Mary Dowey’s Bottles of the Week: Lighter, Brighter Reds

Lighter, brighter red wines are bouncing back and not just for spring, says MARY DOWEY

It used to be as seasonal as clothes. Red wines weighty as the heaviest wool coat for autumn and winter; lighter styles for spring and summer – in Ireland sometimes only theoretically since your typically chilly, sodden barbecue might not be survivable without a glass or two of something to set the innards on fire.

Now those lighter styles are winning all year round, reminding us that 40 years ago the grandest red Bordeaux had modest alcohol levels of around twelve per cent. It was bound to happen, really. As fashion ripples incessantly through wine, many of the whopping reds that grabbed attention over the past two to three decades have begun to look over the top today – too ripe and alcoholic, too much like a headache in a glass.

We’re tired of them because we’ve had too many of them. There’s no doubt that, in the hottest wine regions of the world, climate change has made it more difficult for producers to avoid full-on firepower in their reds. The sunnier the weather, the faster grapes ripen with two noticeable effects – sweeter, jammier flavours and higher alcohol. Although picking fruit earlier may help it isn’t a magic solution since under-ripe grapes have bitter flavours. Planting new vines on cooler sites works better but it takes money and time.

Another factor driving big, heady wines has been the supercharged nature of many commercial wine yeasts – gobbling up grape sugar so effectively that this too has pushed alcohol levels up. Enough! Among questioning winemakers everywhere – especially young Turks rebelling against their parents’ methods – revolution has been bubbling for a while and is now sending us more wines of a very different kind.

Often they’re organic, biodynamic and/or “natural”. However small in percentage terms, this movement is gathering momentum partly because it seems to result in better balanced wines with higher natural acidity. Reds as well as whites taste more refreshing. With it goes the tendency to avoid commercial yeasts, letting wild yeasts present on the grapes and in the air do the job of fermentation instead. Although this process takes longer, flavours are often less synthetic and final alcohol levels lower.

You don’t need me to tell you that these closer-to-nature wines are high fashion – on sale in cool restaurants and wine bars in London, Paris, New York … and yes, Dublin, Cork, Waterford, Galway … That means we’re going to see more of them. I may never be an absolute convert to the orange wines that represent the extreme outer edge – the Vivienne Westwood faction, if you like – but I love plenty of whites and svelte, tangy reds. A small but visible platoon of these with around twelve per cent alcohol is marching into the market right now. Even just thinking about that my head feels better.

MAS DES AGRUNELLES NICOT ROUGE, COTEAUX DU LANGUEDOC 2015. A smooth, flavoursome Syrah/Grenache blend from dedicated organic and biodynamic winemakers in a cool pocket of the Languedoc. Alcohol: 12.5%. From Green Man Wines, Dublin 6W; Salt & Stove, Dublin 8; Quintessential Wines, Drogheda and,
usually €19.95.

MICHAEL WENZEL BLAUFRÄNKISCH AUS DEM KALK, BURGENLAND 2017. This juicy, raspberryish red from a 12th-generation Austrian winemaker exudes purity and vibrancy with a gentle grip. Terrific with pork, duck and many vegetable dishes. Alcohol: 12.5%. From Clontarf Wines, Dublin 3; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6W; Bradleys, Cork, usually €26.95.

CLAU DE NELL VIOLETTE, ANJOU 2015. From a Loire estate taken over in 2008 by Burgundy’s great biodynamics pioneer Anne-Claude Leflaive, this finely tuned, complex wine seems to bounce with energy. Even after six days an open bottle still tasted magnificent. Alcohol: 12.5%. From Terroirs, Dublin 4 and, €36.50.


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