There is unlimited variety within the world of red wine. Some bottles can be as dark as ink, and full of spice and jammy fruit flavor. Others can be as light and bright as a summer strawberry. When choosing the best red wine to drink, you’re really selecting the best wine for your dinner, your mood, and the moment.
This list is focused on wines you’ll want to drink more than once, ranging from classic lovable reds to slightly funkier natural bottles.
Best Easy Drinking Pinot Noir
Louis Jadot Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2017
Louis Jadot makes fun, tasty budget wines. Jadot wines are a classic representation of their grape, which means they’re a great tool for learning about how wine should taste. This French pinot noir is light and fruity with a touch of earthy minerality.
Typically, a wine from Europe will be labeled with the region, and a wine from the U.S. will be labeled with the grape variety. This tends to cause some confusion among novice wine drinkers, who shouldn’t be expected to know that legally, all reds from Burgundy must be 100 percent pinot noir if they carry the Burgundy label. Louis Jadot wines are friendly and approachable and include both the region and grape on the label.
Region: Burgundy, France | AVB: 12.8% | Tasting Notes: Plums, raspberries, cherries
Price at time of publish: $29
Best Under $20
Friend and Farmer Biodynamic Red Wine, No Added Sulfites
The Handwork Granacha is certified organic, biodynamic, and made from 100 percent grenache. The vineyard is owned by three brothers in La Mancha, Spain. Their dedication to their land and home country is expressed in their commitment to organic and biodynamic wine production. When it comes to funky, earthy natural wines, this bottle is on the lighter end. It has a profound earthiness, but is still light and fruity.
This bottle is full of tart cherry and strawberry flavors, and packed with mouth-watering acidity. To cap it off, the value is unbeatable. For under $20, you get a quaffable bottle that pairs excellently with paella, a simple roasted chicken, or other light meats.
Region: La Mancha, Spain | AVB: 13.5% | Tasting Notes: Cherry, plum, leather, vanilla
Price at time of publish: $15
Best Intro to Lebanese Wine
Château Musar Hochar
When exploring red wine, don’t be afraid to step outside of Europe. Chateau Musar is a historic vineyard in Lebanon, and its wines are beloved by wine experts the world over. This is a blended wine fermented from cabernet sauvignon, carignan, consult, and grenache. It’s also aged in European oak for six months, so the drinker can expect light spice and pepper flavors.
Chateau Musat is famous for its old vine, low-yield style of production. This treatment yields grapes with richly concentrated flavors. This is an intense and interesting wine, aged in oak and full of dark plummy fruits. For pairing, this wine has the depth to stand up to red meats and flavorful stews. If it’s your first time trying this particular wine, don’t hesitate to enjoy a glass on its own and really take the time to understand the flavors.
Region: Beqaa, Lebanon | AVB: 14% | Tasting Notes: Blackberry, red currant, tobacco, vanilla
Price at time of publish: $37
Best Sparkling Red
Cleto Chiarli Lambrusco di Sorbara Vecchia Modena 2018
Craving something a little different? Try a Lambrusco. Lambrusco hails from the Emilia-Romagna region in Italy. This red wine is slightly sparkling. The ripe red fruit flavors and playful nature of Lambrusco have earned it a reputation as the perfect wine to pair with pizza. Why not? Like pizza, it’s fun, boasts simple and accessible flavors, and is perfect for a party. This bottle is a Lambrusco di Sorbara, the lightest and most delicate of Lambruscos.
The wine will be an extremely light red, almost pink, and full of light floral flavors like orange blossom and violet. It is best enjoyed slightly chilled, so try refrigerating the bottle for around 20 minutes before drinking. This particular bottle comes with an unusual closure. The best way to open it is to take a dull butter knife, or the blunt end of a wine key, slide it under the metal bar, and gently wiggle the knife to pry the bar open.
Price at time of publish: $20
Best Splurge Around $100
Chateau Grand-Puy-Lacoste Pauillac 2013
Celebrating a promotion? An engagement? Just craving a treat? Some nights call for a very special bottle of wine. Part of wine is romance, and at this price point you can afford to get a bottle that’s well made, delicious, and from an important region in the history of winemaking: Bordeaux. Red wines from Bordeaux are made from a blend of cabernet sauvignon and merlot. The blend gives them a balance of the strength of cabernet and the softness of merlot, but that’s only a small part of what makes them so special.
The vines that would become part of the Puy Lacoste estate were first planted around the year 1500. These wines are fermented in steel vats, and aged in oak barrels for 18 months. The result is a serious wine with soft fruits, well-integrated tannins, and a softly spiced edge.
Region: Emilia-Romagna, Italy | AVB: 11% | Tasting Notes: Violet, cherry, orange peel
Price at time of publish: $70
Best Affordable New World Wine
A to Z Pinot Noir 2016
This pinot noir has a slightly unconventional backstory: It’s made with grapes from 50 different vineyards across the state of Oregon. Rather than a hyper-local expression of one specific vineyard's terroir, this bottle embodies the flavor of Oregon. The big, ripe fruit, the zippy acidity, and the spicy oak are typical of a new world pinot noir.
Expect true red fruits like cranberry and cherry, along with darker notes of blueberry, and hints of coffee and earth. For pairing, this wine will show true versatility and would be delicious with anything from stewed chicken to duck to game meats. Think of light meats or heartier fish dishes.
Region: Oregon, United States| AVB: 13.5% | Tasting Notes: Cherry, earthy mushroom, blueberry
Price at time of publish: $13
Best to Pair With Red Meat
Stonestreet Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2016
Sometimes you just need a big red wine, there’s simply no way around it. If you’re serving a steak dinner, prime rib, or pot roast, you should look for a tannic and powerful wine to stand up to it. For those nights, the 2016 Stone Street Cabernet Sauvignon from California’s Alexander Valley will do the job nicely.
The high tannins make it a great match for rich red meats, and the dark fruits will complement the carmelized and smoky flavors from a grill or other high heat cooking. Aged for 19 months in oak barrels, this bottle packs the flavors of cooked dark fruits like cassis and plums, paired with warm vanilla and baking spices.
Region: Alexander Valley, Sonoma County, California | AVB: 14.5% |Tasting Notes: Blackberry jam, pomegranate, cassis, cocoa
Price at time of publish: $52
Best to Pair With Pasta
Castagnoli Chianti Classico 2013
Here’s a free wine tip: If you find shopping for wine overwhelming (The grapes! The regions! The vintages!), then focus on finding an importer you like. Wine importers work with a hand-selected portfolio of winemakers, and they test each wine rigorously. If you find an importer whose taste you trust, it’s likely that you’ll enjoy many of the wines in their portfolio.
Kermit Lynch is perhaps the most famous example of this. He’s built his portfolio on clean, classic wines. This Italian Chianti, imported by Kermit Lynch, is no exception. Expect a tart wine with notes of red cherry. The juicy acidity in this bottle makes it extremely food-friendly. It has enough ripe fruit flavor to pair well with saucy pasta, and it will make any tomato dish sing.
Region: Tuscany, Italy | AVB: 13.5% | Tasting Notes: Cherry, red berry, vanilla, tobacco
Price at time of publish: $17
Tavkveri Pheasant's Tears - 2019
You can’t go wrong with a Cru Beaujolais from esteemed winemaker Julien Sunier. One of Wine Advocate’s favorite wines from 2019, this bottle is full of lively fruit balanced with a bit of earthy funk.
Region: Beaujolais, France | ABV: 12.5 % | Tasting Notes: Blackberry, light baking spices, violets
Price at time of publish: $37
Best Sicilian Red Wine
COS Frappato - 2020
Most of the red wines sold in major wine stores are made from just a handful of grape varieties. Shelves are full of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Syrah, but there are actually thousands of types of wine grapes. This certified organic wine, produced in the Vittoria area of Sicily, is made with Frappato, a native Italian grape. The result is a light red wine with surprising complexity. This bottle can be served slightly chilled.
Region: Sicily, Italy | ABV: 11.5% | Tasting Notes: Raspberry, orange peel, herbs, delicate spice
Price at time of publish: $28
Best Georgian Red Wine
Tavkveri Pheasant's Tears - 2019
Ancient Georgian winemaking techniques existed long before natural wine was trendy. For this wine, organically-grown grapes are fermented in traditional clay vessels, known as kvevri, following an 8,000 year old tradition. The result is a wine with tart fruit, lots of personality, and no oak influence.
Region: Kartli, Georgia | ABV: 12.5% | Tasting Notes: Cranberry, tart red currant, clay minerality
Price at time of publish: $20
What to Look for in a Red Wine
While there are many different factors that determine the taste of a red wine, the grapes it is made from give you a basic indication of whether it is a light-bodied, a medium-bodied, or a full-bodied wine. Light-bodied wine has the least amount of tannins, and full-bodied wine has highest tannin (and often the highest alcohol) content. Varietal wines—wines made from a single grape variety—indicate the variety right on the wine label. Cabernet sauvignon is a high-acidity, high-tannin red wine with medium to full body, whereas malbec has moderate tannins. The grapes also determine how dry or sweet a red wine is. Bordeaux and chianti are very dry, whereas a merlot is medium dry.
How you serve the red wine is also an important consideration. A light-bodied, low-tannin red such as a cabernet franc is good for sipping on its own without food, while full-bodied, bolder wines are generally best paired with food.
Because red wine has a strong taste, it should be served with foods that have equally assertive and strong tastes. For example, cabernet sauvignon is a favorite for red meat dishes, whereas pinot noir goes well with a Thanksgiving turkey but also with vegetarian and vegan dishes.
Do you chill red wine?
It depends on the wine and the room temperature. Generally, red wine should be in the range of 55 F to 65 F. If the wine is warmer, it needs chilling. Lighter-bodied wines are better on the cooler end, so keep them in the fridge for about 90 minutes. Fuller-bodied, high-tannin wines such as Bordeaux can reach the target temperature range in 45 minutes. To get an accurate temperature, use an instant-read thermometer.
How long does red wine last once opened?
Tightly closed with a cork, a bottle of wine can last three to five days in a cool, dark place. Wines with higher tannin content and acidity can last longer after opening.
What are the five most popular red wines?
The most popular red wines are cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, merlot, zinfandel, and malbec.
Is red wine always dry?
All red wines qualify as dry, although there is a white range of how dry a red wine is. Compared to white wine, red wine is always drier. The only red wines that are sweet are port wine and dessert wine.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
Madeline Muzzi is a food writer and wine expert. In 2015, she completed an advanced course in wine at the International Culinary Center in New York City and passed the test to become a certified sommelier.
United States Department of Agriculture. Guidelines for labeling wine with organic references. 2009.
Demeter Association, Inc. Biodynamic Certification Marks.