Dry Red Wine Types and Characteristics

Updated May 3, 2022
Glasses of wine

Many people love a good dry red wine. While any red wine can be made in a dry style, there are several varieties among the most well-known and widely consumed. So, if you are searching out dry reds, start with these classic grapes and go from there.

What Is a Dry Red Wine?

A dry red wine has no detectable residual sugar left after fermentation, resulting in a wine that is not sweet. Often times, sweet red wines are produced when wine makers stop the fermentation process part way through, which leaves some of the natural sugar behind. A dry wine is one that has undergone the entire fermentation process where the yeast has consumed all of the sugars found in the grapes.

Common Dry Red Wine Types

Red grape varietals around the world can be made in a dry or sweeter style. A dry red wine presents all the complexity in flavor without the distraction of residual sugar. Dry reds are also very versatile when it comes to food pairings. Here's the tricky part; most labels don't indicate if a wine is dry or not. To be certain, you'll need to ask the sommelier or consult the wine's tech sheet to confirm. The good news is that most red wines are made in a dry style, particularly the following common grape varietals.

Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet sauvignon is planted around the world, from France to Australia to the Napa Valley, making it one of the most common dry red wines. While it is often solo, it is also a key grape in a Bordeaux blend. Depending on the region, you can expect notes of black cherry, black currant, baking spice, and graphite with hints of savory green herbs. They tend to be quite heady with robust tannins.

Merlot

Merlot is a soft red that is classically found in Bordeaux blends. It gives finesse to a blend, balancing the masculinity of cab sauv. On its own, it is a full-bodied, deeply hued purple wine full of cherry, plum, chocolate, vanilla, and bay.

Cabernet Franc

Cabernet franc flourishes in slightly cooler climates, like France's Loire Valley, the North Coast of California, and Oregon's Willamette Valley. The dark fruit has prominent characteristics of strawberry and red plum paired with earthy tones of roasted red pepper, crushed gravel, and spring pea shoots.

Malbec

Malbec is commonly associated with Mendoza, Argentina where it is widely planted. A powerhouse variety, it typically has a saturated color, prominent tannins, and notes of red plum and blackberry paired with vanilla, tobacco, and cacao from oak aging.

Grenache

Grenache is a common grape in Rhône blends, though it is originally from Spain (where it's called garnacha) and is also grown in New World regions such as the United States and Australia. It's the prominent grape and star of Châteauneuf du Pape and Côtes du Rhône. Grenache typically presents notes of ripe or stewed strawberry, sweet cherry, dark fleshed plum, along with a hint of white pepper and savory kitchen garden herb.

Syrah

Syrah, or shiraz, is an outgoing and versatile grape, often with notes of blackberry, boysenberry, pepper, clove, and plum. Depending on the climate and soil, syrah can range from light and fruity to dense and spicy to jammy and rich.

Pinot Noir

two glasses of pinot noir wine

Pinot noir is planted from Burgundy in France to New Zealand to Germany. With a medium body and red fruit character, it typically offers a softer palate while remaining dry. Raspberry, cranberry, and cherry are matched by earthy undertones of autumn leaves, mushroom, clove, and bright hibiscus.

Tempranillo

Spanish born tempranillo is often blended with garnacha in Rioja, but it is also a staple solo varietal in its own right. This robust red grape has high acidity and high tannins, making it incredibly suitable for aging. It has a bold profile of cherry and dried fig, along with dill, tobacco, and cedar.

Sangiovese

Italy's flagship grape sangiovese is an important part of Chianti wines, as well as Super Tuscans. It also is a prominent solo grape in Italy and across New World regions. Medium-bodied and full of tart, bright fruit, sangiovese typically has flavors and aromas of ripe red cherry, savory tomato, fleshy plum, violet, and perhaps a hint of aged balsamic.

Nebbiolo

Nebbiolo has deep roots in Northern Italy, home of Barolo. Dry as can be, with lurching tannins and acidity, it is typically aged, allowing for it to soften and round out in barrel. It has prominent notes of cherry, rose, cranberry, and violet, along with leather, anise, and dried leaves.

Searching Out Dry Reds

If you're looking for a dry red wine to pair with your next meal, start with these classic grape varieties. You'll find a wide range of aroma and flavor within grape and region. Once you've laid the ground work for your palate, search out other varietals and blends made in a dry style to expand your horizons.

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Dry Red Wine Types and Characteristics