Not-So-Big Red

Light-bodied reds are a delight

I’m a big fan of light red wines—those with a lot of flavor and dimension. Most “big” red wines are full bodied primarily because of high alcohol (which is flavorless) and from sweetness, glycerin and low acidity. Many winemakers are moving away from this style and are fashioning lighter-bodied but intense reds.

Complex, light-bodied wines are usually so because the grapes ripened slowly, allowing for deeper flavors. The absence of excessive amounts of oak, sugar and alcohol allow the inherent flavors of the grape to shine through in the wine. Slimmed-down wines pair with a greater variety of dishes. More than other reds, these benefit from a lower temperature—serve at around sixty degrees and experience how they develop as they warm.

Pinot Meunier, Domaine Chandon
Carneros, California, 2005, $30
This country cousin of Pinot Noir shows spicy strawberry notes with a hint of rye and clove. A joy to drink, its flavors envelop the palate to such an extent that you forget how light it is. Great with salmon.

Clos du Mont Olivet, “Levade”
Côtes du Rhone, France, 2008, $15
The style at this French estate is elegant and perfumed. This shows the influence of Carignon in the body, but the wine also shows a complex herbaceous note and pepper, too. Great with seafood, especially oilier fish with olives and lemon.

Produttori Nebbiolo
Langhe, Italy, 2008, $24
Nebbiolo, the grape of Barolo and Barbaresco, shines in this sanely priced Piedmont red. All of the trademark aromas and flavors are there: violets, plums and truffles.

Charles Joguet “Cuvée Terroir”  
Chinon, France, 2007, $18
Lots of currants and earth in this beauty. A Cabernet Franc that is very, very dry and long. It loves oxygen—decant two hours before serving. I love this with lamb.

Available at Madison’s finer wine stores. If unavailable, most purveyors will special order from their wholesalers if requested. Michael Kwas is wine director at L’Etoile restaurant. He writes this column monthly.

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