Casual drinking wine is a term that means something different to everyone who hears it. One person may hear an affordable price, while another will hear a balanced flavor profile.
The best red wine for casual drinking is whatever bottle you feel helps make your life more relaxing. With a simple glass of red by your side, you don’t have to fuss about counting down the vintage date, decanting for thirty minutes, or planning out a complex dinner! Whether you want a low-cost or a mellow taste, we have a few fantastic suggestions for you.
Below are our top picks on casual red wine varieties, their prices, and simple food pairings you can start with! When you’re done, you’ll have more than enough inspiration for your next get-together or personal movie night.
Defining Casual Drinking Wine
Casual drinking of wine is seeing a revival these past few years. With more people skirting the traditional approach of still wine bottles, canned and boxed varieties are becoming the go-to casual choice.
The culture shift makes sense: popping open a can of wine invokes a similar feeling to cracking open a soda. Compare this act with the traditional wine bottle, most of which tend to use a cork that requires a corkscrew and careful handling.
Image is everything in the wine world, which is a major reason we crafted this list. How do you go up against hundreds of years of winemaking history and culture?
With a little research, finding and enjoying a casual red wine is quite easy. Before we start:
Simple Wine Terminology to Know
We have a few terms you should keep in mind while reading. Our goal is to empower you to find several wonderful choices to fill up your wine rack!
Ever heard of a wine described as having a long finish? This term simply means how long the wine’s flavor lingers on your tongue.
A long finish may have you tasting the wine for minutes after each sip, which is a common experience of aged and oaked wines. A short finish implies a lighter flavor that doesn’t stick around, often from younger wines.
A fresh wine is a wine that hasn’t been aged, oaked, or modified much. Checking the vintage date will let you know immediately how fresh your wine is.
Some wines are described as bright: not in terms of their color, but their flavor! This description is a shorthand for a wine that’s high in acidity, lending to tangy, zesty flavors that pop on your tongue.
The body of a wine describes the weight of each sip when you drink. Does the wine feel heavy or does it feel light? This term overlaps somewhat with…
This odd term simply describes the texture of the wine. Just a few descriptions you may experience in your quest to find a wine for casual drinking are:
This term refers to a chemical compound found in the skins of wine grapes. Tannins contribute to the drying effect wine can have on your tongue, also acting as a natural preservative.
Wines with a high level of tannins are better suited for aging, while low tannin wines should be consumed soon after purchase.
The Best Red Wine For Casual Drinking
Our suggestions will have simple food pairings, price ranges, and buying tips based on the unique qualities of the grape. We’re confident you’ll find at least one casual red wine that suits your palate!
Merlot: A Soft, Plummy Wine for Any Occasion
Merlot is widely considered the ultimate casual sipping wine. Since it has low acidity and low tannins, it doesn’t have the sharper flavors of red wine staples like Sangiovese or cabernet sauvignon.
While some wine drinkers may find merlot a touch too mellow, new drinkers or drinkers with gentler palates will adore this grape. Merlot is the kind of wine you sip while cuddling on the couch and watching a movie with loved ones. In fact, this wine is so casual it’s not recommended for aging in the cellar, either!
With a soft flavor profile, low price point, and no need for long-term aging, merlot is the best red wine for casual drinking.
Dominant Flavor Notes, Aroma, and Mouthfeel: Jammy Fruit, Chocolate, and Velvety
Merlot is beloved for being a soft, jammy wine that makes you feel cozier with each sip. While some red wines skew leathery or earthy, this wine is all about dark berries, ripe plums, and chocolate.
The mouthfeel tends to be full-bodied and plush, furthering the comparison to homemade jam, and you should expect aromas of blueberries or violets.
Ideal Food Pairings: Savory and Hearty Dishes
Since merlot lacks the punch of its more intense cousins, we don’t recommend food that’s too spicy or tangy. Try pairing this wine with the following foods to really bring out its flavor:
- Hearty stews
- Roasted potatoes
- Steak-based dishes
- Caramelized vegetables
- Blue cheese
Price Range: Very Affordable and Flexible
Merlot is frequently inexpensive since it doesn’t respond well to aging (though it is occasionally oaked to enhance its flavor). Expect to find plenty of bottles at your store of choice, with the average price range hovering between just $5 to $12.
Syrah (Shiraz): A Highly Complex Wine That’s Never Too Bitter
If merlot sounds your style, you’ll be well on your way to loving syrah, too. This dark red wine grape is also favored for having a balanced and somewhat more relaxed flavor profile.
Syrah (sometimes spelled shiraz) is widely grown throughout the world, with South Africa and Australia favoring it thanks to their hotter climates.
Warm, steady temperatures and plenty of sunlight encourage red wine grapes to grow fat and heavy, crafting full-bodied mouthfeels and riper flavor profiles.
Dominant Flavor Notes, Aroma, and Mouthfeel: Dark Fruit, Peppery, and Silky
Syrah shares some overlap with merlot, leaning toward dark fruit such as blackberries and plums. Where it differs is a propensity for slightly peppered finishes and a lean toward baking spices such as licorice or vanilla.
Ideal Food Pairings: Fatty and Savory
Some food pairings for syrah will overlap with food pairings for merlot. Unlike merlot, syrah has a gentle lean toward pepper and more herb-like flavors. Depending on the vintage, you may even get slightly olive-like notes!
- Beef stew
- Gouda or asiago cheese
- Lentil-based dishes
Price Range: Quite Affordable
Syrah frequently hovers between $8 to $20, particularly for bottles that are fresh and local. That said, it’s not hard to find an oaked variety that doesn’t exceed $30.
Petite Sirah: A Rarer Grape Variety That Suits Many Palates
Don’t worry, these names aren’t as confusing as they seem! Petite sirah has a similar name since this grape is a hybrid of syrah and pelourisin.
What makes this hybrid stand out from its parent grapes? Unlike the popular syrah, petite sirah is a rather rare find in today’s wineries. In fact, Total Wine only has one page dedicated to its petite sirah stock!
If you come across a bottle of this underrated red grape, we highly recommend giving it a try.
Dominant Flavor Notes, Aroma, and Mouthfeel: Tea-Like, Ripe Fruit, and Plush
While petite sirah has a propensity for dark fruit and chocolate, it differs in a more tea-like profile. Its tannins are higher than merlot and syrah, lending a bold ripeness that lends well to many savory foods.
Ideal Food Pairings: Complex, Savory, and Cheesy
A solid food pairing should give your wine a lot of contrast. Petite sirah is a fun wine to pair because of its playful flavors and bright acidity.
- Beef or mushroom burgers
- Stuffed peppers
- Soft white cheeses
Price Range: Affordable, But Rare
Since petite sirah is rather rare, its price range lacks the demand for more popular international grape varieties. A few affordable bottles are available at your average grocery store or wine chain for $8 to $20.
Pinot Noir: A Staple Wine With a Balanced Profile
The one and only pinot noir was bound to come up on this list eventually! This red wine grape is widely considered by wine experts to be the most popular, challenged only by cabernet sauvignon in sheer numbers produced.
Pinot noir is incredibly approachable thanks to how easy it is to find and how balanced its flavors are. You won’t have to worry about a bitter kick or cheek-twisting sourness with a glass of this French staple.
For those who like to experiment, the aging potential of this wine can still expose you to earthy or herb-like flavor notes.
Dominant Flavor Notes, Aroma, and Mouthfeel: Red Fruit, Zesty, and Smooth
Does the sound of ripe cherries, raspberries, and strawberries make your mouth water? Pinot noir flavors are best described as friendly, invoking imagery of fresh berry bushes and cheerful celebrations.
Ideal Food Pairings: A Well-Rounded List of Everyday Staples
Pinot noir is incredibly easy to pair thanks to its balanced profile. As long as you lean toward savory, salty, or slightly earthy dishes, you’re in good hands.
- Poultry-based dishes
- Mushroom or beef-based pasta
- Roasted greens (such as brussel sprouts)
Price Range: Affordable and Easy to Find
You’d be hard-pressed to find a wine shop that doesn’t sell a wide range of pinot noir. The most affordable bottles can hit between $7 to $10, often young vintages with little to no oaking.
Malbec: An Affordable Red Wine That’s a Touch More Robust
Are you considering stepping a little south of balanced for a robust and slightly smoky red wine? Malbec is what happens when you take an easy drinking wine and give it a kick.
This French red wine is more commonly grown in Argentina thanks to the country’s consistently hot climate. If you want a malbec that leans toward fruitier flavors, stick with an Argentinian origin. If you prefer a more herbal aroma and earthier flavors, try a French origin.
Dominant Flavor Notes, Aroma, and Mouthfeel: Savory Fruit, Smoke, and Full-Bodied
Malbec hovers between casual and just a little intense, boasting notes of savory dark fruit like dark plum, black cherry, and tangy pomegranate. This wine is famous for having a long, smoky finish and a molasses-like subtlety.
Ideal Food Pairings: Meaty and Roasted Dishes
The interplay between dark fruit and a smoky finish makes malbec a particular wine to pair. Nonetheless, we have a few common food suggestions.
- Roasted mushrooms, peppers, or vegetables
- Braised shortribs
- Chicken or pork-based pizza
- Aged cheddar
Price Range: Slightly More Pricey, But Flexible
Expect to find your average bottle of malbec ranging between $10 to $20. These bottles are fantastic if you want to spend a little extra time on your Saturday night dinner and game night.
Sparkling Reds: A Fun Category to Shake Things Up
Wait, there’s more! Not all red wine is of the still variety. Sparkling reds give you some fun, casual bubbles to shake things up (not literally, since you don’t want to make a mess).
Our last suggestion on the best red wine for casual drinking is any sparkling red variety. While these bubbly vintages usually stem from pinot noir, you can also find cabernet sauvignon or shiraz.
To pair a sparkling red, simply follow the food pairing guidelines of the grape it’s made from. Be sure not to confuse a sparkling red with a rosé, which is a lighter and more casual wine style also made from red wine grapes.
Due to the higher amount of labor needed to fizz up and bottle a sparkling red, these reds usually fetch a price between $20 to $35.
Ready to start stocking up your wine rack? When you’re done, check out our guides on popular white wine grapes like chardonnay, pinot grigio, and sauvignon blanc!