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When it comes to red wine, there are a variety of classic grapes to choose from, including cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir. However, the style of each classic red varies greatly from maker to maker.
Take pinot noir, for instance: a hard grape to cultivate because of its delicate skin and difficulty ripening in areas that lack sufficient sunshine. The style of pinot from California is typically ripe, powerful and fruit-forward. The same grape grown in the various Burgundy villages of France returns a much different style: wavering in degrees of ripeness, with some more fruit-forward than others, but remarkably earthy and imbued with ample acidity and firm, taut tannins.
Taking all of the red wine grape varieties into consideration, here are some of the best red wines from around the globe—so get that corkscrew ready.
Best Overall: Louis Latour Château Corton Grancey
Region: Côte de Beaune, Burgundy, France | ABV: 14% | Tasting Notes: Red currants, Blood orange, Dried raspberries, Baking spice
One of the top names in all of Burgundy is Louis Latour, and one of the most unique wines it produces is this Château Corton Grancey—a blend of four Grand Cru vineyards (Bressandes, Perrières, Grèves and Clos du Roi).
Delivering profound notes of black and red currants, blackberry fruit, blood orange citrus, and dried raspberries underscored by baking spices and dried red florals, this pinot noir is also a textural masterpiece with mouthwatering acidity and grippy cedar-like tannins.
Good to Know:
When it comes to red wine, balance is a non-negotiable for Alexandra Neverov, sommelier at Topping Rose House in Bridgehampton, New York. “For me, there has to be this unspoken equilibrium in a great red wine, from tannins to alcohol to acid and fruit balance,” she says. Neverov also goes for reds with pronounced aromatics. “If I find myself entranced, then I feel that wine can be truly enchanting.”
Best California Red: Charles Krug Cabernet Sauvignon 2017
Region: Napa Valley, California | ABV: 14.1% | Tasting Notes: Blackberry, Brown spices, Vanilla bean
Today, thanks to co-owner Peter Mondavi Jr.'s leadership, Charles Krug winery is a pillar of Napa Valley. With longtime winemaker Stacy Clark at the helm, the wines are utterly delightful, classically structured and decidedly age-worthy.
Sourced from five estate sites in Yountville, this 2017 vintage has an incredibly modest price and impeccable pedigree. Wonderfully rich blackberry fruits mingle with brown spices, tobacco and vanilla bean. The cabernet sauvignon is full-bodied with black cherry, blackberry compote and black currants—all supported by lovely fine-grained tannins.
“I try to find off-the-beaten-path producers who inspire me with a story and passion. ... Of course, one shouldn’t ignore the classics; however, there are too many great wines in this world to stop exploring past the point of comfort.” — Alexandra Neverov, Sommelier, Topping Rose House
Best Organic: Larkmead 2016 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
Region: Napa Valley, California | ABV: 14.7% | Tasting Notes: Dark fruit, Tobacco, Fresh-turned earth, Dark chocolate
This winery, under the watch of winemaker Dan Petroski, doesn't just focus on making world-class wine. Petroski helps shed light on the necessary work for studying climate change, and in 2015, Larkmead converted to organic farming practices.
Cabernet collectors should stockpile wines from the 2016 vintage, which are high in naturally vibrant acidity due to a moderate growing season. Hallmark signifiers are deep, dark fruit and a distinct freshness, all of which the 2016 Larkmead has in spades. Adding to that are incredibly alluring brown spices, fresh-turned earth and tobacco wrapped in dark chocolate, with mouthwatering purple violet notes and firm, dusty tannins.
This is a wine to contemplate over many hours—and, ideally, over the next decade, with a bottle or two every year.
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Best Pinot Noir: Frank Family Vineyards Carneros Pinot Noir 2018
Region: Carneros, California | ABV: 14.5% | Tasting Notes: Red cherries, Bramble, Brown spices
Proprietor Rich Frank, a former Disney executive, bought his eponymous winery in 1992 and released his first wine a year later.
This 2018 release is a full-bodied pinot noir with lively red fruits, deep concentration, firm acidity and sturdy tannins, which will help it develop over a few decades in a cool, dark cellar.
Good to Know:
In May 2018, a vertical tasting with Todd Graff, the winemaker at Frank Family, confirmed that its pinot noirs stand the test of time. The oldest presented was a 1999 pinot, which was alive, fresh and complex.
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Best New Zealand Red: Felton Road Pinot Noir Calvert 2018
Region: Central Otago, New Zealand | ABV: 13.5% | Tasting Notes: Red berries, Dried cherries, Mocha
With its cool, wine-growing regions, New Zealand is home to some of the world's best pinot noirs. Absolutely breathtaking, deep, dark-fruited, fresh and lively wines are being made in places like Central Otago. And in the heart of this region lies Felton Road, maker of some complex pinots.
Their Calvert Vineyard rendition takes its charm from the Bannockburn soils, which are essentially lake-bed silty loam, gravel and schist. These soils do hold a bit of water, and at lower elevations, help grapes ripen evenly and fully. Coupled with biodynamic farming, the result is a deeply creamy wine with fleshy red berry flavors, dried cherries, subtly dusty tannins and a mocha-tinged finish. It's all supported by juicy and racy acidity.
Good to Know:
Zwann Grays, wine director at Brooklyn-based Olmsted and Maison Yaki, cites winemakers with bad reputations, as well as bad vineyard practices and undesirable labor conditions, as some of her non-negotiables when seeking out great red wines. “Beyond that, a red wine must first smell good and be pleasing to my nose,” she says, also advising to stay away from reds that are overly oaked. “It can't be a dead wet blanket just laying in my mouth!”
Best Australian Red: Penfolds 2017 Bin 389 South Australia Cabernet Shiraz
Region: South Australia, Australia | ABV: 14.5% | Tasting Notes: Black cherries, Cassis, New leather, Fruit cake
Penfolds, unquestionably the greatest winemaking estate in Australia, is best known for its iconic wine, Penfolds Grange. Chief winemaker Peter Gago made it his mission to produce well-structured wines with deep flavors and, as he puts it, “a propensity to age.”
While Grange is primarily shiraz, with a splash of cabernet sauvignon sourced from specific sites in South Australia, Penfolds' Bin 389 combines 54% cabernet sauvignon with 46% shiraz and is often referred to as Baby Grange. Plus, this wine comes at a more approachable price tag than the Grange.
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Best Argentinian Red: Achaval-Ferrer Quimera 2014
Region: Mendoza, Argentina | ABV: 14.5% | Tasting Notes: Cherry compote, Salty dark chocolate, Cedar spice
Achaval-Ferrer's Quimera blend is a wine of remarkable precision: Co-founder Santiago Achaval, one of the most respected winemakers in Argentina, and winemaker Roberto Cipresso comb the vineyards, tasting grapes and hand-selecting vines specifically for this blend. In 2014, they conceived a dynamic and complex blend of 50% malbec, 24% cabernet franc, 18% merlot and 8% cabernet sauvignon.
Loaded with blackberry fruits and marvelous spices, this wine is intensely concentrated with layers of black cherry compote, salted dark chocolate and cedar spices weaving in and out of vanilla and clove. There’s a palate-coating richness that builds to a serious 60-second finish, with rose petal and dried herb flourishes.
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Best Spanish Red: Vega Sicilia Único 2009
Region: Ribera del Duero, Spain | ABV: 14% | Tasting Notes: Spiced plums, Forest underbrush, Cigar box
If Spain classified its wineries as they do in Bordeaux, with "first growths” dominating the pyramid of wineries ranked from first to fifth, Vega Sicilia would be at the top. This winery is owned by the Chaves family and is located in Ribera del Duero.
A decade in the making, this 2009 vintage is a blend of 94% tempranillo with 6% cabernet sauvignon, aged six years in oak prior to bottling, remaining another four years in the bottle before being released. Beautiful ripe flavors fill the mouth, redolent of red cherries and spiced plums, while the palate reveals a fresh yet elegant wine wavering between deep forest underbrush, cigar box and muddled blueberries. A special (and expensive) wine, this should really be enjoyed on a special occasion.
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Best Value Bordeaux: Barons de Rothschild Legende Bordeaux Rouge 2016
Region: Bordeaux, France | ABV: 12.5% | Tasting Notes: Berry compote, Earth, Sweet oak spice
Perhaps the greatest new Bordeaux release in decades, Légende wines come from the exceptional Bordeaux house of Domaines Barons de Rothschild (owners of First Growth Lafite). Truly value-driven, these wines represent the expression of Bordeaux’s notable appellations, from Médoc to Saint-Émilion to Pauillac.
This Bordeaux Rouge is packed with red berry fruit, warm wild berry compote, vanilla, earth and sweet oak spices. Best of all, this wine falls just under $20.
Good to Know:
Sylvester Inda, wine manager at CoolVines Powerhouse in New Jersey, recommends seeking out producers that you already know and love when seeking out a new and delicious red wine to try. “If a bottle is made from a winemaker that I recognize, and I know their work in past vintages or different grape varieties, then that’s a great place to start for picking quality red wine,” he says.
Best Value French: Chêne Bleu Abélard 2011
Region: Rhône Valley | ABV: 14.5% | Tasting Notes: Black cherry, Red licorice, Earth, Warm cinnamon
From an ancient property at the cornerstone of four appellations in France’s Southern Rhône, near the town of Gigondas and situated in Mont Ventoux, comes this absolute marvel of a wine. Owners Nicole and Xavier Rolet are incapable of making a bad wine, and incredibly, they've taken the extraordinary step of aging their wine for a generous amount of time prior to release. The vintage they currently have on the market is the 2012, but it’s terribly hard to find. Luckily, the 2011 is up for grabs: A decade-aged Rhône red consisting mostly of grenache, it is a testament to the efforts of these renegade vintners.
Wild red berry fruit, blackberry jam, French vanilla bean and garrigue layered with cigar box spices. Silky soft, elongated tannins support a panoply of flavors, from warm cinnamon and brown sugar spices to curry powder-dusted red berry fruit, with generous dollops of black cherry and red licorice. It finishes with grippy acidity and vivid earthy notes.
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Best Under $20: Prats & Symington Prazo de Roriz 2016
Region: Douro, Portugal | ABV: 13.8% | Tasting Notes: Cranberry, Raspberry, Blood Orange, Cedar
Also owned by the Symington family, Quinta de Roriz first produced port two centuries ago, and today, the estate encompasses some 222 acres. Furthermore, half of it is planted to Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca vines—Portugal’s widely planted and most popular red table wine grapes.
This 2016 Prazo de Roriz is a remarkably complex red wine for the price, showing gorgeous medium to deep ruby hues in the glass. Bright, wild berry aromas and fine French cedar spices join cranberry and raspberry, with a touch of blood orange and baking spices on the palate, supported by firm tannins.
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Best Chillable Red: Domaine Chapel Charbonnières Fleurie
Region: Fleurie, Beaujolais, France | ABV: 13% | Tasting Notes: Dried cherries, Potting soil, Pepper
After a chance meeting at the legendary Domaine Lapierre in Beaujolais, Michele Smith and David Chapel fell in love, relocated from New York and established their eponymous estate back in 2015.
Today, the duo is making some of the region’s most exciting and easy-drinking wines, including this stunning cuvée from Fleurie. High-toned flavors of raspberries, dried cherries, potting soil, pepper and fresh-cut herbs lead to a thirst-quenching finish.
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Best Italian: Girolamo Russo A Rina Etna Rosso
Region: Etna, Sicily, Italy | ABV: 13.5% ABV | Tasting Notes: Red berries, Ash, Black pepper, Clove
Love Italian reds from Piedmont, Tuscany, and beyond? If you’ve never dove into the world of earthy Sicilian reds, specifically from Etna, we can’t recommend them enough.
These earthy, soil-driven wines come from the ash-laden volcanic soils of the region, which impart an undeniable mineral quality to the juice. This mouthwatering expression oozes with flavors of red berries, smoky ash, black pepper and clove.
“I love a good Nerello Mascalese from Sicily. There’s something about that volcanic rusticity and high-toned cherry notes that strike a chord with me. ... If the red wine is mostly mass produced, then it’s a no-no for me.” — Sylvester Inda, Wine Manager, CoolVines Powerhouse
Best Chilean: J. Bouchon País Salvaje
Region: Central Valley, Chile | ABV: 12.5% | Tasting Notes: Red fruits, Cherry, Wild Strawberry, Floral
Never heard of País before? If you love earthy, medium-bodied reds with tons of acid, then this historic grape needs to be on your radar.
Produced from organically farmed vineyards in the heart of Chile’s Central Valley, this flavor-packed wine jumps with notes of wild strawberries, red flower petals and wild herbs. For a crowd-pleasing red that promises to satisfy the masses, look no further than this tasty, budget-friendly option.
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Best Oregon: Cooper Mountain Pinot Noir
Region: Willamette Valley, Oregon | ABV: 13.5% | Tasting Notes: Black cherries, Dried roses, Earth
Founded in the early 1990s by Bob Gross, Cooper Mountain Vineyards always had its sights set on organic, biodynamic and sustainable farming, from “earth to air,” as the estate itself claims.
The winery became organic/biodynamic-certified more than 20 years ago and has been a pioneering force for responsible farming in Oregon. Now joined by Gross' daughter, Barbara Gross, Cooper Mountain’s pinots are reaching new heights. This delicious expression oozes with flavors of black cherries, cranberries, dried rose petals and damp earth.
"I had a moment where I was hating red wine altogether and realized that I really liked light- to medium-bodied reds that provide wonderful aromatics and depth. [Oregon] had been delivering.” — Zwann Grays, Wine Director, Olmsted and Maison Yaki
When looking for a great red wine, seeking out high-quality juice is key. Look for wines made from responsibly farmed fruit, as well as authenticity-driven producers.
For those who enjoy lighter-bodied reds lower in tannins, look for a lower-ABV pinot noir, Gamay or similar varieties. For wine that packs a bigger punch, dive deeper into the world of cabernet sauvignon, syrah and other heftier grape varieties, preferably from warmer-climate regions (think Napa Valley, Portugal’s Douro Valley, the south of France and beyond).
How long does red wine last once opened?
Lighter-bodied, lower-tannin reds will last for a few days, whereas fuller-bodied wines with higher tannins will likely last up to five days. Keep opened wines in the fridge and let them reach just above room temperature (slightly chilled) prior to enjoying.
Do some red wines cause more or less of a hangover?
Although many imbibers like to believe that certain alcoholic beverages give them more of a hangover than others, the truth is that the biggest cause of hangovers is dehydration, alcohol poisoning and/or a lack of vitamins. Therefore, it really comes down to consumption: Regardless of whether you drink an excess of red wine or white wine, you’ll likely end up with the same hangover.
What's the average alcohol content in red wine?
Most red wines clock in around 12% to 15% ABV, whereas dry white wines tend to clock in between 11-% to 14%.
Does red wine have more calories than white wine?
Generally speaking, yes, but by a very small amount. Most dry white wines tend to clock in between 90 and 120 calories per glass, whereas reds clock in at about 105 to 135 calories. Moral of the story: Simply enjoy what you like!
Why Trust Liquor.com?
Jonathan Cristaldi has written about wine and spirits for over a decade. He regularly tastes wines from around the globe, and personally tasted every wine in this roundup, except for the Ormes de Pez and Unico. Cristaldi was named a "Wine Prophet" by Time Out New York for his witty and often avant-garde approach to wine education.
Vicki Denig updated this piece. Her writing has appeared in Decanter, Departures, Food & Wine and Wine Enthusiast. She has contributed to Liquor.com since 2020. Splitting her time between New York and Paris, she is a certified wine specialist and has worked in the wine trade since 2013.