There are a countless number of red grape varieties in the world, some able to make wine, others best suited for grape juice. Right now, the world wine market focuses on about 40 to 50 different red wine grape varieties, the most widely recognized and used listed below.
What differentiates red wine from white is first, the skin color of the grape, and second, the amount of time the grape juice has with its skins. After picking, red grapes are put into tanks or barrels where they soak with their skins, absorbing pigments and other aspects of the grape skin, such as tannins. This is how red wine gets its red color. The exact color, which can range from light red to almost purple, depends on both the color of the particular grape skin and the amount of time spent on the skins. Remember, the inside of almost all grapes is a light, golden color - it's the skins that have the pigment. For example, much of Champagne is made from Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier, both red grapes. Yet because the juice for Champagne is pressed quickly, with little time on the skins, the color of Champagne is often white.
The list below is roughly organized from lighter-bodied to fuller-bodied, lower tannins to higher tannins and light color to deeper color - but note that this is not an "always" list, just a general guideline. Remember, European and old-world countries tend to label their wine by region, while new world wine is most often labeled with grape variety.
|Grapes||Where they grow best|
|Pinot Noir||Burgundy, France; California; Oregon; New Zealand; Chile; Champagne, France|
|Sangiovese||Tuscany, Italy; California|
|Grenache / Garnacha||Rhone, France; Spain; California; Australia|
|Merlot||Bordeaux, France; California; Washington State; Chile|
|Cabernet Sauvignon||Bordeaux, France; California; South America; Australia; South Africa|
|Syrah/Shiraz||Rhone, France; Australia; South Africa; California; Washington State|