Whether you’re dusting off the decanter for a brooding full-bodied Cab, or pulling a nimble Beaujolais from a brief stint in the fridge, opening and enjoying a red wine is an occasion. And with more depth and range than any other style of wine, there’s thankfully a red wine for every occasion.
We taste hundreds of red wines every year at VinePair, and encounter so many of the different guises red wine has to offer. The following bottles represent the cream of the crop — the small percentage of reds that stood out more than all of the others during the last 12 months of tastings.
The Red Wine Run Down
Decibel Wines ‘Giunta’ Malbec Nouveau 2020
“Malbec” and “Nouveau” aren’t terms you expect to come across when shopping for New Zealand wines, but we’re here for this one. With grapes picked in early April and the wine eventually bottled in June, this youthful release serves waves of fruit and herbs, and a juicy palate that’s livened by bright acidity. Feel free to chill this bottle. Average price: $15.
Giacomo Mori Palazzone Chianti DOCG 2017
Among the hordes of affordable Chianti, this bottle screams “case buy.” Expressive on nose, palate, and finish, this 95 percent Sangiovese has a tart cherry and cranberry profile, seasoned with a hint of soil. Pasta night will get an upgrade with this on your table. Average price: $15.
Bonnaventure Château de Coulaine Chinon Rouge 2020
There’s a lot going on in this $20 bottle: Certified organic, the Cabernet Franc grapes grow on 30-year-old vines, and are vinified using native yeasts in a mixture of concrete and stainless steel tanks. Its aromas mix fresh blackberries and black pepper, while a distinctive umami note defines the palate. Average price: $20.
Massolino Dolcetto d’Alba 2019
A shining example of the soft fruity wines produced from the dark-skinned Dolcetto grape, this bottle brims with blackberry and blueberry aromas. The palate is well balanced and approachable — certain to please Merlot drinkers. This wine is a steal. Average price: $20.
Fox Run Vineyards Cabernet Franc 2018
Gone are the days when New York’s Finger Lakes region was thought of as being exclusively Riesling territory, with Cabernet Franc staking a major claim as the area’s signature red variety. This bottle only adds to the argument in favor, and highlights the green, pyrazine notes (think: olives and bell peppers) that define the variety. Pair with burgers, pizza, or a lean steak. Average price: $22.
Albert Bichot Morgon Les Charmes 2018
While it’s becoming increasingly hard to find bargains from Beaujolais, they’re still out there, as this charming light red shows. Ripe strawberries meet a sprinkling of white pepper on the nose, while a bright and fruity palate follows. Average price: $23.
Michel Tete Domaine du Clos du Fief Juliénas ‘Tete de Cuvee’ 2019
Another steal from Beaujolais, this wine spends 18 months in oak prior to bottling, softening its tannins and overall texture. Bramble fruits and soil mark the dominant aromas. On the palate, bright acidity and a light body make this a great candidate for chilling. Average price: $20.
Clendenen Family Vineyards ‘The Pip’ Nebbiolo 2017
Who’s ready for West Coast Nebbiolo? Based on this evidence, the iconic Italian variety seems to have found a home away from home in the Santa Maria Valley, in California’s Central Coast. This wine is vibrant and fruity, with refreshing acidity and pronounced chewy tannins — everything you want from Nebbiolo, essentially. Average price: $26.
Chalone Vineyard Estate Grown Pinot Noir 2019
Also from the Central Coast, this bottle arrives at a heady 14.3 percent ABV, which translates to bold character and defined notes of cherry cola. Juicy acidity keeps the palate lively, and will have you coming back for sip after sip. Pair with something similarly bold, like duck à l’orange. Average price: $30.
Domaine Saint Gayan Gigondas 2016
Located close to everyone’s favorite papal wine region (Châteauneuf-du-Pape), the grenache-heavy Southern Rhone blends of Gigondas are slightly lighter and fresher by comparison. By no means does this bottle lack complexity or depth, though, with mushrooms, dried herbs, dirt, and perfume representing just a fraction of its tasting notes. Average price: $30.
Vox Vineti Nebbiolo 2018
Another American Nebbiolo, this wine arrives from the even more unlikely location of Pennsylvania. While notes of cherry and watermelon present themselves, fruit plays a supporting role in this case, with earth and licorice aromas leading the way. At 12.7 percent ABV, and with bright acidity, this is an extremely quaffable red. Average price: $30.
Dr. Konstantin Frank Saperavi 2019
If you’ve encountered Saperavi before, chances are it was a bottle from the inky red variety’s homeland of Georgia, and not the Finger Lakes. So how exactly does Saperavi fare in the Empire State? Very well, based on this wine, which exudes cherry, cranberry, and baking spice aromas, and serves a rich but balanced palate. Average price: $32.
C.L. Butaud Desert Willow Vineyard Mourvedre 2019
Widely grown in Southern France and Spain, Mourvedre (a.k.a. Monastrell) performs well in warm climates, which goes some way to explaining why so many Texan producers are embracing the variety. This bottle displays its signature rustic, fruity character, and kicks in a hint of cinnamon. With its full body and medium acidity, this wine will pair wonderfully with grilled prime cuts of beef or lamb. Average price: $35.
Familia Zuccardi ‘Concreto’ Malbec 2019
Think you know Malbec? Think again. Fermented and aged in concrete vats (hence the name), this is a departure from the plush, dark-fruited Malbecs most will be familiar with, and instead tells a tale of minerality and steely structure. This is serious wine and promises to evolve gracefully. Average price: $37.
La Parde de Haut-Bailly 2010
The second wine from the historic Haut-Bailly estate in Bordeaux, this blend includes an equal proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and a smaller amount of Cabernet Franc. Aged for 12 months in barrel (15 percent new oak), its aromas recall cherries, autumn leaves, and wet stone. The palate remains grippy, but much of the tannic structure has started to soften, allowing its fruit core to shine. Average price: $41.
Camins 2 Dreams Zotovich Vineyard Syrah 2018
From the Santa Rita hills in Santa Barbara, Calif., this is a rich and savory Syrah that fills the nose and palate with notes of bacon, blackberries, and dried herbs. Its texture is soft and its flavors rich, with a waft of subtle smoke blanketing the finish. Average price: $46.
Carlo Giacosa Barbaresco ‘Montefico’ 2016
Elegant yet powerful, this is a stunning, well-priced example of Nebbiolo from its homeland. A distinctive and characteristic cherry note weaves throughout, joined by orange peel and fragrant flowers. The aromas and flavors continue to unfold in glass, while its tense structure loosens up. Pull out the decanter and savor… slowly. Average price: $46.
Dogwood & Thistle Merlot 2019
From an independently owned, family-run operation, this Napa Valley, majority Merlot wine also contains a small quantity (16 percent) of Cabernet Sauvignon. A one-off release from the producer, it exhibits the true potential of American Merlot, delivering a rich depth of bramble fruit flavor and more than enough acidity to sip on its own. Average price: $46.
Chateau Meyney 2014
This Left Bank, Saint-Estèphe estate boasts several hundred years of winemaking history. Planted on gravel soils that overlook the Gironde estuary, Cabernet Sauvignon makes up roughly two-thirds of the blend, which is bold and structured. Blackberry and graphite combine on the nose, while fruit and tannins interact seamlessly on the palate. Average price: $50.
Château La Tour Figeac Grand Cru Classe 2015
From the other side of the Gironde, in Saint-Emilion, this Merlot and Cabernet Franc blend has a rich concentration of flavor but doesn’t overwhelm the palate. Rigid tannins provide a solid foundation for further aging but it’s already drinking superbly. Average price: $55
Papapietro Perry Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2018
Where some California Pinots stray into jammy, overripe territory, this wine closer resembles Oregonian examples, with a pleasant mix of concentrated fruit and savory, earthy notes. The subtle influence of oak introduces sweet vanilla accents, which play nicely off its raspberry compote core. Average price: $59.
Aperture Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2018
As the highest-quality examples of Napa Cab become increasingly out of reach for most drinkers’ budgets, those in the know are turning their focus to Sonoma. Though admittedly not cheap, this bottle from Aperture Cellars offers considerable bang for (considerable) buck. Rich yet ethereal, it exudes fresh berry aromas, and is already showing some subtle signs of age. Average price: $71.
Tenuta San Leonardo ‘San Leonardo’ Red Wine 2014
Bordeaux varieties — including Carménère — meet the Dolomite mountains in this captivating Italian red blend. Aromas of cherry, freshly turned earth, and dried herbs immediately command your attention, while the palate delivers a deeply contemplative experience via complex notes of maturation and precisely integrated tannins. This is a special bottle worthy of momentous occasions. Average price: $80.
Chateau Marojallia 2018
Considered to be the first producer of the so-called “garagiste” movement, Château Marojallia is located in Bordeaux’s iconic Margaux appellation. This majority Cabernet Sauvignon blend offers a heady mix of ripe fruit and savory notes. Elegant tannins and racy acidity encase its rich, fruity core. While still relatively young for the region and varieties, this wine is ready to pop now. Average price: $90.
Hirsch Vineyards East Ridge Pinot Noir 2018
With vineyards located three miles inland from the Sonoma Coast, Hirsch describes the growing conditions for its grapes as “climatic chaos.” Huge temperature swings in the vineyard translate to a wine that shows the lighter side of Pinot Noir, with lively acidity and an abundance of bright, fresh fruit character. Savory umami notes and hints of baking spices add to the complexity of each sip. This is the benchmark for California Pinot Noir. Average price: $92.
Fontodi ‘Vigna del Sorbo’ Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG 2016
Seek out this bottle if you want to explore world-class Chianti Classico in all its glory. Produced from a single vineyard, it highlights the dark fruit intensity of Sangiovese, and lands on the palate with complex mineral texture and grace. With intense aromas and flavors, this is a wonderful food wine. Average price: $100.
Mayacamas Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2016
Mayacamas’s mountain Napa Valley vineyards allow the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes used for this wine to experience broad diurnal temperature shifts and high exposure to sunlight. Those factors combine to develop powerful fruit character and bracing acidity, which further amplifies its intense flavors. Though still quite young, the tannins have woven seamlessly into the wine, creating a luxurious and elegant drinking experience. Average price: $138.
Ehlers Estate 1886 Cabernet Sauvignon 2018
On the bolder end of the spectrum, this 14.5 percent ABV Napa Cab spends 22 months aging in a mix of new (majority) and used French oak. Concentrated fruit leads the palate, with medium acidity, oak, and earth notes adding nuance. This bottle has all the components to continue evolving for an age but don’t be afraid to enjoy it now. Average price: $140.
Paul Jaboulet Aîné Hermitage ‘La Chapelle’ 2006
The Hermitage appellation in France’s Northern Rhone region provides some of the purest expressions of Syrah on the planet. This wine is right up there with the best examples. Its aromas mix savory herbs, including rosemary and tarragon, with brooding dark berries and raw meat. The wine washes over the palate with velvety grace, and lingers on the finish for an age. Average price: $143.
Louis M. Martini Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2017
Another powerful, structured Napa Cab, this wine is also made from mountain fruit. Though it clocks in at a hefty 14.5 percent ABV, the balance of fruit, acidity, and tannins is exceptional. Savor as it unfolds in glass, and pull out the decanter to fully appreciate its nuance and evolution. Average price: $150.
What is the smoothest red wine?
The smoothest red wines are red blends, an unofficial category of wine that delivers bold fruit flavors and smooth tannin structures.
What is the most popular red wine?
Cabernet Sauvignon is the most popular red wine grape in the world.
What’s the best red wine for beginners?
The best red wines for beginners include bright, fruit-forward options like Pinot Noir or Gamay, as well as sparkling red wines like Lambrusco.