Don't think pink, think red

By Kate Welsh
Updated February 13, 2018
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EC: Why You Should Drink Red Wine This Summer
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A few weeks ago, the good people from Winc, a wine-subscription company, stopped by our office to let us try some of their offerings. Since it was June, the three summer wines they brought with them were all (delicious) rosés, that highlighted some of the summer wine trends they're currently seeing, like the new appreciation for cans and Pétillant Naturel styles, which is a naturally fizzy kind of wine. While we sipped, we talked about the reasons behind the rise of rosé—the ultimate summer wine—but after a couple glasses, the conversation quickly turned to what's next. As the rosé love affair inevitably dies down, I wondered, what kinds of bottles will people be reaching for?

Brian Smith, the co-founder and chief wine officer of Winc, had some ideas. He explained that he saw lighter, fresher red wines beginning to take off. Instead of going after those full-bodied, fruity red wines that seem to only pair with a heavy meal, an appreciation for brighter, clearer reds was growing. Lighter red wines were versatile and interesting, and way more approachable when it comes to day-drinking—something that people are embracing more wholeheartedly (and arguably more thoughtfully) than ever before, especially in the summertime.

I emailed with Katie Owen, the wine director at Winc, to find out more about the rise of light reds, and why you should think about switching out that bottle of rosé for something a little different.

Extra Crispy: Why do you think light reds are becoming more popular?
Katie Owen, Wine Director at Winc: In the 80’s, 90’s and early 00’s wine consumption preferences were heavily influenced by Robert Parker, a widely known wine critic who worked for Wine Advocate and led wine drinkers across the country to favor wines that had been awarded high scores (90+). Meanwhile, Parker favored wines that were big, bold, heavy on the ripe fruit flavors and high in alcohol and tannin. The pendulum always swings back in the other direction, and in the last decade it has began to do so. While there is still undoubtedly a market for these wines, a new market has emerged for lighter, fresher, more easy-drinking and balanced wines. (As a winemaker, this feels like “thank heavens!”)

Likewise, a new generation of wine drinkers has emerged with the millennials, and the millennials have proved to be more particular about what they eat and drink. It’s about nutrition, authenticity, and the experience of enjoying a meal and the beverage that accompanies it. Millennials are generally more in tune with the harmony between their food and drink. With lighter reds being more food friendly, versatile, and more moderate in alcohol, these wines are better suited to these drinkers than the highly extracted wines that Parker and wine critics alike used to champion.

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What’s your favorite thing to eat with a light red?
That’s the great thing about light reds—they’re versatile. Whether it’s a heartier seafood dish, a lighter meat dish, charcuterie, pizza, etc., these types of wines can suit many different fares. My personal favorite is a light red like Gamay, Pinot, or Blaufrankisch with poultry or pork and grilled vegetables.

If I’m looking to pick up a couple light reds, what should I look for? (Coloring, price, vintage, origin, etc.)
Color can definitely be a good indicator of body. A light bodied grenache will be more transparent, while a fuller bodied Grenache will have a more dense and opaque color, for example. Also, young reds are likely to have more fresh fruit flavors and have more of a refreshing factor. Cooler climates lend themselves more to lighter wines, so it might be good to look at cooler origins for lighter wines, though there are always exceptions to the rule. A perfect example of this is the Field Theory Blaufrankisch from Paso Robles. Paso is generally a warmer region, but this Blaufrankisch would make you think otherwise. It’s picked early and the savory, peppery qualities layered in with the fresh fruit flavors will make you think it came straight from it’s homeland of Austria.

What’s the best light red taste like, in your opinion?
Fresh fruit, just ripe—not overripe. Some complexity layered in that gives you a look into where the wine originated, whether it be through some earthiness or minerality. Definitely needs to have adequate acidity, to be refreshing and bright. Moderate alcohol so that you can dive into more than one glass if you so choose. Last but most assuredly not least, it should be varietally correct—it should be authentically what it is—whether it’s Pinot, Grenache, Dolcetto, etc.

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What makes this a good alternative to rose?
It has the light, easy-to-drink quality of rosé with some added complexity and it doesn’t have to be consumed straight out of the refrigerator or cooler. Sure, light reds can be great slightly chilled, if you so prefer. But even at room temp, a light, fruity red is easy to pop open and enjoy any time of day, in any weather, with or without food, and it won’t leave your palate feeling dry or tired like a big red might.

What do you think might be trending next in the wine world?
We’ve definitely seen increased interest recently in some very unique and experimental wines, as there is an increased cognizance of the story behind a wine, where it came from, how it was made, why it’s interesting and special. This is really exciting for us, and allows us to keep guiding wine drinkers out of their comfort zone and making more of these types of esoteric wines. It’s yet to be seen if there’s a specific trend people will latch on to, more recently it was Pétillant Naturel wines, we’ve had some great luck with those as well as skin-contact whites. It’s exciting to see what people open their minds to.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.