Rich, Dense, Full-Bodied Red Wines

Big red wines, packed with rich forest fruit aromas and a silky, liquid velvet quality are the hallmarks of these powerhouses of the red wine world. At the opposite end of the flavour scale from the light reds, here it's grape varieties with typically small berries and thick skins that give that full-bodied red wine experience.

Whilst these grapes give less juice, they more than make up for it with a richness and depth of colour, and higher concentrations of tannins (and that's where they get their big structure and impressive longevity from). They need sunlight to ripen to the right degree, with good drainage encouraging the vines to dig deep with their roots. Southerly parts of Europe, the warmer climates of the New World - think Australia, South Africa, and California - are the perfect hunting ground for rich, dense, full-bodied red wines.

And, whilst you may think these full-throttle, full-bodied red wines are only suited to the colder months, and the boldest foods, many have an elegance and style that makes them very enjoyable year-round, and even in a glass by themselves.

Top 9 Full-Bodied Red Wines by Grape Variety

Cabernet Sauvignon: the king of dense, rich, full-bodied red wines. At its best, dark, garnet-red, intense aromas that evolve with age. Full, powerful, but still balancing structure and elegance. The Ferrari of the wine world.

Shiraz, and Syrah: one and the same, although generally speaking winemakers use Shiraz for the bigger red wines, Syrah for the still big, but subtler, more savoury styles. The Rhône's star grape variety, spawning such household names as Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Côte-Rôtie, and Crozes-Hermitage.

Nebbiolo: from Italy's far north, and vying with Tuscany for the crown of Italy's best red wines, Piedmont has a wealth of full-bodied red wines based upon this top Italian grape variety. Barolo and Barbaresco are the best known.

Brunello: the name given to Sangiovese in this corner of Tuscany, home to some of Italy's finest red wines. Never cheap, you can experience its charms with Rosso di Montalcino though, and save a little. Very long-lived, and all the time becoming more spellbinding.

Tannat: an ancient variety from South West France where Madiran is its main calling card. Ours, however, comes from Uruguay, itself guaranteed to create a talking point at your dinner table.

Mourvèdre: more often used in full-bodied red wine blends than by itself (Bandol is its supreme form), enjoy it in blends like the sumptuous Lirac, or travel further than its Rhône heartland to Australia or under its Spanish name, Monastrell.

Malbec: start with where it began, in Cahors in South West France, once making wines so dark they were dubbed the 'black wine'. Travel to South America for the contemporary take, with Malbec wines that work so well if you're a fan of chargilled meats and richly-flavoured dishes.

Tempranillo: sure, this can be a more relaxed style of red wine, but in regions like Toro, Ribera del Duero, and with the Reservas and Gran Reservas of Rioja, there's n mistaking its ability to make full-bodied, rich red wines.

Touriga Nacional: a key player in making Port, it's no surprise that as a table wine this variety packs a punch. Worth looking out for Portuguese red wines with 'Reserva' on the label to taste it at its fullest.

What does 'full-bodied wine mean?

'Body' is more than just sheer intensity of flavour. There's a weight and structure that you can sense as you swirl the wine around your tongue. The deep, brooding colour, together with the way the wine leaves 'legs' on your glass as you swirl (giving you an idea of its density - it doesn't just run straight back into the glass) are clues. You'll pick up on these as you taste.

Because of the ripeness needed to make full-bodied red wines, alcohol levels will be at the upper end. It's important you don't notice this, so great care goes into the balance of the wine, making sure fruit, and often oak, offset this basic sensation. And, it's also why you shouldn't drink them when they're too warm, all they'll come over as 'hot' from the alcohol.

Whilst tannins are present in all red wines, it's the rich, dense, full-bodied wines that leave you in no doubt as to their presence. Remember though, these are often red wines designed to be kept for some years before they're at their best, and over time the tannins will soften and the wine will meld into something altogether more appoachable. Patience, or buying an older vintage, will pay dividends here.

10 of the Best Light-Bodied, Fruity, Lively Red Wines

Paul Jaboulet Evidence par Caroline: a fascinating, and delicious blend of Rhône meets Bordeaux, with Cabernet Sauvignon coming together with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. From the outstanding Jaboulet house.

Jordan Estate Cobblers Hill: Stellenbosch shows its panache with Cabernet Sauvignon in this star-turn from a stellar estate.

Clos de Gat Har’el Syrah: when Syrah's transported to the Judean Hills of Israel, be prepared for a biblically-powerful full-bodied red wine.

Casas del Bosque Syrah Gran Reserva: very refined Chilean red wine, all the more remarkable for its price as it is for its generous, rich nature.

Dandelion Vineyards Pride of the Fleurieu Cabernet Sauvignon: from one of Australia's hotspots for Cabernet comes this dazzlingly dense red wine. Barbecue to roast beef, it's downright delicious.

Agostino Familia Mendoza: Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon together? Fasten your seatbelts for a full-bodied red wine ride like no other.

Francos Reserva Lisboa: another 'worth twice the price' wine, this rich Portuguese beauty couples three varieties into a red wine that's harmonious and full.

Finca Villacreces Pruno: Toro is the Spanish region responsible for this bull of a wine. Are you up to the challenge?

Moulin des Chênes Lirac: there may only be a smidgen of Mourvèdre in here, but, as so often for the Rhône, the whole is far greater than the sum of the parts.

Fratelli Ponte Barolo: often nicknamed the 'king of wines, and the wine of kings', Barolo needs a little time to blossom. Here it's in full blooming glory.
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