What is a Smooth Red Wine?

Wine has its own language. Learning how to navigate the vocabulary will help you to buy and enjoy more of your favorites.

So, what exactly is meant when referring to red wine as smooth?

Smooth most commonly refers to the ease to drink, or drinkability of wine. If you’re looking for a wine that is easier to drink in big sips (it’s OK), a smooth red wine is what you’re likely after.

glass of wine with a slice of pizza

What makes a red wine taste smooth?

Typically, smooth red wine lacks several of the key structural components that more complex wines will feature.

Great. So what does that mean?

Key Structural Components of Wine

When tasting wine, more experienced wine drinkers will often try to detect and describe the different structural elements (or lack thereof) of the wine. These descriptions can often involve very poetic, flowery, or creative language/adjectives. Such is wine.

The 5 key structural components of wine are…

  1. Fruit
    • Right. Wine is made of grapes. But, it’s more than that. When describing the tase of wine, you’ll come across other fruity words, like berries, citrus, and tropical fruit descriptors.
    • A heavy or big fruit taste in wine can be described as jammy. Ripeness and/or the quality of care provided to the grapes by the weather and winemaker will influence the fruit.
  2. Acid
    • Acidity in wine is most easily detected near the front and sides of your tongue. To better understand the acidic sensation, imagine taking a big bite of a lemon. Acidic wine will reproduce that mouth watering sensation you’re likely now experiencing.
  3. Tannin
    • The drying or bitterness sensation felt on the sides of your tongue and in your cheeks when drinking wine can be attributed to tannin. There are a ton of wine words used to describe varying levels of tannin in wine (both positively and negatively).
  4. Alcohol
    • This one’s easier. Alcohol is just that. The warming sensation you might be used to feeling when drinking any alcoholic beverage.
  5. Sugar
    • Another relatively straightforward-forward descriptor. Sugar in wine will taste sweet. So, you’ll be able to detect it on the tip of your tongue. But, in practice, many people new to wine will confuse fruity and sweet wines.

So, a smooth red wine will typically have average to lower than average levels of some structural components of wine. Specifically, those components that might pose a challenge to drinking vs sipping.

Tannins and alcohol are usually not very high in red wines you’d expect to receive when requesting a smooth one. Most commonly, smooth wines will prominently feature fruit above all else.

Smooth Red Wine Types to Try

Does the description of a smooth red wine sound like what you like to drink, or want to try? If so, we recommend the below types, or blends featuring these grapes, with a big caveat.

Caveat: Wine producers can greatly influence the taste of wine through a variety of methods. Therefore, don’t dismiss an entire type of wine based on 1 bad experience. It might be the oak barrel or yeast used in wine production that you’re tasting.

Wine TypeWhat to Expect
Cabernet FrancMedium acid and tannin levels. Medium to lower levels of alcohol. Select a bottle produced from a warmer region, if you’re looking for a more fruit forward, smoother wine.
CarmenèreMore acidic than tannic. Spicy aromas. Popular in Chile, it skews more bitter than merlot, so is often featured in blends with other grapes to smooth out any bitterness.
Côtes-du-Rhône (red blend)This is a French red wine blend that primarily features Grenache. Simple, fruity, and straight forward to drink red wine. Medium tannin and acid.
Grenache/GarnachaMedium tannin and acid, but alcohol skews higher than average. Medium body and color.
MerlotFruity, medium acidity, medium tannin, average to average plus alcohol. Medium body.
TempranilloMedium to full body, featuring medium to high levels of both acid and tannin. Above average alcohol. This grape is very popular in Spain, and is featured as the predominant grape in Rioja wines.
ZinfadelFruit forward and jammy. Low to medium levels of acid. Medium tannin, but above average to high levels of alcohol.

In The Wild Example

an example of a smooth red wine from Italy

On a cold Friday evening in February, my wife and I enjoyed this bottle – Dolcetto, Dosset Vino Rosso, Italy 2017.

Featured in our local wine shop’s club, they described it with the following words: light, fresh expression, bursting with red berries, red fruits, and blackberries, a juicy finish.

This wine is 11% alcohol by volume. This wine fell into our shared definition of a smooth red wine.

It was fruit forward with soft tannins, little acidity, and a low level of alcohol.

How to order a smooth red wine and sound like you know what you’re talking about

Smooth is a relatively common word used to describe wine. However, you’re unlikely to catch many wine pros using it. But, that’s OK.

The reason, you won’t often hear many wine experts touting smooth wine is one of preference. Typically wine aficionados will look for well balanced (a balance of all structural elements), complexity, and length of finish for the wine they rate highly.

That said, not every occasion is cut out for a balanced and complex wine. If you prefer fruity wine with low tannin and alcohol, then you should order smooth red wine and enjoy it.

So, what kind of wine words can you use in a restaurant, at a bar, or wine shop when you’d like to order a smooth red and sound like a pro? Try some of these words and phrases next time…

  • fruit forward
  • lush
  • supple
  • light tannins
  • jammy
  • smooth (!)

With this in mind, confidently order a fruit forward but supple red next time the mood strikes you, and enjoy the smooth red wine you’re served. Cheers!

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