Buyers Guide to VINTAGES – April 14th

In Praise of Lighter Reds
By David Lawrason, with notes from Sara d’Amato and Michael Godel

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

I sense a shift occurring when it comes to red wine. With heavy hitters from Bordeaux, California, Australia, Argentina and Italy having hogged the limelight during the boomer years – driving ratings and prices to the moon – the next generation is now looking more for lightness, freshness and vitality. The trend is also being felt among some older but engaged enthusiasts (like moi) who are no longer seduced by – indeed often fatigued by – richness, smoothness and oak layering that obscure sense of grape and place.

This notion underpins VINTAGES focus on lighter reds in the April 14 release. They have titled their offering Light & Mighty, as if they just can’t quite ditch the idea that power is important. It is a well entrenched idea.

I want to dig a little deeper into what’s driving the trend to lighter reds, but first a general description. Lighter reds are generally pale in colour, although some grapes do have deeper pigmentation and come off as light in other departments. Aromatically they generally show red berry fruit, perhaps herbal nuances and hopefully light oak influence. The acid levels are moderate to high. Alcohol tops out at 13%, and tannins are moderate to low. And length of finish is often, but not necessarily, shorter.

So why are we moving to reds with this lighter profile?

I think evolution in cuisine has a lot to do with it – a focus on freshness and purity of food flavours. We are generally eating lighter, at least in terms of textures and perhaps caloric intake. Vegan diets continue to expand at the expense of red meat, and many are simply eating red meat less often. So the wine needs to refresh with food, and nestle in comfortably, not come in and bulldoze all nuances aside.

More importantly perhaps light reds are more versatile with food – with lower alcohol and tannins working with some fish recipes; being a slam dunk with poultry and many veg-based dishes, and even reaching into red meat territory if the slab is not soused in heavy chars and marinades.

Whitehaven "Greg" Sauvignon Blanc 2015

Then there is the alcohol factor. Many of the world’s biggest reds are clocking in at 14%, with 15% increasingly common. It may not seem on the surface to be a big deal whether the alcohol is 14% or 12%, but if you consume two or three hearty glasses of big stuff, your system feels it the next day. From personal experience, I always feel better the next day if I have been drinking pinot noir or other lighter reds the night before.

Which leads into social choice. In so many situations we just want to be refreshed, satisfied and get on with our evening, rather than be submitted to the gravitas of a serious, big red. Sure there are tasting and dining situations where gravitas is important and expected, but in the general weekend social mix of family and friends, big, serious wines can become the elephant in the room.

Then comes the price factor. Except for pinot noir which is albeit and alas expensive, most of the lighter reds are reasonably priced. There is a reason. Wine quality and pedigree has long been measured by weight and depth, and most light reds (other than top pinots) do not measure up in that final depth category. So they have not earned the ratings or gravitas of a big price tag.

But this is a wonderful thing! Beaujolais and most gamays are great value buys; so are simple barbera, valpolicella and Bardolino from Italy, and regional reds from Germany, Austria and Hungary. Ontario can also excel in this arena.

So add it all up – moderately priced, easy-going yet characterful wines that pair with a wide range of foods and can be enjoyed lightly chilled at almost any time of year. And they do not need further ageing or cellaring. Not seeing many holes here – unless of course you just love big, rich reds. And there is nothing right or wrong about what you love.

Here are our picks from VINTAGES “Light Reds” feature plus some others that we have sussed out from other offerings on April 14.

Buyers Guide to VINTAGES April 14th


Villa Ponciago 2015 La Réserve Fleurie, Beaujolais, France ($19.95)
David Lawrason – This has some of the charm I expect in Fleurie, one of the ten cru of Beaujolais. It is a very pretty, slightly reserved gamay with a gentle, refined, ripe nose of sweet cherry/raspberry fruit, florals and fine spice. It is medium weight, rounded and fresh with good acidity and some fine tannin. A bit riper in the 2015 vintage. Delicious.  Michael Godel – Ponciago is the Beaujolais part of the trilogy of estates that includes Henriot (Champagne) and Bouchard (Bourgogne). I’ve been waiting for 2015 to come along for Ponciago’s Fleurie la Réserve, a gamay always firm but now of fruit like compound berry butter from the giving vintage. Now with more black cherry than almost ever, or at least in recent memory.

Villa Ponciago La Réserve Fleurie 2015Bertrand Ambroise Lettre D'éloïse 2015

Bertrand Ambroise 2015 Lettre d’Eloïse, Coteaux Bourguignons, Bourgogne, France ($19.95)
Michael Godel – A satellite appellative pinot noir can be just what is needed to enjoy the fruits of 2015 labour, without over-spending, with optimum ripeness and just enough tension to know you are drinking Bourgogne. It’s a bit plummy with real red citrus (like pomegranate) and a solid caking of clay earthy structure that serves to elevate and single out the fruit. A great introduction to Bourgogne.
Sara d’Amato – This organically farmed pinot noir offers immediate and impactful pleasure. Named after Bertrand’s granddaughter, Eloïse, this hand-harvested, very lightly filtered red is exotically spiced with wildflower and black pepper adding intrigue on the nose. Expressive and authentic, it offers cool climate character without the sharp edges.

Roux Père & Fils 2015 Beaurepaire Santenay 1er Cru, Burgundy, France ($54.95)
David Lawrason – This is a more serious, and actually cellar worthy lighter red from an under-appreciated commune of Burgundy. It has a lovely, complex nose with classic currant/cherry fruit nicely decked out with cedary spice and autumnal burning leaves complexity. It is medium weight, fairly fleshy, well balanced and warm. Quite delicious.

Roux Père & Fils Beaurepaire Santenay 1er Cru 2015Maison Ventenac Les Hauts De Ventenac Cuvée Jules 2014

Maison Ventenac 2014 Les Hauts de Ventenac Cuvée Jules, Cabardès, Languedoc, France ($16.95)
David Lawrason – This small, seldom seen southern appellation near Carcassonne is open to both Mediterranean and Atlantic influences, thus it grows Rhône varieties like syrah and grenache, as well Bordeaux varieties like cabernet and merlot. More importantly this is a nicely balanced, fresh, slightly piquant red with currant, herbal and peppery notes. Light to mid-weight, a bit firm but not austere.


Remo Farina 2016 Ripasso Valpolicella Classico Superiore, Veneto, Italy  ($18.95)
David Lawrason – The ripasso method would normally move Valpolicella into mid-weight territory, but this particular example still has a light, immediately drinkable, low tannin ambiance. It’s nicely rounded, fresh and smooth with classic cherry and very subtle spice and fine herbs. It is so nicely balanced and accessible.

Remo Farina Ripasso Valpolicella Classico Superiore 2016Damilano Barbera d'Asti 2015

Damilano 2015 Barbera d’Asti, Piemonte, Italy ($19.95)
Michael Godel – Fresh and energetic barbera with the feeling that it just recently came out of a whole cluster in tank, semi-carbonic session. That it is actually from 2014 says something about its personality. Rich red and black raspberry fruit, well-mannered acidity and a minor amount of preserving tannin to get it to this ideal drinking window. At under $20 it’s an absolute steal.

Boscarelli 2013 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Tuscany, Italy ($39.95)
Michael Godel – The vintage brings such classic, classy and beautifully dusty dried red fruit character. The tar and roses of this Vino Nobile are imagined in a future once again thrown with caution to the wind, like nebbiolo and unlike so many sangiovese brothers and sisters. Only Boscarelli smells, tastes and dreams of tomorrows like this.

Colle Secco 2012 Riserva Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Abruzzo, Italy ($15.95)
Michael Godel – If you are attempting an experiment in discussing or deciding where a red wine sits on the spectrum of weight and density, here is a great place to start. The grape and the region more often than not veer to the side of higher extraction, heavy oak and full-bodied but this montepulciano from Abruzzo, despite some age is so bloody fresh, spirited and alive. The value, authenticity and yes, lightness of being is exceptional.

Boscarelli Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2013Colle Secco Riserva Montepulciano D'abruzzo 2012Mazzei Zisola 2015

Mazzei Zisola 2015 Noto Rosso, Sicilia, Italy ($19.95)
David Lawrason – Again, hot climate Sicily would not normally be the place to find light reds, and this does have fairly deep colour and alcohol above 13%. But a modern winemaking approach at this estate, owned by the Mazzei clan of Tuscany, has rendered a charming, fruity and quite soft red with a lovely plummy/berry fruit, floral and gently cedary nose. It is fairly rounded, fresh and elegant.

New World

Malivoire 2016 Gamay, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($17.95)
David Lawrason – Gamay has a bright future in Ontario, attested by recent increase in planting and the number of wineries getting onboard. Malivoire has almost single-handedly launched the program with its tender, super-fresh yet not simple approach. A gold medalist at the National Wine Awards in 2017 this is a nicely juicy, fresh gamay with fairly lifted aromas of red roses, strawberry-cherry jam and subtle woodsy/leafy notes.

Malivoire Gamay 2016Tawse Growers Blend Pinot Noir 2015

Tawse 2015 Growers Blend Pinot Noir, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada ($25.95)
Sara d’Amato – Just beginning to come out of its shell, the 2015 Growers Blend is best enjoyed after a moment in decanter. Offering superb strength of character and length, this nervy pinot noir offers a wealth of brambly, earthy and concentrated cherry flavour laced with a hint of sensual spice. A pure, clean and transparent expression of Niagara fruit from maturing vines.

Rex Hill 2014 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, Oregon ($42.95)
Michael Godel – From what is ostensibly a most excellent gift of a vintage here is this next chapter from winemaker Cheryl Francis, ripe as always, even for this Willamette Valley pinot noir. When pinot noir is complex enough to wrap its twine around both dirt and fruit it shows like wine candy, as in Rex Hill’s 2014. So smart, so poised and so much joy.

Rex Hill Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2014Cono Sur Reserva Especial Pinot Noir 2015Gloria Ferrer Carneros Pinot Noir 2014

Cono Sur 2015 Reserva Especial Pinot Noir, San Antonio Valley, Chile ($18.95)
Sara d’Amato – A rather plump but highly satisfying pinot from the northern but cool coastal climate of San Antonio. Liquorice and dried leaf, iodine, ripe cherry and bramble, this red is bursting with juicy flavour, over delivering for the price. It was obviously hard to restrain the character of this arresting pinot noir.

Gloria Ferrer 2014 Carneros Pinot Noir, Sonoma County, California ($37.95)
David Lawrason – From Freixnet’s fine Carneros-based winery, this has a spicy nose with nicely ripened red cherry, vaguely earthy forest floor and fine oak spice and vanillin. Just a touch Euro-flavour-wise, with California textures. It is medium weight, fairly plush and warming with good intensity.

That’s a wrap for Part One. John returns next week with favourites from the rest of the release. And please note that due to Good Friday we are one week later in tasting for this release. Many reviews will therefore not appear on the database until early next week. Hope to see you at County in the City!

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

Use these quick links for access to all of our Top Picks in the New Release. Non-Premium members can select from all release dates 30 days prior.

Lawrason’s Take
Michael’s Mix
Sara’s Sommelier Selections

New Release and VINTAGES Preview

Try & Buy Prince Edward County Wines