When you’re learning to drink wine, it helps to think of red wines as being one of these four styles: fruity, earthy, smooth, or bold
Fruity red wines
Most fruity wines are from the New World, are light-to-medium bodied, and most are made from Pinot Noir grapes. You’ll often hear these wines described as fruit-forward, the alcohol level can be 14% alcohol or more. Fruity wines come from warm weather climates that produce grapes with relatively high levels of sugar and low levels of acid and tannins. They are definitely a “love it or leave it” kind of wine. Fruity wines are mostly from California, but they can also be produced in Oregon. Keep in mind, though, that there are Pinot Noirs from Oregon, Washington, and Northern California that are not fruity wines. These wines are from colder climates and are more acidic with more earthy flavors and darker fruit
Earthy red wines
Earthy wines are generally made using Pinot Noir, Grenache, and/or Syrah. Earthy wines are medium to medium-full bodied, with more acid than you will find in other red wines. The alcohol level for these wines is typically a little bit lower than fruity wines, averaging around 13% alcohol.
Earthy wines express aromas of cherry, berry, earth and even sometimes barnyard. Typical flavor profiles for earthy wine can vary from red cherries to dark fruit. Other flavors typical of earthy wines include herbaceous, dried fruit, and smoke. Earthy wines are produced in the French regions of Burgundy and Rhone. Earthy Pinot Noirs are also produced in Washington, Oregon, and New Zealand.
Many earthy wines, particularly those from Côte d Nuits and Côte du Beaune in Burgundy, can age for decades. In fact, some of the wines from these regions need the age to produce an enjoyable wine. Earthy wines are particularly food friendly
Smooth red wines
Smooth wines are the largest category of red wine. Smooth wines are medium-full to full bodied wines, and they offer the much of the complexity found in bold wines without all the extras. Smooth wines have less acid than earthy wines and slightly more alcohol, starting around 13.5% alcohol.
The range of aromas offered by smooth wines is huge. Most of the berry smells in smooth wines are dark, including blackberry, dark cherry, and blue berry. Other aromas associated with smooth wines include pepper, cigar box, and vanilla. The taste of smooth wines follows their aroma profile with plenty of berry, cherry, and dried fruit.
Smooth wines occupy the area in the wine taste map that bridges the gap between earthy wines and bold wines, offering plenty of flavors without all the tannin and alcohol of most bold wines. Smooth wines are also a little more acidic than bold wines, giving them an advantage when it comes to paring with food.
Smooth wines are made from dozens of different grapes including Syrah, Zinfandel, Grenache, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Malbec. The wines are produced in all major wine producing areas including France, Italy, Spain, Argentina, Chile, New Zealand, Australia and America.
Bold red wines
Bold wines are the biggest wines of the red wine world. These full bodied, often over-the-top wines, are mostly the product of the New World(California and Australia), but there are bold wines being produced in all winemaking regions.
The most common grape used to make bold wines is Cabernet Sauvignon, but Syrah and Zinfandel can also be used to make some really big wines. Cabernet Sauvignon is often blended with other grapes such as Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec or Petite Verdot. Grenache and/or Merlot is sometimes blended with Syrah to make some bold wines from Australia.
Whatever the grapes, the unifying characteristic of bold wines is the shear size and complexity of the wine. Bold wines are highly extracted wines with deep, dark color, frequently opaque. The extraction process also pulls lots of tannins from the grape skins into the wine, giving the bold wine more body and texture, and well, more tannins.
The aroma profile for bold wines depends somewhat on the primary grape that is used. For Cabernet Sauvignons and their blends, common smells are cassis, blackberry, vanilla (from the oak), spice and cigar box/smoke/tobacco. The aroma profile for bold wines derived by Syrah is similar, but with a greater emphasis on spice and black pepper. In the mouth, all of these big wines bring loads of dark fruit, licorice and chewy tannins.
Bold wines come from warm/hot climates, and therefore have plenty of sugar to convert to alcohol. The % alcohol for these wines can range from 13.5% to almost 17% alcohol!
Examples of bold wines include American and Australian Cabernets and Cabernet blends, some Australian Shirazs, American Syrahs and a small fraction of American Zinfandels