By Tom Marquardt and Patrick Darr
September is an odd month. The kids are back in school and our mind is focused on fall, yet the temperatures aren’t abating enough for us to break out a sweater. We can still go for an outdoor walk wearing shorts, the boat is still on the lift and there are plenty of warm days ahead to squeeze the last of summer.
Think of September as a transition month when rosés and white wines are still in order, but you are inching closer to those sturdy red wines to put alongside a winter stew. Think light reds to warm up the palate.
The first choice that comes to mind is beaujolais, a unique wine made from the gamay grape grown in southern Burgundy. While the burgundies grown north of this region are often expensive and serious, beaujolais is youthful and easy. Because gamay skins are thin, there is less tannin. But it has relatively high acidity to make it a versatile match to summer fare. It can even be chilled to provide relief to summer heat.
Beaujolais owes its youthful appeal to carbonic maceration, which is used in this region more than anywhere else. Whole grapes are fermented in a carbon dioxide environment before crushing. The juice is fermented while it’s still inside the grape and that gives beaujolais its fruity style. Beaujolais nouveau is bottled about six weeks after the grapes are crushed. Although this preserves that young, vibrant fruit, nouveau is more of a gimmick than a serious wine. Consumers are wise to look instead at the cru beaujolais named after the villages where the grapes are grown.
But beaujolais isn’t your only choice for summer-to-fall red wines. Syrah and grenache have the same quality. Spain, for instance, makes a ton of inexpensive but delicious garnacha (grenache) that is a perfect match to barbecued food. In Australia, they call the grape shiraz.
If it’s a blend you want, Cotes du Rhone blends are dominated by syrah and grenache. You can find them under $20.
Italy has a bounty of easy-to-drink red wines. Nero d’Avola from Sicily is an easy quaff as are dolcetto and barbera. Chianti is mostly light and delicious.
Zinfandel is a popular barbecue wine and who doesn’t like pinot noir? However, both of these wines are often heady and complex. Pinot noir is prohibitively expensive too.
There are plenty of alternatives to heavy wines like cabernet sauvignon and barolo. Here are a dozen red wine alternatives:
Esporao Colheita 2018 ($18). This simple, medium-bodied blend consists of alicante bouschet, touriga nacional, cabernet sauvignon, aragonez, and touriga franca. The grapes here are organically farmed and we appreciate that the producer has gone to a lighter, more environmentally conscious bottle weight. Expect ripe red fruit character with a dash of spice.
Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico DOCG 2017 ($20). This producer makes a number of outstanding chiantis. This is a reliable and well-priced wine that impresses us every year. Floral aromas with bright red berry fruit flavors.
Famille Perrin Nature Cotes du Rhone 2019 ($15). Composed of grenache and syrah, this lively blend is pretty simple and recognized for its bright red fruit character.
Guigal Cotes du Rhone 2017 ($18). We’ve followed this wine for decades. Always a great buy, it bursts with fresh black fruit on the nose and adds spice notes to the flavors. Elegant, yet complex enough to pit against pasta, pizza, burgers and similar food. Syrah dominates the blend.
Qupé Central Coast Syrah 2019 ($20). Grenache, mourvedre, tempranillo and viognier is blended into this simple but delicious wine with bright, red fruit flavors.
Valle Dell’Acate II Moro Nero d’Avola 2017 ($23). We loved this wine for its boldness. Made entirely from nero d’avola grapes, it has juicy blackberry and black cherry notes, a hint of anise and moderate tannins to make it a good match for meat. It’s a nice balance between power and elegance.
Cantine Ermes Epicentro Nero D’Avola Riserva Sicily DOC 2019 ($15). Plenty of plum and cherry fruit with a hint of chocolate. Big and rich and an outstanding value.
Georges Duboeuf Moulin-a-Vent Beaujolais 2020 ($18). Moulin-a-Vent is one of 10 crus in Beaujolais. Made with the same gamay grape, it has more structure and tension with the same bright red berry flavors.
Henry Fessy Morgon Beaujolais ($27). Considered one of the region’s top producers, this Morgon cru has savory, blackberry and plum notes with a good dose of spice. It has the body to complement steaks and other grilled meats.
Marchesi di Gresy Monte Aribaldo Dolcetto d’Alba DOC 2019 ($19). Made entirely of dolcetto grapes and aged in stainless steel, this delicious wine from Piedmonte has vibrant and fresh cherry and strawberry notes.
Zenato Ripassa Valpolicella Superiore 2017 ($30). We are always thankful to find this wine in restaurants because it delivers a lot of quality for the money. Classified an amarone because the grapes are allowed to raisin on the vine before they are pressed, it has dense, ripe blackcurrant and blackberry flavors with a dash of spice.
Paxton NOW Shiraz 2021 ($20). From McLaren Vale, “NOW” implies the optimum drinking time of this juicy, raspberry and blueberry flavored shiraz.
Ram’s Gate Bush Crispo Vineyard Pinot Noir 2018 ($75). We loved the youthful exuberance of this aromatic and complex pinot noir from the Russian River Valley. Cherry and floral aromas hand off to cherry, spice and herbal flavors.
Singer Viognier 2021 ($65). A new product by Stephen Singer, former wine director of Chez Panisse, this viognier from Baker Lane Estate inn Sebastopol is a terrific debut. The generous aromas of this wine are classic for the grape variety. Peach flavors with good acidity.