The 15 Best Red Wines

Wine, the drink of the Gods, is produced in every State in America and plays a significant role in the economy and tourism of California, Washington, Virginia, New York and Oregon.

The US market for red wines is vast including imports from countries like France, Spain, Mexico, New Zealand, Argentina, Australia, Chile and even Portugal.

American red wine is some of the best out there and what is more, is that generally they are not as well-known or raved about like red wine from France, for example.

The industry has been around since the days of the early European settlers and in the 1930s took a massive knock due to Prohibition where many vineyards were destroyed to prevent the production of alcohol.

American Red Wine

The sunny climate of regions, such as California, makes for great early harvesting of the red and white varieties of grapes and this means that the grapes have a tart and acidic taste.

Whereas the cooler regions of Washington State and Oregon produce grapes that are much darker, bolder and richer in flavor- resulting in a similar wine style.

California

California is probably the biggest and most well-known wine producer in the United States, making up around 90% of the total wine produced in the whole country.

The first vines were brought to California in the 1700s by Franciscan missionaries, and the demand for wine greatly increased during the gold rush. Research on wine and grapes started as early as the 1880s on the Davis campus of the University of California.

These days, California’s Napa Valley is famed the world over and is indeed a world leader in wine and the work Robert Mondavi did for the education of Americans on wine is the reason why the Napa Valley is a tourist attraction.

The wine produced in California is helped by cool winds from the Pacific to have an effect on the flavor development of the grapes, making for both acidic and richer grapes.

Although Napa and the Sonoma regions dominate the wine production in California, there are regions south of San Francisco such as Paso Robles, Monterey, Santa Maria Valley and Santa Cruz Mountains which are gain popularity in recent years.

The best grape varieties you will find in California are cabernet sauvignon and zinfandel, with support from pinot noir and chardonnay grape varietals, as well as some out of the Rhône region in France.

Washington

This state is second most important when it comes to wine and offers a great diversity of terroirs across the region.

For those of you that do not know, a terroir is a term for the natural environment where a particular wine is produced- including the topography, soil and climate.

The wine grapes are grown in Eastern Washington where the Cascade Mountains act as a rain barrier which allows vines to grow.

It has a continental climate- hot dry summers and a significant diurnal flux in temperature in the summer. Washington is popular for the production of Cabernet, Merlot, Riesling and Chardonnay grapes.

Oregon

The third most important wine region in the US is Oregon. The latitude of Oregon is the same as Burgundy and so benefits from a similar climate, which is ideal for producing wines, especially the likes of pinot noir which has a higher natural acidity than those from California.

They are characterized by their savory characteristic nose but generous red berry tartness on the palate. The wines from Oregon are complex and age well over time and present some of the best American wines out there.

Most Popular Types Of Red Wine Grape

Red Wine

Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Sauvignon is the undisputed as being the most popular and top-selling red wine varietal not just in the United States but also worldwide due to its high adaptability to different climates.

When you think of California, you immediately think of Cabernet, and when you think of Cabernet, you immediately think California.

Napa Valley Cabernet was first put on the map of wine connoisseurs back in 1976 when a wine from Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars’ Cabernet Sauvignon out of Cali beat the best of the best Bordeaux in a legendary taste testing that took place- known as “The Judgement of Paris”. 

From that moment on, the wine world knew that Californian or, that is, American wines needed to e taken seriously. And although the grape variety is used all over the world, from Margaret River in Australia to Franschhoek in South Africa, the Cabernet's from Napa are very different indeed.

They boast bold black fruit flavors and have strong tannins crafted carefully by their makers and defined by the terroir that is unique to the region.

However, there is also a noticeable difference sub-regionally in terms of flavor variation between the American Viticultural Areas which include Rutherford, Oakville, Stag’s Leap, Howell Mountain and St. Helena. However, California is not the only state in America that makes Cabernet Sauvignon.

Washington State wineries in the Washington American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) that have seen some success with their Cabernet Sauvignons include Red Mountain, Walla Walla Valley and parts of the Yakima Valley AVA near the Tri-Cities region and boast a fruity and easy to drink Cabernet Sauvignon that is not overly tannic.

In regions like the Rogue Valley in Oregon and in states like Virginia, New York and Texas, a presence of Cabernet Sauvignon is rapidly developing.

On the flavor notes, there are additional differences in the flavor of Cab Sauv depending on the climate it is grown in. Where there is a cooler climate, you can expect to get herbaceous and green pepper notes in the wine.

The green pepper flavor is caused by pyrazines present in under ripe grapes. Pyrazines are phenolic compounds which are present in all Cabernet Sauvignon grapes but are degraded when grapes ripen in the sunlight.

When grown in a hot climate, however, the wines tend to taste jammy due to the over-ripening and indeed almost cooking of the grapes by the sun. Other flavors that may be picked up are mint and eucalyptus.

Zinfandel

The origins of zinfandel have recently been traced back to Croatia's obscure Crljenak Kastelanski grape (an ancestor of Italy's primitivo), which arrived in the United States in 1824 and wine production (and enjoyment) of Zinfandels date as far back as 1883 in California.

Zinfandel (also known as 'zin') offers rich, fruity, spicy, no-holds-barred flavors. While the big brands continue to churn out sickly-sweet 'blush' zinfandel rosés, thankfully there are plenty of winemakers in California, that recognize the value and quality of this varietal and use it making light Beaujolais-style reds as well as fortified wines.

Depending on the climate of the region it is grown in, the characteristics of the wine differ greatly. The majority of Zinfandels grown in the US is in California, but wine from each AVA has a different bouquet of flavors.

As an example, the Sonoma County produce a bright, balanced acidity and fruity zinfandel with notes of blackberry and anise. Whereas, the Amador region is popular for producing full-bodied Zinfandels that are jammy, brambly and have aromas of sweet berries.

The grape's reputation has been knocked somewhat by certain growers favoring quantity over quality, with plantings in unsuitably hot climates and yields that were more than was good for it.

But in the right hands the grape can really excel across all price levels, producing wine that is muscular, intense, spicy and juicy, yet structured and abundantly fruity. A true California exclusive.

Pinot Noir

Pinot noir is a grape variety hailing from France. The name means “Pine” and “Black” or black pine. The pine descriptor is in reference to the way the grapes cluster on the vine. These grapes are grown all over the world but notably in cooler climates, especially in the Burgundy region of France.

In the US, Pinot Noir is grown mainly in California and then in Oregon. It is certainly the fastest-growing grape variety in terms of popularity, thanks mainly to the 2004 film Sideways.

In the past, Californian pinots had a tendency to be rather jammy and alcoholic, but winemakers are finding the right ways to make it a lighter and less alcoholic wine by planting pinot vines in the correct areas in the region.

The result has provided wines with delicious perfumes and notes of red fruits. Au Bon Climat in the Santa Maria Valley, south of San Francisco, is a perfect example. Other good spots for pinot are Russian River Valley and Carneros, both in Sonoma.

Merlot

Merlot is a dark blue-colored grape and is great to use for blending and for varietal wines. The name is said to be a variation on the word merle, which in French means blackbird- in reference to the dark color of the grape.

It has a fleshiness that when combined with early ripening decreases its tannin content. Merlot may lack the delicacy of pinot noir, but actually, it offers what many wine drinkers are looking for: soft, rich, creamy fruit flavors with no hard edges or many tannins.

Merlot grape varieties are mainly grown in California and Washington state. Initially, the grape was not blended but now, you can find both blended Merlots (particularly good with Cabernet) and varietal Merlot wines.

The Californian Merlots range from very fruity, simple wines known as “red Chardonnay '' to more serious, aged wines. Depending on where the vines are you can expect variations in flavor including black berry, plum, tea and black cherry notes.

Rhône Varietals

Varieties like Syrah or Shiraz are becoming more popular in the States. Syrah seems to have found its home in Paso Robles.

They tend to produce medium to full-bodied wines with quite a few tannins and notes of blackberry, mint and black pepper. This is more true for medium climates such as the Walla Walla region in Washington State.

In warmer climates, the Syrah are jammier and softer, with a lot of spicy notes.

When choosing a wine to drink, to savor or to give to someone, the choices out there can be overwhelming. That’s why we have put together this list of our favorite red wines.

The list starts out with American favorites and then moves on to wines imported from other countries across the world.

OUR TOP PICK

Charles Krug Cabernet Sauvignon - 2017

Region: Napa Valley, California | ABV: 14.1% | Tasting Notes: Blackberry, Brown spices, Vanilla bean

Named after the father of Napa Valley winemaking, Charles Krug established this winery in 1861 and is now known as the pillar of Napa Valley.

The Charles Krug winery is led by the guidance and wisdom of their co-owner Peter Mondavi Jr. whose family purchased the estate in 1943 to produce wines that are classically structured and utterly and delightfully balanced for over a generation.

This 2017 vintage Cabernet Sauvignon is sourced from five different estate sites in Yountville and boy, has it aged well!

It is wonderfully rich with flavors of blackberry fruits mingling with brown spices, tobacco and vanilla bean makes up a full-bodied wine with blackberry compote, black currant and black cherry undercurrents; all supported by just the right amount of tannins.

When testing out this product, we loved: It's reasonable pricing for the amount of quality you get out of the wine.

Charles Krug Cabernet Sauvignon can be purchased here, here or here

EDITORS CHOICE

Larkmead 2016 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (Organic)

Region: Napa Valley, California | ABV: 14.7% | Tasting Notes: Dark fruit, Tobacco, Fresh-turned earth, Dark chocolate

Also one of the most historic and oldest family-owned vineyards in the Napa Valley, Larkmead was founded in 1895.

The estate features a diverse array of soils that are more typical of a hillside than a valley.

This difference in terroir is attributed to the alluvial flow that has occurred over centuries and has resulted in the accumulation of different types of soils such as riverbed gravel, clay and loamy soil. 

The farm has also changed its practices and went fully organic in 2015.

This 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon should be stockpiled if you are a collector of wine as this wine is packed with naturally vibrant acidity, has a deep dark fruit signifier and distinct freshness accompanied by notes of brown spices and dark chocolate.

When testing out this product, we loved: It’s complexity- it manages to be acidic and fresh, yet have deep and dark flavor notes. This is a wine to be savored and sipped slowly on a winter's night.

This gem can be purchased here.

BEST VALUE

Frank Family Vineyards Carneros Pinot Noir 2018

Region: Carneros, California | ABV: 14.5% | Tasting Notes: Red cherries, Bramble, Brown spices

Frank Family Vineyards handcraft their wines inside the Larkmead Winery and have been making wines since 1992.

In 2018, they released a vintage of full-bodied pinot noir that boasts red fruits, firm acidity and lots of tannins. It is a wine that ages well but can be enjoyed immediately as well.

When testing out this product, we loved: The balance of acidity and tannins. It is also quite neat that it comes from a winery owned by a Disney executive.

This beer can be purchased here and here.

RUNNER UP

Cooper Mountain Pinot Noir

Region: Willamette Valley, Oregon | ABV: 13.5% | Tasting Notes: Black cherries, Dried roses, Earth

Cooper Mountain Wine Estate was founded in 1980 and has been leading the way on organic and biodynamic ways of farming and tending to the vines using a “from earth to air” policy and declaring that “our land is our legacy”.

The grapes grown in this special region are an expression of the Willamette Valley and their Pinot Noirs are no exception. They are simply irresistible and ooze with flavors of black cherry, cranberry, damp earth and dried rose petals.

When testing out this product we loved: Its nod to traditional flavors developed in the wine using sustainable farming practices.

This wine can be purchased here and here.

RUNNER UP

2016 Liguna Franca Estate Pinot Noir

Region: Willamette Valley, Oregon | ABV: 13% | Tasting Notes: Black cherries, Tea, Licorice

Also from the Willamette Valley, the Estate Pinot Noir from Lingua Franca which sits on the same latitude as Côte d’Or in Burgundy in France which means that the climate and terroir mimic that of Burgundy.

Their 2016 vintage is a silky, velvety pinot noir that boasts savory notes like licorice, dark cherry, black tea and spices and has very refined tannins.

When testing out this product we loved: The savory notes of this wine are great with a hearty winter stew.

This wine can be purchased here.

RUNNER UP

Ridge East Bench Zinfandel 2019

Region: Cupertino, California | ABV: 14.8% | Tasting Notes: Cherry, Toasty Oak, Raspberry

Their 2019 East Bench Zinfandel is Ridge’s 15th release of this sole-varietal wine. For this vintage, favorable spring conditions created a great crop and the grapes were macerated for a week whilst fermenting to maximize color and flavor.

This Zinfandel has a ruby red color and is accompanied by cherry notes on the nose along with toasty oak.

On the palate, you can expect raspberry notes accompanied by a wave of tannins in the mouth. It is a wine that can be drunk immediately or aged over many years.

When testing out this product we loved: It’s ability to hold its own when paired with strong flavors like blue cheese.

This wine can be purchased here.

RUNNER UP

Louis Latour Château Corton Grancey

Region: Côte de Beaune, Burgundy, France | ABV: 14% | Tasting Notes: Red currants, Blood orange, Spice

Louis Latour is one of the most upstanding wineries in all of Burgundy and this Château Corton Grancey is a blend of four vineyards which produces a full-bodied wine that delivers on flavor and mouthfeel.

It gives off profound notes of black and red currants, citrus, dried fruits and spices. 

The mouthfeel is quite unique in that it makes your mouth water from the acidity whilst gripping you with its cedar-like tannins.

When testing out this product we loved: It achieves the ultimate balance between alcohol content, acidity, tannins and fruitiness.

This wine can be purchased here.

RUNNER UP

Bodegas Vega Sicilia Unico Tinto 2010

Region: Ribera del Duero, Spain | ABV: 14% | Tasting Notes: Spiced plums, Forest underbrush, Cigar box

Vega Sicilia is one of Spain’s most prestigious wineries using generations of knowledge to make wines such as the Bodegas Vega Sicilia Unico Tinto 2010.

Their wines are made to last, some still being exceptional after 85 years. The Bodegas Vega Sicilia Unico Tinto 2010, is a blend of Tinto Fino (similar to Tempranillo) and Cabernet Sauvignon. 

The wine has been aged for 10 years in French and American barrels and gives a woody undertone to the wine. Other notable flavors include spiced plums and blackberries.

When testing out this product we loved: It’s prestige and should really only be savored and enjoyed on a special occasion.

This wine can be purchased here.

RUNNER UP

Barons de Rothschild Légende Bordeaux Rouge 2016

Region: Bordeaux, France | ABV: 12.5% | Tasting Notes: Berry compote, Earth, Sweet oak spice

Légende wines from Barons de Rothschild are wines that are value-driven, making sure that you get all the quality and value you expect from a Bordeaux wine, without the exorbitant cost.

This 2016 vintage Bordeaux Rouge wine is packed with jammy berry compote flavors such as red berry fruit and wild berry fruit and includes oaky notes from the barrels they are aged in along with an earthiness.

When testing out this product we loved: That it is a classic Bordeaux in taste and body but at an affordable price.

This wine can be purchased here.

RUNNER UP

Penfolds 2017 Bin 389 South Australia Cabernet Shiraz

Region: South Australia, Australia | ABV: 14.5% | Tasting Notes: Black cherries, Cassis, New leather, Fruit cake

Moving to the Southern Hemisphere for our next wine on our list- Penfolds Cabernet Shiraz blend from the Penfolds Grange in South Australia.

Their wines are produced to be well-structured and complex wines that have depth of flavor and the ability to age well.

While mainly a Shiraz producing vineyard, this 2017 vintage, also known as the Baby Grange, combines 54% Cabernet Sauvignon with 46% Shiraz to achieve a wine that has deep notes of cherry, cassis and fruit cake.

When testing out this product we loved: The fine quality and flavor experienced for the affordable price tag for what you get.

This wine can be purchased here.

RUNNER UP

Achaval-Ferrer Quimera 2014

Region: Mendoza, Argentina | ABV: 14.5% | Tasting Notes: Cherry compote, Salty dark chocolate, Cedar spice

This vineyard really takes the time and effort to hand-select the vines for their blends and taste their grapes before combining them in ratios that achieve this masterful wine.

This 2014 vintage is made from 50% Malbec, 24% Cabernet Franc, 18% Merlot and 8% Cabernet Sauvignon which results in a complex, yet dynamic wine that is loaded with spice (with notes of vanilla and clove), cherry and salted chocolate.

When testing out this product we loved: The notes of vanilla and salted chocolate really come through and make this a wonderful drinking experience.

This wine can be purchased here.

RUNNER UP

Prats & Symington Prazo de Roriz 2016

Region: Douro, Portugal | ABV: 13.8% | Tasting Notes: Cranberry, Raspberry, Blood Orange, Cedar

This family owned winery, first produced port over two centuries ago and encompasses over 200 acres of land which consists of a 50/50 mix of Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca vines which are Portugal’s most popular red table wine grapes.

This 2016 Prazo de Roriz is a complex red wine with gorgeous deep red hues and delivers a bright, wild berry aroma with cedar and berry and citrus on the palate, which is supported by quite a lot of tannin content.

When testing out this product we loved: The tannin content and bright aromas experienced with every sip.

This wine can be purchased here.

RUNNER UP

Felton Road Pinot Noir Calvert 2018

Region: Central Otago, New Zealand | ABV: 13.5% | Tasting Notes: Red berries, Dried cherries, Mocha

Otago is one of New Zealand’s most southern regions and utilizes the cool climate to produce this Pinot Noir from 2018.

This vintage is a deep and dark-fruited fresh and lively wine and gives mocha and berry notes supported by quite a bit of acidity.

The Calvert Vineyard uses Bannockburn soils which are a combination of lake-bed silty loam, gravel and schist which hold a bit of water and help grapes ripen evenly and fully. The farm uses biodynamic farming, which makes it more sustainable.

When testing out this product we loved: The acidity from the cooler climate and the berry and mocha flavors.

This wine can be purchased here.

RUNNER UP

Antinori Tignanello

Region: Tuscany, Italy | ABV: 13.5% | Tasting Notes: Red berries, Black cherries, Spices

The Antinori Family has been making wine for over six centuries (since 1385) and there is not much that they don’t know about wine making.

This Tignanello was the first Sangiovese to be aged in barriques and blended with Cabernet Sauvignon grapes and is one of the first in the regions that didn’t use white grapes.

It is deeply intense and has hints of red berries, black cherries and herbs like mint and myrtle with notes of vanilla and white pepper. It is a well balanced wine with velvety tannins.

When testing out this product we loved: The velvet tannic mouthfeel and the freshness of this wine. It is also Meghan Markle’s favorite!

This wine can be purchased here.

Best Red Wines - Frequently Asked Questions

The 15 Best Red Wines

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.

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%.

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