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Chill with the Right Reds PDF Print E-mail
Written by Bill Citara - BT Contributor   
May 2012

Red, white, and you: Agreeable wine for $12 or less

Vino_1In the spring, a young oenophile’s fancy turns to… What should I drink?

Winter’s cool (or coolishness) is long gone, and the face-melting heat and wet-clay humidity of summer has yet to pounce.

Those knife-and-fork Zinfandels and oaky, tannic Cabernet Sauvignons that can warm up chilly (and occasionally frigid) winter nights are like sweltering in a wool sweater and mittens on a sunny May afternoon, while the crisp, clean Sauvignon Blancs and Pinot Grigios and well-balanced Chardonnays that can take the edge off the summer blast furnace are like parading around in a thong when an arctic Canadian cold front screams into town.

Even rosés seem to line up on either side of the great seasonal wine-drinking divide -- lean and acidic or lush and fruity. So what’s a thirsty boy (or girl) to do?

Pour a glass of lightly chilled red, that’s what.

Not just any red jammed into the fridge, though. Those big, beefy Cabs and Zins and Syrahs usually don’t take well to serious chilling, which mutes their fruity character and emphasizes their tannins, making them taste thin and puckery. (It’s worth noting, however, that even those red wines could usually benefit from 15 or 20 minutes of chilling, as “room temperature” in tropical South Florida is a helluva lot different from a stone-floored wine cellar in more temperate Bordeaux.)

No, what we want here are lighter-bodied reds that are generous in fruit and stingy in tannins, preferably with little or no oak aging and relatively low in alcohol. Dolcetto, Barbera, and Valpolicella from Italy are good bets, as are Beaujolais, Pinot Noir, Chinon, and even some Cabernet Francs from France. Notice I didn’t mention any domestic reds -- most (though certainly not all) are just too heavy-oaky-alcoholic for our purposes.

The French wines were the stars of this tasting, despite the terrific 2010 Valpolicella from Villa Maffei. With its exceedingly reasonable $10 price tag and refreshing strawberry-raspberry fruit balanced by a tangy orange flower-water backbone, the Italian product is right up there. I’d be delighted to see this wine indoors with baked ham and light pastas or in a sun-drenched backyard with hot dogs and pasta salad.

Two other Italian wines weren’t nearly so pleasant. The 2010 Cren della Lepre Barbera was so harsh and bereft of fruit (with some funky-herbal undercurrents) that it was simply undrinkable, though it might find use as paint stripper or for etching metal plates. Casa Sant’Orsola’s 2010 Dolcetto d’Alba was better, tasting very young and very tart, but mellowing a bit in the glass.

Of the French wines, a pair of Beaujolais-Villages showed why that wine is the obvious choice for warm-weather chilling. The 2010 vintage from reliable Georges Duboeuf delivered everything you could want: pretty rose-red color, crisp strawberry-citrus aromas and flavors that tread lightly on the palate, low alcohol (12.5 percent), and a long, citrusy finish. For eight bucks you’re not getting any complexity, but you are getting a wine that can appeal to a variety of taste buds and plays well with everything from hearty fish dishes to roasted chicken.

The 2009 Jean Saint Honoré Beaujolais-Villages was a bit more demanding. It was pretty tight at first, with a slight vegetal-earthy edge to its faint red cherry-raspberry aromas, and it stayed tight for a good 15 minutes in the glass. After a while, though, it began to open, displaying mellower cherry and strawberry flavors enlivened with hints of anise. Still a little on the austere side, it’s probably not for novice wine drinkers.

The surprise of the tasting was the Lieu dit Beauregard 2010 Bourgueil, 100-percent Cabernet Franc from the north bank of France’s Loire Valley. Fuller and richer than its lighter-bodied competitors, it balanced its fresh, simple cherry-berry flavors that hinted at earth and toast with mild acidity and soft tannins.

Perhaps my favorite wine of all, though, was the 2010 Ropiteau Pays d’Oc Pinot Noir, made in a lighter and more refined and delicate style than the blockbuster Pinots still coming out of California. It showed off a bit of candyish red cherry fruit in the nose, which carried over to the palate, time in the glass adding teases of anise and orange and turning this not-so-young oenophile’s fancy to drinking another bottle outdoors in our glorious spring weather.

 

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