Big Red

Under the first tentative rays of sun, we can shed our layers, feel the air that is crisp and weightless and new. Gray skies break into blue, and from the jagged tips of twigs and branches burst the beginnings of flowers and leaves, the first tiny suggestions of life. Blink, and you’ll open your eyes to a wide green world, early morning heat sticking to every surface and a summer sun stretching late into the evening.

If winter wines are warm blankets, spring wines are the charming gingham picnic spread reserved for golden, breezy afternoons.

With the guidance of Jamie Patten, the sommelier and owner behind Allegheny Wine Mixer, we’ve selected red wines to refresh our taste buds and reinvigorate us with the tang of the new season.

The difference between a winter red and a spring red lies not in the drama of the flavor, but in the weight and texture. “In spring and summer, you’re looking for lighter-bodied, higher acid, usually un-oaked with a lower tannin,” Patten says. “I look for red fruit and floral in spring and summer reds.”

Many of our choices hail from the cooler regions in Italy and France, since wines fitting that description generally require temperatures erring on the chilly side. This results in a higher acid content, which is responsible for the bright, mouthwatering feeling incited by spring reds. They are meant to be drank young, Patten explains. For optimal enjoyment, she suggests about 15 minutes in the fridge, just enough to chill the tongue and enhance the subtle blend of flavors. Spring is the season of youth and freshness—the same goes for spring wine.

The Piedmont region of Italy is home to rolling green hills, famed worldwide for producing delicious wines and cuisine. Several of Patten’s favorite spring wines — Barbera, Dolcetto, and Ruchet — come from this region. Each is friendly, light-bodied, and excellent for easy afternoon sipping.

“A lot of people don’t understand light-bodied reds,” says Patten. “They think that the better the wine is, it must be bigger, heavy, deep and dark. If you’re not used to light-bodied reds, they might just taste thin to people, but they’re not so authoritative. They’re friendly. They go with food—they don’t overpower things too much. It complements the food, it doesn’t overpower it, and it can go with so many different things.”

 

  1. Dolcetto houses a medley of floral undertones, with suggestions of violets and even herbs, and has an earthy essence that brings you right to the hills from which it sprung.
  2. Best consumed within two to four years, the Barbera’s rich purple hue reflects the potpourri of flavors within: dark cherries, strawberries, plums, blackberries—all lip-staining fruits, with hints of dried flowers.
  3. In the style of its regional sibling, the flavors in the Ruchet are a medley of berries, this time red: raspberry, red currant. “Very berry,” says Patten, and perfect with a slight chill.
  4. From further into Italy’s heartland hails Lambrusco, an “oddly complicated wine,” Patten describes, of which there are eight different varieties of all weights. “People think of it as this crappy stuff that their grandparents had, but it’s one of those wines that kind of surprises people. Extremely light and bright and a little tingly.” With traces of grape, cherry, strawberry, and raspberry, it has a light, refreshing texture.
  5. “Beaujolais can taste like the weird red candy on the outside of a candied apple,” says Patten. Defined by this initial bright sweetness, reminiscent of sweets and strawberries, the aftertaste is all roses and violets.
  6. Chinon, a Cabernet Franc hailing from the Loire Valley, is a bit higher in alcohol content than our other picks. The flavor is evocative of cranberries, dried fruits, and herbs, and complements hearty meat dishes brilliantly.