As the long, hazy days draw to a close, I am optimistic that we still have a few barbecues to squeeze in and we can focus on the last of the summer wines. My natural gravitation is toward red wine and, at this time of year, preferably those light or medium in body. While a good Australian Shiraz, a woody Cabernet or full-bodied Merlot are on the cards for more robust fare, we can sometimes overlook the delicate red styles that also have their place.
When it comes to serving an apéritif, and something that will work universally to clean the palate or stimulate the appetite, we may reach for a refreshing white, sparkling, dry sherry or perhaps a rosé. Whether I am the host or guest, for the duration of the gathering itself, lighter reds can also work very well. For more informal dining, I find myself picking at everything from antipasti, black olives, artisan breads and lavishly dressed salads, to unctuous cheese boards oozing with gooeyness. These foods are at times crying out for a softer red to complement them.
I will include a handful of single varietals and blends, everything from Gamay to Cinsault, and direct examples from our range, as these are the wines I am most familiar with. The majority of the time, a ‘lighter’ red as such may solely be associated with lower alcohol content but this is not always the case; certain wines may have 1 or 2% more ABV than others but still retain an easy-drinking style. For each wine showcased, possible wine and food pairings are to be touched upon but this is of course subjective.
In terms of serving reds, it is always a good idea to let them breathe as much as possible and acclimatise to their surroundings. In the same way that we are marinating meats a couple of hours before cooking, to relax and let flavours infuse, decanting wines can be regarded in a similar vein. Letting wines aerate really brings their flavour out, so that we are showing them at the best and the varietals in their true nature. If you do not use a decanter, this can simply be achieved by opening a bottle and pouring into a jug and back into the bottle. A wine that I always aerate/ decant is my “go to” wine and this brings me on to my first choice – the wonderful Madame L Gamay.
Although Gamay’s natural homeland lies in Beaujolais, the Madame L hails from a boutique family-owned vineyard in the Loire. Lynne Levin, and her husband David, have both been producing wine in the Loire for over 30 years. It is worth noting that this particular wine is only made in exceptional vintages, notably the 2009, and they use organic methods in their vineyard.
This is definitely a food wine and one to savour without any weighty alcohol content. I always think of this grape as having mouth-watering tart red fruits. We have real intensity and concentration of fruit from these 30 and 44 year old vines. Upon pouring, I immediately see a beautiful damson colour and on the nose there are subtle rose petals and I can taste sloes, stewed plums and some red cherries on the finish. This wine is vibrant with good acidity, complexity and has real finesse.
Try Madame Levin’s wonderful premium cuvée with smoky pulled pork with crackling and fennel slaw, or pieces of warm crusty boule dowsed in rosemary-infused baked camembert.
This is a juicy and delicate wine that you can chill and delight your guests with. Serving certain reds from the fridge, such as Pinot Noir, can be really refreshing, especially on a very hot day (as I said, I am still optimistic!). In fact, if you have stalwart rosé fans who are wishing to dip their toe in water, try them on this light and elegant red straight from the fridge and you may have a few converts to the red side.
At Indomita Winery, the head winemaker, Roberto Carranca, leaves the grape to express itself with as little intervention as possible, producing a clean and pure wine with great texture and spice. A certain percentage of the wine has been aged in French oak, which gives it a richness to balance with the red cherry and strawberry.
This would be fantastic with a super-smooth goat’s cheese, perhaps in a salad with diced beetroot and walnut dressing. This wine may also work well with charcuterie, or a rich butterflied chicken and sweet potato fries.
Grenache and Syrah are the big players in the Rhône and often produce wines with intense ripe fruits and a lot more backbone. This Cotes du Rhône, made by Eric Monnin, at only 12.5%, has more subtlety but still has a good amount of baked fruit, body and spice.
What I love about this wine is that it starts with violets and herbal notes on the nose, softened victoria plums on the palate, then you get a warming kick of white pepper on the finish and the latter is a classic trait of Grenache.
This CDR would work beautifully with game such as barbecued venison sausages, berry chutney, parmentier potatoes and buttery fine green beans.
Tenuta Olim Bauda Barbera d’Asti DOCG La Villa 2014 13.5% £14.99 and Araldica d’Aria Piemonte Barbera 2015 12.5% £7.99
As you will hear many times over, Italian wine is made for matching with food and it feels like an integral part of the meal as opposed to something to be savoured on its own. For lighter Italian reds, it is worth considering the approachable style of Chianti, where the Sangiovese provides all that rich spice and sour cherry fruit.
The high acidity that you will find in Barbera, for example, will work perfectly with rich risottos, barbecued meats, antipasti or anchovies.
This brings me on to the fantastic Tenuta Olim Bauda Barbera d’Asti DOCG La Villa 2014, which is red-fruit driven with the ultimate elegance and this is a serious wine with a long finish. This will go very well with layers of prosciutto or a morel risotto. There is another great wine that I have always been a fan of and many years ago I stayed at the vineyard in Piemonte to sample it. Claudia Manera is behind the Araldica d’Aria Piemonte Barbera 2015, which is full of cherry and raspberry flavours.
This wine would be lovely with spicy tomato-based pasta dishes.
In the Languedoc-Roussillon, Carignan is widely planted and you will find a lot of old gnarled vines in the region generating intense fruit. Although this grape is used well as part of many blends, it is lovely to see Carignan here as a single varietal in Les Grand Chemins Old Vine Carignan 2014 with its brooding dark fruits and notes of eucalyptus and liquorice. With all that rich flavour, the wine is still only 12%.
This is the one to go with your medium rare rib-eye and homemade Béarnaise sauce.
Keeping within the Languedoc, Gavin Crisfield is the winemaker who works his magic in the form of the Grand Livre Reserve 2015 which is made with Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah. A gorgeous purple colour coats the glass and on the nose there are violets and rose petals in spades. The big softener here is the beautiful Grenache and there are raspberries on the palate.
Try this with a lamb tagine, fragrant couscous and seared aubergines.
Nicola and Sean Allison have been making the most wonderful wines from their 30 year old vines in the Graves appellation. Chateau du Seuil are certified organic and this new addition to our site is an exciting collaboration with the winemakers and Virgin Wines. I love this Merlot Cabernet blend and the style is elegant, with warming cedar notes and great minerality. The Merlot is supple and the grapes balance each other beautifully. I have stayed at the vineyard a few times, so my food match is one Nicola once cooked me herself:
duck breasts barbecued over old vine stems (absolutely nothing goes to waste in this vineyard!) with white asparagus and roast potatoes.
Joven or Crianza can be lighter Spanish options but I recently discovered this wonderful Gran Reserva from Navarra, which is so drinkable. There is an intensity of spice such as clove and also ripe red fruits but it is very easy and smooth.
Start with melt in the mouth charred Padrón peppers sprinkled with garlic sea salt flakes. I would also enjoy this wine to accompany triangles of manchego and charred chorizo in red wine.
This is my last choice and wild card because at 14.5%, I realise this wine may not be in its comfort zone here as a so called ‘light’ red. However, the nature of this Cinsault is more like a well balanced, smoky Pinot Noir.
There is a good hit of juicy strawberry and cranberry fruit on the palate and a little earthiness, that can work well with roasted and barbecued meats. I would also enjoy this with mushroom, capsicum pepper and halloumi kebabs or a good wedge of a rich and creamy blue, such as Saint Agur.
I have identified a handful of grapes and styles here in the context of the theme on lighter reds. In conclusion, hopefully I have shown a few ideas on how a wide spectrum of grapes can work, particularly in the summer, and latter stages of it, and how they can pair nicely with a diverse selection of foods and occasions.