8th January 2019

How to Construct a Wine List – Part II: The Reds

How to construct a wine list – Part II: The Reds

In our previous blog post, we profiled a selection of white wine varieties. This time we look at the dark, sultry, fruity and rich world of red wine. We’ve highlighted 5 red grapes and their characteristics, as well as writing about blended options that you might want to consider if you’re building or revamping a wine list. Remember, constructing a wine list is all about balance. So, without further ado, let’s get stuck in…


A big juicy red classic. Merlot is a red wine lovers staple and often the first port of call people make when discovering wine. Merlot makes a readily accessible wine that doesn’t overly challenge the palate. Offering a solid Merlot is a must for any pub or restaurant as it’s bound to be one of the best wine sellers. Merlot can be blended with other grape varieties and certainly doesn’t break the bank.

Although you can buy expensive American Merlot, we recommend looking to South America or South Africa for a bright, jammy, wallet-friendly bottle that’ll please your customers. Some people can get a little sniffy at Merlot see it as ‘middle of the road’, however, personally speaking, if anything this highlights its all-rounder status. Pair it with Steak, Stews, Burgers, Mushrooms, Bolognese, we could go on… basically anything meaty or a bit earthy and you’re good to go.

Red Wine overlooking a Vineyard

Cabernet Sauvignon

A cousin of Merlot when it comes to recognition, dependency and popularity. Cab Sauv, as it’s referred to, is another stunning grape variety. Heavier than a Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon again pairs well with meaty, earthy and succulent dishes such as steaks, moussaka, ribs and risottos.

These wines are often full-bodied with an intensity of dark, ripe fruit, currants and berries and pleasing tannins.

This grape is often blended with Merlot and is one of the 6 grapes allowed to be used in a Bordeaux. The other 5 being Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Carmenere. It’s worth noting that Carmenere is rarely used though and accounts for very little Bordeaux production, although is still used in other blends around the world.

Red Wine with Meats

Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir carries quite a reputation, and not just in the wine world. It’s certainly in the public’s consciousness as a high end, sophisticated wine. Pinot Noir is notoriously difficult to grow in comparison to other red grape varieties and it tends to be softer with low tannins compared to other robust grapes. However, the rewards can produce some of the best wine in the world. Described as “sex in a glass”, it’s also been said that “God made Cabernet Sauvignon whereas the devil made Pinot Noir”, those quotes tell you everything you need to know about it’s reputation.

When young Pinot Noir is fruity with flavours of cherry and raspberry, as it ages it will become more herbal and produce more gamier flavours. French Burgundy is likely to have more of these earthy notes when compared to North American and New Zealand wines. This is due to climate. New Zealand Pinot Noir is usually smooth and beautiful, whereas North American exports are often a little funky, zippy and can be a bit different. You’re likely to end up paying a premium though for more unusual wines.

Cheaper Pinot Noir is worth considering even though it can be very hard to come by, but you’ll still find some deals out there. Besides which, customers will expect to pay at least £25 upwards for a semi-decent bottle of Pinot Noir. Just remember to be fair with the price. If this sounds too expensive, maybe consider offering a fun, fruity Beaujolais as an alternative. New vintages are released every November, remember Beaujolais Nouveau? It’s been making a comeback in recent years and offers a good marketing opportunity between Bonfire Night and Christmas.

Pair with Roast Chicken, Pate, Cheese, Salmon, Tuna. If you’re serving a higher end Burgundy pair with a Beef Wellington, Fillet Steak or a good rack of Lamb.

Syrah / Shiraz

Another go-to classic. Shiraz experienced a boom in popularity in the UK during the late 90’s early 00s due to readily available Australian imports. People loved the peppery, fruity robust tannins and sultry tones of Shiraz, buying it in droves. The grape displays flavours such as blackberry, chocolate and can also show coffee, liquorice or earthy, leathery notes with age.

You might have seen the names Syrah and Shiraz before and this can lead to confusion, so to clear it up once and for all, they are the same grape. Syrah is the Old World name, whereas Shiraz is the New World name. The styles also change slightly with Syrah tending to be grown in cooler climates such as France and North America, whereas Shiraz tends to be the Southern Hemisphere. This gives the wines some differences in character but fundamentally, the grapes have the same DNA.

Drink with beefy stews, Barbecues or roasted/grilled red meat or simply by itself.

Red Wine Vineyard


Malbec is usually an inky, dark red with brooding characteristics and great tannic structure. Originally French, and one of the grapes allowed in Bordeaux blends, it has taken on a life of it’s own in recent years, experiencing a surge in recognition and popularity. Although grown all over the world, a lot of people associate it with Argentina due to the dominance of Argentine Malbec in the UK market. Malbec is a very popular wine and selling a bottle only option around £25 could be a good move.

Malbec is often rich, fruity and ripe, with bold plush flavours that borders on violet, raisin, tobacco and damson. Malbec is great with red meats or by itself and is a good addition on any wine list.

Blends –

You’ll be able to find a magnitude of blended red wines. This can range from expensive Bordeaux’s through to cheaper alternatives that mimick styles or characteristics of more exclusive wines. These tend to be grown in less fashionable parts of the world. It’s important that you aren’t put off if you find a decent drop from Romania, Bulgaria, Greece or somewhere else that you don’t always associate with wine production. Nowadays, there’s no need for the stigma.

Classics like Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC are highly recognizable but can be very expensive, and you can find other red blends from the Rhone Valley. Just because people recognise a name or type of wine, doesn’t mean they are an expert. We’ve all seen people blindly order something because of hype, regardless of whether they like it or not.

Red Wine with Cheese

Remember, that like other goods and consumables, wine is made to a price too. Winemakers often club together in a co-op system to get the best of a smaller, disappointing or challenging harvests. This isn’t a bad thing, think of it more as responsible winemaking and making the best of limited resources rather than only providing single variety wine and letting tons of grapes go to waste. That wouldn’t be very environmentally friendly. These blends are often bursting with taste, character and rustic style. Popular combinations include Merlot, Malbec, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and lesser used grapes like Grenache, Mourvedre, Petit Verdot, Carmenere or Carignan.

Blended options can offer good wine at a wallet-friendly price. Look out for wines from South Africa, Chile and Australia. Remember that a lot of wine price is to do with demand and exclusivity. For example, Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a region that only has 3200 hectares of vineyard. That means that production in that area is limited before you account for other factors like vintage quality, bad weather, etc., etc. You will always be able to find alternatives.


Other types of red wines to consider include the following;

Rioja, Amarone, Barolo, Sangiovese, Gamay, Pinotage, Zweigelt, Montepulciano, Nebbiolo, Primitivo.


Please note: These will vary on price, suitability, and demand greatly. If in doubt, do some research, tasting and find out more information. Ultimately, get to know what wines you are offering and you can train staff or advise customers accordingly. If you wish to learn the basics of wine tasting please click here. Best of luck constucting your wine list, it can be a lot of fun!


Thank you for reading this Trust Inns blog post, make sure that you check out blog regularly for hints, tips, advice and other industry news.

< Back to Blog