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There’s dry red wine, and then there’s lip-smacking, tongue-twitching dry red wine that leaves your mouth in a pucker! Dry red wines are divided into three classifications: very dry, off dry and medium dry, but you don’t always see those designations on the label. What you will see is the wine’s country or maybe the region of its origin. French wine lists the grape used to make the wine, as do Spanish, Italian and South African wines. American and Argentinian reds simply list the vintner, the region the grapes came from and the year of the harvest. Knowing a little geography and grape varietals puts you ahead of the game in identifying dry red wines.

French Dry Red Wine Regions

The prominent French regions for production of dry, red wine include:

  • Bordeaux
  • Beaujolais
  • Burgundy
  • The Rhone Valley
  • The Languedoc-Roussillon

Bordeaux Red Grape Varietals

Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc grapes are blended to create some of the most distinguished and most expensive red wines in the world. Depending on whether the vineyard is on the right or left back of the Gironde River, the blends have a distinctive taste. The left bank, home to the Grand Cru wineries, including Chateau Margaux, St. Julien and Pauillac, are not the wines with which to begin your red wine education.

Instead, try the Cru Bourgeois wines. This is a designation given to artisan growers producing notable red wines in the Medoc region of Bordeaux, which includes more than 200 growers of lesser name recognition, thus lesser price. Like most Bordeaux reds, a dry, full-bodied taste of dark fruit prevails, as do the tannins.

Great Wines of Eastern France

The gamay grape dominates Beaujolais wine production, and it leaves your palate with a fruity, fresh taste. This is a good bet for beginning red wine drinkers, but for quality, don’t subscribe to the great Beaujolais Nouveau Day that happens on the third Thursday of November every year. Those wines are “last Tuesday’s vintage” and are not known for their quality. In fact, many Beaujolais wines of better quality do not refer to the word “Beaujolias” on their label.

Burgundy, Rhone and Languedoc Grapes

The pinot noir grape is the basis for all Burgundy wines, but moving farther south to the Rhone Valley, syrah is the dominant grape. Eight other varietals comprise a vast selection of Rhone Valley wines, with Grenache and Mourvedre the most well-known after syrah. All result in a dry red wine. Grenache, a versatile grape, is used in the Languedoc as well as in noted Spanish wines.

Tasting Dry Italian Reds

Italian reds run from spicy to tangy to fruity. Chianti is a region in Tuscany that produces the popular wine often found in a bottle wrapped with twine and used afterward as a candleholder. Sangiovese and Canaiolo grapes go into the making of the wine, and they taste like dark fruit. This is a great wine to go with pizza and spicy Italian dishes, but avoid it if you get acid reflux ‒ it’s very tannic.

For a smooth, dry red Italian wine, try the Montepulciano grape-based wines. They tend to be gentle on the stomach because of their lower tannin level, and your palate will enjoy a dry, full-bodied wine experience.

The nebbiolo grape is what’s in the bottle of Barbaresco and Barolo wines. Harvested in the Piedmont region of Italy, as well as in California and Australia, it defines “dry” with its mouth-tightening, highly tannic taste.

Syrah/Shiraz Travels the World

Originally grown in France, the syrah, also known as shiraz, grape is now grown all over the world, most notably in Australia and America. This is a tangy dry red wine that can be “jammy” in some growing climates and “spicy” when grown in others.

New World Dry Red Wines

Wines produced outside of Europe are considered “New World” wines. Harvested from grapes that probably originated in France, cabernet, merlot, pinot noir and even Argentina’s malbec trace their roots to the soils of France. You can count on them to be dry, and their consistency varies, with California reds leaning toward “jammy,” and Australia’s production more on the spicy line. Washington and Oregon reds are lighter and less tannic, but they still deliver a clean, dry taste.