wine, by contrast, is made from pale grapes or grapes which are skinned before the fermentation process begins, and as a result it is pale in color rather than dark. White wines also have different flavor profiles than reds, which tend to be more tannic as a result of the included skins. These tannins can give reds a sharp flavor which is quite distinctive. The included skins also give wines some health benefits; grape skins and seeds contain antioxidants and a compound called resveratrol which is believed to be beneficial to human health.

Before you run out and buy several cases of wine as a “healthy investment,” be aware that wine has to be consumed in fairly large quantities for its benefits to be felt. Because large-scale alcohol consumption can cause some health problems, you would probably end up doing as much damage as you did good. Since the media is fond of trotting out stories about how red wine is good for consumers now and then, it can be useful to know that these stories are largely a load of bunkum.

Red wine tends to taste best when served in a large oval or egg shaped glass with a tapered top. It should ideally be poured in small amounts which allow drinkers to swirl and smell the wine in the glass before they consume it. The best serving temperature for reds varies, but it is generally between 60-65 degrees Fahrenheit (15-18 degrees Celsius). You may find that reds also taste better when they are allowed to breathe before serving.

Some well known examples of red wine includes Shiraz, Merlot, Zinfandel, Cabernet franc, Bordeaux, Grenache, Sangiovese, Malbec, and Pinot Noir. As you taste these varietals, you may want to look for common flavors like chocolate, earth, tobacco, fungus, and fruits which often appear in reds. You certainly do not need to be a wine snob to enjoy wine, and learning to distinguish flavors in wines can help you develop your own taste.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon275632 — On Jun 19, 2012

Red wine is much different from a white wine. First of all there are red wine grapes and white wine grapes, but sometimes you can use a white wine grape to make a red wine and vice versa. Some common red wine grapes are Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and Zinfandel. Red wine is made in a much different way than white wine. White wine only uses the juice of the grape nothing else. Red wine, on the other hand, uses the whole grape, from the juice to the skin and stems. The skins are what gives it its red color and tannins. Tannins are good for you and help against cardiovascular disease.

It's the skins of the grape that produce the tannins and that is why whites wine don't have any. Red wines tend to be a heavier wine also. Red wines are usually also aged longer to enhance flavors and aromas.

By anon15207 — On Jul 05, 2008

With Red wine is there a progression that should be followed, eg entree equals merlot, main equals shiraz, dessert equals Cabernet?

By somerset — On Mar 14, 2008

Resveratrol is know to increase the level of an enzyme that protects nerve cells from damage. The concentration of resveratrol in red wine seems to get a boost by the fermentation process.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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