9 Best Red Wine Varietals for Newbies

red wine for beginnners

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Do you ever tense up when someone asks, “What kind of wine do you like?” Red wine can seem complicated, but use this best red wines for beginners guide to get your started!

When you’re new to wine, being asked to talk about your preferences can feel like a pop quiz that you’re totally unprepared for. Maybe you know that you like red wine, but you aren’t sure what kind of red wine you prefer. Maybe you always get the same bottle from the store, but you can’t identify why you like it.

First off, let us just say that this is totally okay. No one is going to judge you for being a wine newbie. That’s how we all started out.

When you’re interested in learning more about wine, your best bet is to try a bunch of different varietals. That’s right. As soon as you find something you like, we’re telling you to step outside of your comfort zone. It’s scary, but it’s a great way to learn. 

The best varietals to try are ones that are generally well-liked – in other words, don’t start out with some obscure wine that only connoisseurs will enjoy – and that can teach you something about your own tastes. That’s why you should start with these nine varietals.

red wine for beginners

Top Red Wines for Beginners

1. Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet is many people’s entry point to red wine simply because it’s the most widely planted red grape. Plus, it’s a perfect pairing for flavorful dishes and grilled meat, so it’s a frequent guest on wine lists. Basically, you should try Cabernet Sauvignon to see what all the fuss is about. And since it’s the basis for many popular blends, trying single-varietal Cabernet will help you understand what you like about your favorite blend.

Grasp + Grabble Cab
Bright Cellars’ own Grasp + Grabble Cabernet Sauvignon

Our favorite Cabernet Sauvignon is Bright Cellars’ own Grasp + Grabble Cabernet Sauvignon. This full-bodied red as flavors of fig, dates, and plums!

2. Merlot

If you love Cabernet Sauvignon, you should try Merlot next. Why? They’re very similar, except Merlot is often more affordable. Aside from the price, Merlot is generally loved for its flavors of black cherry, plum, and vanilla. If you enjoy Merlot, you should feel confident about making the leap to other medium-bodied red wines.

barossa valley - red wines for beginners
A Shiraz vineyard in Australia’s Barossa Valley

3. Shiraz

Shiraz, particularly Australian Shiraz, has intense notes of dark fruit and smoke. It’s a great entry point to the world of full-bodied reds because it can show you how a wine’s body can create bold flavors.

4. Zinfandel

California Zinfandel in particular is known for its medium body, structured tannins, fruity notes, and notably high alcohol. Generally, Zinfandel is above 15% ABV. As a result, after you take a sip and then breathe out, you’ll notice a tingly feeling in the back of your throat. The higher ABV also gives Zinfandel a spicy note of cinnamon or pepper, so sipping this varietal can give you a sense of how alcohol affects flavor. 

5. Pinot Noir

After you’ve tried some medium- to full-bodied varietals, pour yourself a glass of Pinot Noir and see what you think about a light-bodied red. Pinot can vary depending on where it’s made: some varieties are more fruity and others are more earthy. Take note of the region where your bottle of Pinot comes from, and try comparing one from California and one from France.

Gamay wine in Loire Valley - red wines for beginners
A Gamay vineyard in France’s Loire Valley

6. Gamay

If you dig light-bodied reds and prefer fruit-forward Pinot Noir, a Gamay-based wine is a great varietal to try next. Gamay wines, such as Beaujolais, have fruity and floral notes like pomegranate, blackberry, and violet. Beaujolais Nouveau – the freshest kind of Beaujolais – can also have a hint of banana that comes from the winemaking process.

7. Garnacha

Spanish Garnacha (or Grenache) is a great varietal to try to learn about acidity in red wine. With notes of stewed strawberry and blood orange, Garnacha’s mouthwatering acidity makes it a good pairing for roasted meats and spiced veggies. 

Latin Root Garnacha
Latin Root Garnacha from Bright Cellars

Try Bright Cellars’ own Latin Root Garnacha! This wine has flavor notes of red berries, baking spices, and leather-bound books.

8. Petite Sirah

Not to be confused with Syrah (which is the same as Shiraz – we know, these words are confusing!), Petite Sirah is a full-bodied red wine with notes of blueberry, dark chocolate, and black tea – due to its notably high tannins. Petite Sirah can help you figure out if you love strong tannins, or if you’d prefer a wine whose tannins are mellowed out.

Argentinian Malbec vineyards growing - best red wines for beginners
Argentinian Malbec vineyards

9. Malbec

Malbec is one of those wines that can quickly become someone’s go-to order. Argentinian Malbec has ripe fruity notes of blackberry and plum, along with notes of milk chocolate, leather, and sweet tobacco from oak aging. In addition to possibly becoming your new favorite red, Malbec can help teach you how you feel about oak-aged wines.

Obscura Malbec
Bright Cellars Obscura Malbec

Our favorite Malbec is Bright Cellars’ own Obscura!

In Vino Finito 

If one of these red wines quickly becomes your favorite and you’d like some hot tips on how to branch out from there, email us and we can help point you in the right direction.

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Bright Cellars

Our staff is full of passionate wine lovers. With our amazing sommeliers at the helm, we’ve been schooled on all things wine. We came together to write this article, in hopes of spreading a little wine-ducation with you.


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