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The Softer Side of Red Wines: Light and Medium Bodied Reds

Updated: Mar 30



Not every occasion calls for a big red wine, nor do lighter options start and stop with white wines. There are plenty of light to medium bodied red options out there to match your mood or meal. 

 

Let’s take a walk through some of these and cover their unique aromas and flavors, typical pricing, regions, and more.

 

Gamay


Gamay is the lightest of the reds we’ll cover here. It is the primary grape found in Beaujolais wines. These are known as light and fruity, easy drinking wines. Over 75% of the 90k acres planted to Gamay globally are in the Beaujolais region of France.


Origin: Bourgogne, France.


DNA: Gamay is a cross between Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc


Notable Regions: Beaujolais, France


Aromas and Flavors: Raspberry, Cranberry, Candied Fruits, Fig, Banana, Pomegranate, Blackberry


Cost: $5 to $400 per bottle

 

Additional Note: Beaujolais Nouveau is a fruity easy drinker where every new vintage comes out on the 3rd Thursday of every November. This wine is meant to be drunk young. On the other end of the quality spectrum, there are 10 Cru appellations in France where more powerful and ageable versions of Beaujolais are produced - St-Amour, Juliénas, Chénas, Moulin-à-Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Régnié, Brouilly, and Côte de Brouilly

 

Occasional Wine's Favorite Gamay Wine:

 


 

Pinot Noir


Pinot Noir is the 9th most produced grape in the world at 300k acres, but it is one of the world’s most sought after varieties, commanding prices per bottle of nearly $45,000. Sales really exploded following the 2004 hit movie Sideways, perhaps at the expense of Merlot, but it’s always been a stalwart predating even the Roman empire. 


Origin: Europe, somewhere between Northeast France and Germany

DNA: Pinot Noir is over 2,000 years old


Notable Regions: Burgundy, France, Germany (Spätburgunder), Austria (Blauburgunder), California, Australia, New Zealand


Aromas and Flavors: Raspberries, cherries, mushrooms, vanilla, leather, spices

Cost: $5 to $45,000 per bottle


Additional Note: When you hear the term Burgundy it is referring to either Pinot Noir or Chardonnay. Many of the most famous and most expensive wines in the world are in fact Burgundies, red or white.


On the red side, a Grand Cru Domaine de la Romanée-Conti will fetch over $25,000 per bottle for instance. The Burgundian style of wine making focuses on producing wines that capture all things that the local terroir can offer. As such, the wine represents the whole of the environment from which the grapes were nurtured, harvested, and transformed. This Burgundian style of Pinot Noir, no matter where it might have been produced (France or otherwise), usually produces wine with a bit more body, balance, and earthiness.


Many winemakers outside of France’s Burgundy region (Bourgogne) choose to focus more on the grape itself. This does not impact the quality or age worthiness of the wine, but the aromatic and flavor profiles of these two approaches differ. In the end, it’s all about your palate.


Occasional Wine's Favorite Pinot Noirs:



Grenache


Grenache is the 7th most planted grape in the world (400k+ acres). It goes by many names - Grenache, Garnacha, Garnatxa, Cannonau, Lladoner, Tinto Aragones. It produces lighter bodied wines that are quite approachable, produce fantastic rosés, and serves as a fantastic blending agent, particularly with Syrah and Mourvèdre.


Origin: Aragon, Spain


DNA: Unknown

Notable Regions: Southern Rhône Valley, France, Catalonia, Spain, Paso Robles, CA USA, Provence, France, Southern Australia, Sardinia, Italy

Aromas and Flavors: Ripe red berries, plums, and blood oranges. Hints of leather and/or baking spices are present when wood is used in the winemaking process.


Cost: $5 to $1,600 per bottle


Additional Note:  Grenache is largely a blending grape, except in Priorat, Spain (Garnatxa or Garnacha), or Sardegna, Italy (Cannonau) where it is the star. In the Rhône Valley it is usually the primary grape in their GSMs (Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah blend). In California, it plays a prominent role in the regions’ GSMs, but is not always the primary grape. In Provence, it is used mostly to produce rosé wines.


Occasional Wine's Favorite Grenache Wines:


 

Cabernet Franc


Cabernet Franc is one of the parents of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Carménère. With over 120,000 acres planted globally, it is perhaps best known as a blending agent with Merlot in Bordeaux’s Right Bank, but it’s no slouch on its own in regions like France’s Loire Valley, Italy, the US, and Chile.


Origin: Libournais, France


DNA: Cabernet Franc is a centuries old grape that has parented several other French stalwarts


Notable Regions (as a single varietal): Chinon and Bourgeill, Loire Valley, France; Tuscany, Italy, Napa Valley, CA, USA; and several regions throughout Chile


Aromas and Flavors: Ripe strawberries, raspberries, green peppers, earth, mineral, dried herbs, pepper


Cost: $5 to $1,200 per bottle


Additional Note: The bell pepper and really a lot of the herbal, vegetal, or savory aromas you’ll likely catch when swirling a glass of Cabernet Franc come from a compound called methoxypyrazine, or pyrazine for short. These are found mostly in Cabernet Franc and other Bordeaux varietals, regardless of where they are grown. 


Occasional Wine's Favorite Cabernet Franc Wines:


 

Chianti (Sangiovese)


Sangiovese is the most produced grape of Italy. It’s best known by its regional namesake, Chianti, which is on every Italian restaurant menu in the world. Some Sangioveses, like Brunello di Montalcino, can be quite full bodied. Super Tuscans tend to also be aged and produced more full-bodied as well, but most Sangiovese is actually closer to medium bodied. Again, the most notable Sangiovese, the aforementioned Chianti, is a medium-bodied, easy drinking wine that just goes so well with food.


Origin: Tuscany, Italy


DNA: Sangiovese is a cross between Ciliegiolo and Calabrese Montenuovo.


Notable Regions: Tuscany, Italy


Aromas and Flavors: Cherries, tomatoes, coffee, dried herbs, balsamic


Cost: $3 to $300 per bottle


Additional Note: The range in quality across the various Chiantis produced is quite stark. You can find everything from $3 table wine to $300+ age-worthy gems. The sweet spot is more in the $20-$50 range.


If you’re quality conscious, make sure the label says “DOCG,” which is the highest wine classification in Italy. Chianti Classico is a historic region within the larger Chianti region where the rules governing wine making are even more stringent. If you see the word “Riserva,” that is yet another signal of more stringent quality measures.


Finally, starting with the 2010 vintage, Tuscany added an even higher class of wines referred to as “Gran Selezione.” These have even more strict rules, particularly around aging (30 months).


Occasional Wine's Favorite Chiantis:


 

Merlot


Despite the movie Sideways’ impact on Merlot sales in the US, this variety is the 2nd most produced wine in the world at nearly 700,000 acres. Indeed, it is actually the most produced grape in France, and it remains steadfastly one of our absolute favorite grapes.


Origin: Bordeaux (Right Bank), France


DNA: Merlot is a cross between Cabernet Franc and Magdeleine Noire de Charentes. It is closely related to Carménère, Malbec, and Cabernet Sauvignon.


Taste Profile: Merlots are medium to full-bodied, often known for its soft, velvety texture with flavors and aromas of ripe red, blue, and black fruits, chocolate, herbs, vanilla, wood, and baking spices.


Occasional Wine’s Tip: Merlot is the perfect wine for beginners, given its soft texture and easy-to-love taste. Yet, there are also many Merlots that command price tags of hundreds, even thousands of dollars. On the plus side, because of the Sideways effect on sales, particularly in the US, it’s highly likely you can find a quality Merlot at very reasonable prices at your favorite wine shop.


Occasional Wine's Favorite Merlots:


 

Honorable Mentions for Light-to-Medium Reds


  • Bobal - this is the 3rd most planted grape in Spain after Tempranillo and Garnacha. It’s more fruit forward, soft, and luxurious

  • Carménère - a light-to-medium bodied varietal from France’s Bordeaux region, is now Chile’s flagship grape. For a long while in Chile, this one was once thought to be Merlot

  • Carignan - referred to as Cariñena or Mazuelo in Spain, is a light-to-medium bodied fruit forward grape from southern France (Languedoc and Roussillon) stands well on its own, but as a blending agent, really makes other wines that much better.

  • Mencía is another medium bodied, acidic grape from the northwestern region of Spain and Portugal. Fragrant, tasty, and age worthy.

 

Sources: Wine Scholar Guild, International Court of Sommeliers, Society of Wine Educators, Jancis Robinson, Wine Folly


Uniquely Curated Subscription Plans and Fine Wines by the Bottle


At Occasional Wine, we are passionate about wine and love sharing our knowledge with others so they too can enjoy the pleasures of an exceptional wine.

 

We offer three different tiers of biannual wine subscriptions, each with a curated selection of six wines from six wine regions delivered each Spring and Fall to give you and yours samples of some of the best wines in the world.




 

We also offer fine wines by the bottle from our private stock, a constantly updated wide selection of top rated wines from around the world.

 

Stay tuned for more helpful content in finding that next great wine for you, and as always feel free to contact us with any questions.


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