White wine fatigue sets in at some point during the summer. The Austrian gruner veltliner, Sancerre, Muscadet and sherry that sustained me though blazing July and August seem a bit less enticing when I start to consider the wool blazers shown in store windows. The best wine to suit my mood these days is a red that anticipates fall but isn't the vinous equivalent of wearing one of those jackets in August.
These wines were harder to scout out than I expected when I went looking, giving the fashion for heavy, hedonistic red wines with high alcohol levels. Alcohol is a reliable indicator of weight, and some of my more alcoholic finds I ended up having to abandon mid-meal, lest I fall asleep in my soup. I did manage to ferret out what I wanted by following the notion that a growing region's climate is a good predictor of how hefty a wine might be.
A hot place where vines are well-watered, like Napa or Australia's Barossa Valley, yields wines of girth, like the big Napa cabernets and high-alcohol Barossa shirazes. Areas with cool growing seasons can make bantam-weight reds and racy whites. Long Island, in New York, has a cool climate, and its North Fork has won plaudits in the wine press for its merlot that maintain nice acidity to match the grape's exuberant fruit.
That's the case with the Long Island merlot/blaufrankish blend I tried, Rosso Fresco from Channing Daughters Winery. Clearly the wine's name is auspicious for my purposes, as was its reined-in alcohol level of 12%. The wine shows gentle black fruit complimented with vanilla and spicy notes that linger at the finish. Flyweight doesn't have to mean lightweight: the light body and sprightly acid add freshness to a wine that has undergone a serious oak treatment.
The Loire Valley is very much in fashion among the young wine cognoscenti in New York (or so they tell me), in part because the wines are good and in part because they're under-promoted and under-valued: like Vampire Weekend before they were on Saturday Night Live. The Loire suits my purposes here in that it is situated in Northern France and has a cooler growing season. The area is best known for its white wines, such as Muscadet, Anjou and Vouvray. The main red grape here is Cabernet Franc, and the best known region for it is Chinon. While the best of these wines are concentrated and age-worthy, the less expensive ones made for more immediate consumption can be quite refreshing with their fruited spruce aromas.
French winemakers prize terroir over all else, and here in Chinon a little knowledge about what the soil is like can help when choosing a wine. Cabernet franc grown in a limestone soil called tuffeau yields the big guns. Vineyards near Chinon's rivers produce lighter wines. I tried Charles Joguet's Cuvée Terroir 2005, which is grown in the sandy soil near the Loire and Vienne riverbeds. 2005 was a hot year for France, and while that produced blockbuster vintages just about everywhere, I'd say that the goose got a little cooked in this case. While many Chinon wines feature fresh red fruit, the Joguet's raspberries and floral notes tasted a bit baked. The wine was still quite pleasant, with a light body, gentle tannin and cabernet franc's lovely pine forest scent.
Another possibility when looking for light-bodied reds is to dig around for regions with quite hot climates and centuries of winemaking traditions. The parched people of a sun-scorched land need their reds to provide refreshment. Enter the wines of sunny Greece, the best of which deserve to be better known by Americans. Greek producers have a rich history of producing wines from interesting local varietals, and while the names of these grapes have too many vowels to trip off the tongue in a restaurant (my preferred ordering method is to point at the wine list and nod vigorously at the waiter) the wines they produce can be a joy to drink.
I've been a fan of wines made from the agiorgitiko grape ever since I encountered them at the audacious all-Greek wine list at Kefi in New York City. The grape is one of the few reds I can think of that can hold its own against the hail storm of capers the chef rains down on grateful diners at his restaurant. The most recent agiorgitiko -based wine I have tried, Red Stag from Domaine Spiropoulos of Nemea is a choice example of what can be done with the grape. It showed nutmeg, cedar, black pepper and dried currant on the nose and was bright and peppery with ripe red cherries on the palate. While this wine is great for drinking now, I plan on stashing away more of it for sweater weather.