Finding light red wines that you like is easy once you know the most famous grapes. Keep this guide to lighter wines on hand when you next go wine shopping.
What Makes A Light Red Wine?
While everybody has their taste, there are a few common points with most light red wines. First, there is the alcohol percentage. A lower alcohol percentage generally means that you will have a light-tasting wine. Second, there are tannins to consider. Tannins are bitter-tasting compounds that can create a bitter taste in red wine. Tannins are perfectly natural (they occur in tea), but not everybody likes them because they add a hint of bitterness to the wine.
Use this guide to the major grape varieties to find your next light red wine. Many people like to enjoy light red wines during the fall months. As the leaves fall, use this guide to discover your next bottle. Of course, if you prefer light fresher wines, then searching for a red light-bodied wine may not be the best choice. Instead, look for white wines like Pinot Grigio. For inspiration, check out my guide to French white wines.
1) Pinot Noir
Typical Alcohol Content: 12-13.5% Alcohol by Volume
The typical Pinot Noir has both fruit flavors (e.g., cherry and raspberry) and non-fruit flavors like mushroom and leaves (i.e., “forest floor). Oak barrel aging adds vanilla and baking spice to the wine.
Typically a glass of Pinot Noir has a light tannin profile. That means it does not have the bitterness commonly associated with intense tannins.
Major Wine Regions for Pinot Noir
Pinot Noir is made in a wide variety of styles and locations. Since Travel By Glass focuses on French wines, let’s start with France. The best Pinot Nori in France is made in Burgundy. Alas, Burgundy Pinot Noir can be tough to find at an affordable price (many bottles sell for more than $1000). Since France accounts for 59% of global Pinot Noir production according to Wine Searcher, it is one of the best places to look for light red wine.
Outside of France, the USA is the second-largest producer. Specifically, look for Pinot Noir produced in the Pacific Northwest (e.g., Washington and Oregon). That said, it is worthwhile checking out Anderson Valley Pinot Noir in California. In Australia, Pinot Noir accounts for about 10% of total red wine sales, typically offered at a modest price (under $20). You can find quality Pinot Noir across South Australia and other states.
As a Canadian, I would also recommend looking for Pinot Noir from Ontario. Don’t let the Burgundy wine snobs tell you that Pinot Noir made outside of Burgundy must be bad wine!
2) Gamay (also known as Gamay Noir)
Typical Alcohol Content: 11% Alcohol by Volume
When you want a bottle of wine with lower alcohol, Gamay is a good pick. The variety’s fruit flavors include strawberry, sour cherry, currant, and cranberry. In addition, some people note hints of flowers like lilac or violet.
Gamay is your best choice if you like minimal soft tannins in your red wine. These wines have a relatively high acidity level, so it might not be for you if you prefer a low or balanced acidity.
Major Wine Regions for Gamay
France is the king of Gamay, with 96% of the world’s production. Historically, the best place to find Gamay was the Beaujolais region. You can also find Gamay produced in the Loire Valley. The wine is sometimes aged in oak. You can also find small amounts of Gamay wine produced in Switzerland, the USA, and Canada.
Typical Alcohol Content: 13-15% ABV
Unlike the other wines covered above, Pinotage is a cross of two well-known grapes: Pinot Noir and Cinsaut. This style of wine is a great choice when you are eating lamb, steak, or beef.
Pinotage is generally considered a full-bodied red wine with a high level of tannins. If you know where to look, you can find a light style of Pinotage.
Major Wine Regions for Pinotage
Developed in South Africa in the 1920s, Pinotage is one of South Africa’s best-known wines. All told, South Africa accounts for 98% of the world’s Pinotage production. The quality of this wine has increased dramatically since the mid-1990s. If it has been a long time since you tried Pinotage, try out one of the new varieties.
Typical Alcohol Content: 15% is typical
This medium-bodied red wine offers red fruit flavors with a hint of cinnamon. Some red wine loves are particularly fond of Grenache because of the marvelous spices you can find in your glass of wine.
Generally speaking, Grenache has medium tannins, so it is a good chance of pace if you have been drinking wines with robust tannins for a while.
Major Wine Regions for Grenache
The Grenache wine grape is cultivated around the world. In the US, it is usually not found in the Napa Valley of California. Instead, your best bet is to look for this light red wine in California’s Central Coast. In France, Grenache is commonly used in blends. The critical French wine regions are Languedoc-Roussillon, Maury, Provence, and the Rhône Valley.
On a country level, Spain is the world’s largest producer of Grenache with 42% of global production. The second-largest producer is France (28% of production), and the US is the third-largest producer. If you look for this wine in Spain, keep an eye out for the Spanish name of the grape: Garnacha. It shouldn’t be too hard to find, though – it is one of Spain’s most famous red wine grapes.
Typical Alcohol Content: 12% on average, but you can undoubtedly find Zinfandel with higher alcohol content
Zinfandel typically offers intense fruit flavors like plum, jam, and blueberry. In addition, black pepper and licorice are commonly found in this famous red wine. Notes of cherries are also commonly found in Zinfandel.
Moderate tannins are usually found in Zinfandel. In some high-quality Zinfandel, high tannin levels are typical. For a tannin contrast, compare a bottle of Pinot Noir (i.e., low tannin content) with a bottle of Zinfandel).
Major Wine Regions for Zinfandel
The United States is the champion of Zinfandel (also known as “Zin” with 99% of the world’s production. Originating from Italy, this red wine grape is grown in California’s Napa Valley and Sonoma areas. For a long time, I associated with Zinfandel with a modest price and little else. If that is your perception of Zinfandel, it is time to give this wine another chance. Passionate wine lovers have found that the latest generation of Zinfandel wines offers an exciting wine experience.
What Foods To Eat With Light Red Wines?
When you pick up a light style of Pinot Noir or a Zinfandel, various foods go with that glass. Start with light courses like a green salad. Some people also enjoy pairing light red wines with mushrooms and cheese. For an off-beat dining experience, try red wine with sushi. Most people recommend light whites for fish and sushi dishes. A light-bodied red wine can work exceptionally well with sushi as well.