Many wine drinkers in China and elsewhere believe that red wines need to be dark and heavy to be good. This perception is flawed. Like many other fields of artistic expression quite often delicate and light wins over pure power.
This week I’m in the Italian resort city of Jesolo, near Venice, with the enviable task of being a judge at Concours de Bruxelles, the world’s largest wine competition. More on my trip and what international wine competitions mean to the China market next week.
At this competition one thing I fairly certain about is that big, concentrated and highly extracted wines will outperform lighter more delicate wines. This is almost inevitable, as so many wines are tasted at competitions that only the stronger wines tend to stand out. But it’s not only at wine competitions that bigger wines gain more attention.
Many modern wine critics including the famous Robert Parker also favor heavier wines. This is fine if you’re a lover of top Bordeaux and Napa Valley wines but not so good if you favor more delicate styles.
I highly respect Robert Parker for helping to demystify wines for average consumers but as his unparalleled reign of influence fades, a cadre of new decision influencers, including an increasingly number here in Asia, will perhaps readjust the rightful balance between light and heavy wines.
My mission this week is to convince readers that light reds can be every bit as good as heavier wines. Here are some delightfully delicate wines that are ideal for warm weather drinking.
Quantity over quality
In the Bierzo region in northern Spain the Mencia variety is used to make fresh and lively red wines. Bierzo is one of 10 designated DO wine regions in the large and mountainous Castilla y Leon region. Until recently the proclivity of the Mencia grape to be high-yield was exploited by winemakers who valued quantity over quality. The result was insipid wines suitable only for local consumption. But times have changed.
Discovery of some of Spain’s oldest vines and a commitment to lower yields and better winemaking has resulted in some of Spain’s most exciting red wines. The best examples of Mencia wines feature abundant red fruit, wildflower, herbs, licorice and intriguing earthy aromas and flavors.
These qualities, along with their freshness, also make them remarkably food-friendly — including an ability to pair nicely with many popular Chinese dishes, including seafood.
Two of my favorite Mencia reds easily to find in Shanghai are Cuatro Pasos Mencia and Martin Sarmiento Mencia.
The former has a light cherry red color, strawberry and other red fruit scents with only the slightest hints of oak and generous, very fresh red fruit flavors with herbal hints and a clean finish while the later has a slightly deeper cherry red color, typical Mencia red fruit nose with licorice hints and lively fresh red cherry and red berry flavors and an elegant, long finish.
Both wines prove the point that in the world of reds, bigger isn’t always better.
Ups and downs
Another of my favorite styles of light red wines is Chianti. Good examples of Chianti wines offer a wonderful balance between succulent red fruit and clean acidity. The long and storied history of Chianti wines has certainly had ups and downs. Since the first documented mention of Chianti in the 14th century these wines have been one of Tuscany’s most important wines.
For most of the 20th century Chianti wines in cute little straw bottles were only suitable for people more concerned about price than quality. But starting in 1966 with the implementation of the DOC regulations the quality of Chianti wines improved dramatically. In 1996, the region was awarded the prized DOCG status.
Today Chianti producers are more careful in selecting better quality, low-yield Sangiovese clones that thrive in their soil and climate.
According to regulations Sangiovese must comprise at least 75 percent of the blend while a mix of Canaiolo, Malvasia, Trebbianco, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot may also be used. Better quality grapes and improved winemaking has resulted in very pleasant, easy-drinking fresh wines with pronounced red fruit aromas and flavors.
As with the reds of Mencia, the ample fresh fruit and good acidity in Chianti wines makes them suitable for a wide range of western and Chinese dishes. A nice bottle of Chianti goes equally well with a freshly baked pizza and a red-stewed Shanghai-style fish dish. Chianti Classico wines from the central zone of Chianti and tend to be heavier and more age-worthy and are better suited for more substantial meat dishes.
Some of the best Chianti and Chianti Classico producers with wines available in Shanghai include Mazzei, Ricasoli, Strozzi, Carpeneto and Castello di Queceto.
Mencia wine highlighted features
1 The best examples of Mencia wines feature abundant red fruit, wildflower, herbs, licorice and intriguing earthy aromas and flavors.
2 Mencia are food-friendly wines that pair nicely with many popular Chinese dishes including seafood.
3 Two of great Mencia reds that you can easily find in Shanghai are Cuatro Pasos Mencia (light cherry red color and fruity scents) and Martin Sarmiento Mencia. (deeper cherry red color, elegant and long finish)