As the weather changes so do drinking habits. Spring is a transitional time of year when it’s not quite warm enough to be on the deck sipping rosé, but also not cold enough to sit in front of a roaring fire with a glass of port. That makes this a great time to learn the nuances offered by reds that are lighter and gentler than a cabernet sauvignon, merlot or syrah.
For many years very influential wine writers and critics lauded more intense and rich reds over more delicate and lighter ones because robust wines are more obvious while light reds need more thought and are better suited to drinking with a meal rather than tasting. This pushed lighter reds off the shelves. But recently they are getting more attention from inquisitive young wine drinkers and those who take time to pair wines with food.
This is good news for producers in cooler regions, where grapes traditionally used for darker, richer reds struggle to ripen fully. Here, lighter-styled reds make more sense. For instance cabernet franc can be produced as a big, ripe and rich wine from a warm region like Napa Valley, but in a cooler region like Chinon in the Loire Valley, it produces a more delicate style that is lighter in color and often more expressive in flavor. The cool climes of Long Island’s South Fork produce excellent examples of light cabernet francs similar to the style of Chinon or even Saint-Émilion in warmer sites. Some northern Italy varietals for light reds, like refosco and teraldego, are showing promise locally as well.
Pinot noir is the most obvious light red grape, though it too can achieve deep and richly structured wines depending on the climate, soils, yields and winemaking. This is the case with most wine grapes, including some delightful lesser-known varietals like the Greek moschofilero, rufete of Portugal and Spain or freisa from Italy, which are exceptional. In fact, it is believed that Italy at one point had more than 3,000 different wine grapes, but due to extinction from lack of commercial success or interest, the number that are agriculturally notable is now just 377. In a sense learning about and trying these new or different wine styles helps keep them from dying out.
Another way to discover delicious and refreshing light reds is to avoid looking at the wine at all. The warmer weather spring brings is not only a change in the style of beverages we prefer but also the cuisine. And it is the cuisine that can guide us towards regions that produce excellent light wines.
The northern coast of Spain consists of vibrant foods and dishes with plenty of seafood, hams and spices. Local wines from the mencia grape from the northwest region of Galicia are noted for pairing well with its regional cuisine. Look at the food found in northern Italy and its dishes like risotto con funghi and fonduta. Nebbiolo grapes are famed for producing rich and powerful wines from Barbaresco and Barolo, but outside of these two regions, the grape is often used to make pretty, aromatic reds that have a lighter structure and pair well with the gentler regional dishes.
Looking for Light Reds?
Channing Daughters, lagrein or blaufränkisch or refosco (South Fork). All three grapes are new to Long Island and winemaker Chris Tracy is creating interesting and fun wines from them.
Vignoble de la Jarnoterie Elegante (St-Nicolas de Bourgueil, Loire Valley, France). This area is known for delicate and aromatic style cabernet franc. An easy-sipping spring red wine with light pretty aromas and a clean palate.
Descendientes de José Palacios, Petalos (Bierzo, Spain). This is made from old-vine mencia; an aromatic wine with plenty of mineral terroir character.