a great excuse to celebrate the lighter side of reds.
Red wine, on the whole, is not a tough sell around here. Go around downtown and poll your local restaurant owners, and you'll find that regardless of season or menu specials, the best selling wines on their lists will almost invariably be Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir. This is partly a victory for tireless marketing execs, but also speaks to the ability of those two grapes to produce quaffable wines across a broad spectrum of price points.
Gamay, Frappato, Mission. . . grapes that provide lighter reds without skipping any flavor.
There are many, many intense, full-bodied red wines that are delicious, and rightly praised. Our goal today is not to diminish their greatness, but simply to underscore the fact that red wines made from thinner-skinned grapes, from cooler climates, and with lower alcohol levels have so much to offer, and are tragically overlooked by so many consumers.
To begin, let's do away with a mistaken association: namely, that "lighter" equals "less flavorful." There is simply no way that lighter wines like Gamay, Frappato, Mission, etc. can be fairly described as "less flavorful" than their bigger counterparts. Their flavors are simply being expressed in a higher-toned, lighter register. There certainly are lighter red wines that end up offering unremarkable, insipid flavor experiences; but there are likewise bigger reds that present as monolithic and unexciting. Boring wine is not the province of only one group of grapes, or style of winemaking.
Second, there are numerous flavors that simply won't be produced—or will be drowned out—by bigger, riper reds. The haunting red fruits of Trousseau, or the juicy plum flavors of Mencia are held gracefully in place due to their lighter frame. If these grapes were over-ripe, or otherwise manipulated into a "big" wine, they would lose the charm that made us seek them out in the first place.
So keep your cellar stocked with those traditional big red favorites you've come to love. There's nothing wrong with liking what you like! But perhaps open your mind—and palate—to the wide world of lighter reds as well. Here's three that we'll always have a soft spot for, but we're always excited to talk about the new ones you've discovered as well!
Gamay: This grape is most famously the basis for all red Beaujolais, but is also grown in the Loire Valley, California, Oregon, and even a little in the far north of Italy. It has the bright red fruit of Pinot Noir, but in a package that invites drinking right away, even in the best years. Look for cru Beaujolais like Morgon, or great domestic producers like Brick House and Arnot-Roberts.
Frappato: Found almost exclusively on Sicily, Frappato is often blended to add lift to bigger reds based around the grape Nero d'Avola. On its own, however, it can make light, spicy, strawberry-scented quaffers perfect for the intensely flavored dishes found on its native island. We love Valle dell'Acate, but Planeta and COS likewise make fantastic examples.
Mission: Also known as Pais in Chile, this grape was brought over centuries ago by Spanish missionaries and explorers to make sacramental wine. As the wine industry in the new world evolved over the years, Mission picked up a reputation for making bland, insipid wines. However, this was often due to undisciplined farmers allowing the grape to overcrop (which it loves to do), and thus growing fruit with little to offer. There's a niche resurgence in both California and Chile, where careful vintners are crafting exquisite examples that display the unique set of aromas and flavors this grape has to offer. We quite enjoy the efforts of Pax (California) and J.Bouchon (Chile).