One of the first things we try and establish when matching someone with a bottle, is what they normally like to drink, and I can tell you that the most common response by far is: “A nice bottle of red”. Naturally, we think all our reds are nice! But red wine has such a variety of styles, ranging from light, elegant Pinot Noirs, through smooth and warming Grenache, up to big and bold Cabernet Sauvignons or oaky Riojas. So what do we really mean by a nice bottle of red?

So here is our handy guide to just a few popular red grapes...

*Disclaimer* Grapes can yield wildly different wines depending on where they are grown and how they are treated. This is intended to be an overview to help you pick out what it is you like about a wine, and to help you find new things...

Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir is the grape that most wine buffs put on the highest pedestal. It can be a tricky grape that only likes cool climates, and has a very thin skin so can be difficult to get right. Because of this, it can be quite pricy! Good Pinot Noir tends to be very smooth, with low levels of tannins and lower alcohol levels. Classic flavours include strawberry and cherry, and as it ages can get subtle mushroomy characteristics. It’s perhaps best known from Burgundy, and New Zealand where it tends to be fuller bodied and richer, but it’s also a main component in Champagne and English Sparkling wines.

Pinot Noir is delicious with Christmas dinner, mushroom dishes, duck and hard cheeses, in fact it is very good for pairing with most food!

If you like Pinot Noir, try: Gamay, Frappato.


Grenache is a hardy grape that favours very hot climates. It’s perhaps most famous from hot, sunny areas of Southern France around Orange and Avignon where it is a major component in Chateauneuf du Pape. It goes into most Cotes du Rhone blends, but is also found across the world in blends, and on its own. It creates smooth wines of medium tannin and deceptively pale colour that can be high in alcohol with gutsy flavours. Expect cherries and red fruits, as well as smokiness and herbs. Delicious, reliable and can offer very good value for money. Pair with roasted meats, particularly with a bit of spice – lamb koftas could be excellent.

If you like Grenache: try Cannonau


If Merlot were a person, it’s the one you’d bring home to meet your parents. A great all-rounder that gives you medium bodied, medium tannin, and soft, fruity flavours. It grows all over the world, but is a major component of many Bordeaux wines (Claret), and does very well in Chile, California and indeed South Africa. It can offer great value wines that are smooth and easy with flavours of raspberry and plum, but it also has the potential to make complex wines for ageing when grown in cooler climates. Great with roast dinner, beef stew or vegetarian lasagne.

If you like Merlot: Try Montepulciano d’Abruzzo or Carmenere

Cabernet Sauvignon

Cab Sav crops up in a variety of guises, and is the most prized grape in Bordeaux, where it is used to add structure and depth to the wines there. It is one of the fullest bodied grape varieties with high tannin and requires warm climates and careful management. It’s concentrated with distinct blackcurrant flavours, and as it ages can develop tobacco, mint and other savoury characteristics. New World wines made with Cabernet tend to be fruitier and bolder, but wherever it’s grown it has the capability of making great wine that is perfect for steak.

If you like Cab Sav: Try South African Cabernet Franc


Shiraz/Syrah is one of the most interesting grapes (in my opinion!). Most people know it as big, full-bodied, spicy Aussie wines (where it’s usually labelled as Shiraz), yet it is also capable of creating very elegant wines with intense blackberry and smoky black pepper flavours (usually defined as Syrah). It originated in the Northern Rhone Valley of France, but is a major component in Cotes du Rhone blends, because it has a very deep purple colour, so adds depth. Now many New World countries, including South Africa make excellent wines in both Shiraz and Syrah styles. It tends to be higher in tannin, and usually packs a punch, which makes it great for BBQs.

If you like Shiraz/Syrah: Try Pinotage