The Revenge of the Light Reds
As the winter finally tips towards spring we’re now hoping for a generous amount of warmer weather hitting our shores. Who can beat a bottle of good wine outside on a balmy night?
Light red wines are perfect for drinking, tasting and sharing, don’t need to cost a fortune and it’s quite easy to find great examples. As a rule of thumb we need to head to cold climates to find light reds, as opposed to warmer climates on the other side of the world. Let’s have a look together!
What are They?
These are wines made to feel light-bodied (see our blog post on ‘What’s a Wine Body') and refreshing in the mouth. They're also generally lower in alcohol (under 13.5% abv) than the big bold wines from say California or Australia.
Classic grapes used for these wines are Pinot Noir (Burgundy and New Zealand) and Gamay (Beaujolais, France). The list doesn't end here though - with 1,300 grapes currently grown, it could hardly be so! Further below we present 4 alternatives from such large set. These are all delicate grapes with gentle tannins, thin-skinned and perfectly compliment our changing seasonal foods as we head away from sticky rich stews to greener local garden produce.
Pinot Noir is the benchmark wine for lighter styles, especially in Burgundy (where it originates from) and across the rest of Europe. In France it produces a wine with high acidity and low alcohol that makes it perfect, not only for current drinking but also gives it brilliant ageing potential. Top wines from Burgundy can be put away for decades, but still a supermarket Burgundy from a recent vintage can taste extraordinarily good. For a most classic example, go for a Burgundy Pinot Noir from Bouchard Pere et Fils. Pinot Noirs from New Zealand can take on very different characteristics such as a more intense jammy fruit flavour. To discover the difference from the French style described above, try a classic NZ Pinot Noir from Villa Maria.
The Beaujolais region is only a few kilometers south of Burgundy, in Central France. But their wines turn out incredibly different, although both light in body. To see the difference for yourself, pick a bottle from one of the many smaller villages in Beaujolais such as Fleurie, Julienas or St Amour. These wines made with the Gamay grape, have a level of fruitiness that is hard to beat if that's your style. For instance, Bouchard Père et Fils do a great Fleurie that can be found at many supermarkets.
More Exotic Light Reds
For the more unusual grape varieties and the more curious, the list can become veeeeery long. At least the following grapes should be also considered:
- Dolcetto - Langhe, Italy
- Cabernet Franc - Loire Valley, France
- Cinsault - originally from the Rhone Valley, France
- Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio - Mount Etna, Sicily, Italy
Dolcetto comes from the Langhe area, in the Piedmont region in North West Italy. Its name literally means ‘little sweet one’. This wine is classically very fruity and has relatively low alcohol making it a great lunchtime companion and is friendly, approachable and affordable. A good example is Dolcetto d'Alba from producer De Forville (found at Majestic Wines).
For Cabernet Franc head to the Loire valley and the area of Chinon, where these slightly chewier wines are produced. If like me you’re left with cheese and not much else on a Sunday night then a glass of Chinon (for instance the one made by producer Marc Bredif) is a match made in heaven.
Cinsault is another French grape that is gaining more popularity and is slowly spreading around the globe. It makes very fine reds, more medium bodied to be honest but a great discovery if you're after something unusual. I'm very fond of the Cinsault blend that Chateau Musar makes in Lebanon, under the label Hochar. Have a go at it and you won't be disappointed! PS: they also make a more pricey blend called Chateau Musar but that's for a later blog.
Last but not least, Etna Rosso - one of my favourites. This wine is made with two very unusual grapes that grow only around Mount Etna - Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio. They are so unusual that it's almost pointless to try to remember them; but if you try Etna Rosso, you'll definitely remember the wines they make! These wines have the same lightness and fine aromas of a more expensive Pinot Noir, and in addition you can feel a nice savoury taste coming from the rich mineral soil of their volcanic homeland. Have a go at Etna Rosso from Planeta, one of Sicily's flagbearer winemakers.