Whether you’re a fan of Pinot Grigio or love sipping a glass of Chardonnay, there are plenty of reasons why you should love white wines. But a lot of white wine enthusiasts prefer to be purists – those who drink white wine, and only white wine.
While that’s a perfectly fine decision in itself, there’s an entire world of red wines that are just waiting to be explored. So I wanted to create a list of good red wines for white wine drinkers so you can dip your toes into the world of reds
Sure, there are clear differences between red and white wines, and that might be a reason why some would rather stick to one entirely. But you don’t have to taste the full-bodied flavors of Cabernet Sauvignon to enjoy red wine – there are many varietals out there that offer a very similar experience to your favorite whites. They make for the perfect gateway into red wine tasting.
So to help you out, here are 5 different red wine varietals that are perfect for white wine drinkers who want to get into reds without stepping into too unfamiliar territory. But first, let’s go through some criteria to know what red wines are perfect for those familiar with the taste of white.
What Kind Of Red Wine Is Best For White Wine Drinkers?
To know which reds are best for white wine drinkers to try out for the first time, we first need to define the key characteristics that whites have over reds and then find red wine varietals that fit the bill.
In general, white wines have lower alcohol content, are a lot fruitier, and sport lower tannins. Let’s go through each one individually.
This may not be an issue to many white wine drinkers, especially those who prefer bolder whites such as Chardonnay, but some enthusiasts opt for white wine specifically due to it generally containing less alcohol than its red counterparts.
And it’s not just because they don’t like getting a little tipsy – the distinct bitterness of alcohol can put off a lot of people in high concentrations, so white wine offers a milder alternative to the plethora of bold reds in the market.
Even though there are many reds that sport a good fruity flavor to them, whites typically have a fruitier taste to them. The selection of grapes used in white wines, combined with the overall process of fermenting white wines, allow them to preserve their sweetness over the years.
It also helps that using oak barrels for whites isn’t as common, which can contribute to a more earthy taste in the wine and dampen its fruitiness.
This is probably the biggest reason why many white wine drinkers remain loyalists. Tannins aren’t necessarily loved by everyone, and it’s not hard to see (or taste) why – tannins contribute to a lot of the earthiness and dryness you taste in red wines.
Sure, there are exceptions – which we will talk about in just a minute – but even in those with relatively low tannin levels, reds just seem to taste a lot dryer than the white wines.
With these characteristics of white wines, we can now pinpoint which red wines will offer a similar taste to loyalists and purists alike.
Without further ado, here are 5 red wines which aren’t only low on those pesky tannins, but also fruity and low enough on alcohol, you won’t be able to tell the difference (though if you’re aiming to be a sommelier one day, you really should).
One big reason people don't like reds is that a lot of them are simply too thick. Though a big-bodied, chewy, viscous red is perfect in cooler weather, it's a challenge for some during a hot summer afternoon!
Light bodied wines are refreshing and thirst quenching. If you're branching out to new wines, or just searching for the perfect red replacement, try something with a lighter body!
Best Red Wine Varietals For White Wine Drinkers
There are a lot of types of grapes that make red wine, but some are more suited to white wind drinkers. Here's what you should start with, but of course you'll find that a lot of the bottles you buy are blends, so keep an eye out for blends of a couple of these grape varietals as well.
Topping this list is a favorite for tannin haters and those with a sweet tooth alike. This makes the list for being a red wine extremely low on tannins, and a light to medium body to boot.
This easy-to-drink varietal can be found almost anywhere, with Pinot Noir grown all over the world, from its birthplace in Burgundy to vineyards in Italy, California, Australia, and many more. There are two main classifications of Pinot Noir you should know about: Old World Pinot Noir and New World Pinot Noir.
Old World Pinot Noir refers to Pinot Noir that’s been grown in the traditional, colder climates and vineyards. Old World Pinot Noir is classified as being earthy and more acidic than its New World counterpart. Examples of Old World Pinot Noir include Louis Jadot Chapelle-Chambertin and Franz Keller Vom Löss Pinot Noir.
New World Pinot Noir, on the other hand, is made from Pinot Noir grapes grown in warmer temperatures, which causes the wine to become fruitier and smoother in texture. Viña Koyle Costa Pinot Noir and Trione Russian River Valley Pinot Noir are good examples of this sweeter alternative.
We recommend New World Pinot Noirs for those who are just trying out reds for the first time. If you’re a little more experienced or prefer something more exotic, try Old World Pinot Noir instead.
If you’re looking for something more classic than most varietals, look no further than Barbera red wine. This special varietal has been around for a long time – since the 7th century to be exact – and is grown most commonly in Italy, though vineyards in Australia and the United States do grow the grape as well.
What makes Gamay such a great wine for white wine loyalists is its easiness to drink. Just like Pinot Noir, Barbera contains barely enough tannins, meaning that you won’t have to worry about that earthy flavor. You’ll also get the familiar acidity of white wines in Barbera, as it has that zing that other red wines don’t.
Its fruitiness helps a lot in making this varietal a great choice for beginners. And if you want to stick to Barberas for a while there are some that have earthier flavors, so you can slowly get into that as well over time with just Barbera.
If for whatever reason, Pinot Noir isn’t available in your area, or you’d rather have something similar, Gamay can be a great option too. The grape is primarily grown in Beaujolais, a region in France that’s right beside Burgundy, the home of Pinot Noir.
Gamay is one of the milder red wines out there, with its strongest suit being moderate to high levels of acidity. This wine is by no means mediocre in any way, however – the fruitiness and smoothness make Gamay great for starting off your journey into red wine culture.
As a general tip, note that there are slight differences in Gamay wines, depending on where you’re getting them. If the Gamay comes from vineyards in Beaujolais, you’ll notice an earthier texture than you normally would than, say, in cooler climates such as New Zealand and Canada. The difference shouldn’t be too great though, and you’ll be able to enjoy either version just fine.
Now that we’ve covered some of the smoothest and lightest red wines, we can move on to some of the more exotic reds out there. Don’t worry, though – these are still great beginner reds, they’re just a tad more different than what white wine drinkers are used to, for the most part.
This first varietal should be a name many enthusiasts (even white wine loyalists) should be familiar with. Merlot is one of the most popular red wines in the United States, and that’s thanks to how soft and fruity the wine is. It’s also one of the most common recommendations for those new to red wines, so it’s no surprise the wine is on this list.
Merlots are often compared to Cabernet Sauvignon, another popular red wine varietal. However, there are quite a few differences between the two, particularly due to the fact that Cabernet Sauvignon is a full-bodied wine, whereas Merlot is milder by comparison. Merlot also contains fewer tannins than Cabernet Sauvignon.
Finally, we’ve got an option for those white wine drinkers who are familiar with the full-bodied tastes of Chardonnay. Zinfandel is arguably the heaviest red wine on this list, so it may not be the best first choice for many white wine drinkers – but like any other varietal, it has its own unique traits that make it stand out.
Zinfandel is a grape that was imported to the US hundreds of years ago and is one of the more alcoholic reds found in the country today. While not as popular in most other countries, Zinfandel is grown in Italy, going by its local name of Primitivo instead, so you can get either one if you plan on trying the varietal out.
The unique combination of fruitiness and a somewhat bold body make Zinfandel an interesting sip the first time you try it out. It’s also a little heavier on the tannin side, so don’t try Zinfandel out until you’ve gotten used to the earthiness of the substance in your wine.
Schiava is light bodied, and famous for its cotton candy and bubblegum flavors, though this person denies that common claim, and instead tastes almonds in every glass! Most Schiava grapes are grown in the German Alps, and grown with a pergola system like you see in the photo above.
If you're a fan of Gamay or Beaujolais, you'll enjoy this one. The light body, fruit flavors pair well with lighter meats like chicken or seafood.
Though I'm sure someone is going to complain about this in the comments Lambrusco is definitely a red wine, and definitely an option for someone to start drinking reds. Do you like Prosecco? You'll probably dig Lambrusco since it's a sparkling red wine.
There are a variety of Lambrusco grapes with which to make this wine, and the end-result can be on a wide spectrum of dry or sweet. Wines can be simple and fun, or aged and more complex. Some may have more tannic structure than others, so you'll just need to experiment and find a bottle that works for your taste.
Malbec is a fruit-focused wine. Although it does have some tannins compared to other wines on this list, cheaper bottles will have very little oak aging. That means you'll get a full-bodied, fruit-forward red wine.
Though Malbec originated in France, it was really Argentina that popularized it. It's been described as the working man's merlot [source] due to it's drinkability and rise in popularity from word of mouth.
Another fruit forward, moderate tannin wine, Grenache is also described as having a distinct cinnamon flavor, as well as citrus and tobacco depending on where it's grown.
Grenache grapes are often used for rosé wines, and there are actually some white varietals as well which can make Grenache blanc or gris. These grapes are grown in a variety of places around the world including Australia, France, and California.
The high tannin content of Syrah probably means it's not the best option for white wine drinkers, but the bold, dark fruit flavors of new world Syrah means it might be worth a try.
Fun fact: The grape is rumored to have originated in Iran, and when it eventually traveled from France to Australia, they started calling it “Shiraz”, and there are plenty of Australian wines that still use that name on their bottles.
White wine is great and all, but you don’t have to stick to whites to enjoy light, fruity flavors with low tannins. There are many red wine varietals out there that give you the experience of sipping whites, and they’re useful in easing your way into reds if you aren’t all that used to them just yet.
One Quick Trick! Try Chilling Your Red Wine
I don't mean just take any old red wine and chill it, although, that is a growing trend. What I mean is that part of the enjoyment of drinking white wine is remember the warm summer days sitting on the deck drinking a cool, refreshing drink.
You can recreate this experience with an appropriate red or rosé. Sometimes, enjoyment of a specific wine, or style of wine, isn't only just because of the flavor! The entire experience is savored, and often, I find, drinking wine associated with those experiences helps shape my thoughts on a particular bottle.
In other words, I'm not just drinking a glass of white wine, I'm drinking a glass of last summer. So go out and create new experiences with your new found appreciation for reds!