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Wanted: Light Red Wine

A month or so ago my wife and I had the fortune to be served a very light chilled red wine along with one of our courses at a restaurant. Of course, we neglected to write down the exact name, varietal, or region that it was from, however the somm described it as a 'crusher' wine, drank in the summer months in France and chilled down. He said it was a traditional way to drink it.

We are planning on a lot of picnics this summer and would really like something similar to fit the bill. I am not even sure where to start looking for this, and hoping some of you who know way more about wine than we do might be able to help out. Hoping for something <20 a bottle. Any help is appreciated!

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  1. I have no idea what the person meant be the term "crusher wine." It is a term I've never heard before.

    That said, I would think that a straight Beaujolais -- *not* a Beaujolais-Villages, and certainly not a Cru de Beaujolais -- would fit the bill. These are often served lightly chilled, and show quite well that way. They are also lighter in body, typically, than a Beaujolais-Villages or one of the Crus.

    1. Beaujolais, or perhaps Valpolicella?

      1. Rosè is great in the summer (though I'm the weirdo who'd drink it year round). Do you have a trusted wine store? They can make some good, affordable suggestions.

        1. I was about to post about this Grignolino D'Asti that we had last night. I was not at all familiar with this grape and I think it's one of the nicest, light reds I've had in a while. I'd love to learn more about this but I loved the acid as well as how sort of vegetal I found it. Forgive my limited wine vocabulary but my wife and I found it absolutely delicious!

          1. Yes, as others have alluded to, this role was very often assigned to Beaujolais in the past. It was almost taken for granted in US wine books of 30 or 50 years ago that you'd use Beaujolais in situations like this. Lighter ones are charming chilled, and always well under $20. (A limitation of the US wine industry is that it hasn't been anywhere near as successful producing "light reds" to compete with something like Beaujolais, compared to its success with major red and white varietal wines.)

            If you aren't familiar with the terminology, Beaujolais is a geographical name (as typical in France). The grape variety is Gamay, but that's unimportant as it does not compare closely with domestic analogs even from the same grape, and also the grape variety traditionally doesn't appear on Beaujolais labels.

            The picture became complicated some years back when short-lived offshoot Beaujolais styles made by a particular ferment method (Beaujolais "nouveau") were heavily promoted to the point that they surpassed "real" Beaujolais in sales, and distorted overseas perceptions (in North America for instance) of what "Beaujolais" meant. The "nouveau" wines are essentially an Autumn seasonal specialty, and can be charming to a point, but the limitation is their extreme one-dimensionality: aromas overwhelmed by the "pear-drop" character (term from the Brit. wine trade) imparted by the light acetate esters that the special fermentation technique brings out.

            Also I respectfully disagree with zin1953 in cleaving a large distinction between straight "Beaujolais" and "Beaujolais-Villages." I have plenty of experience of both appellations from many producers; the "Villages" designation restricts the sources and in theory connotes higher quality and perhaps greater weight, but in practice the two categories overlap considerably in style, some producers' Beauj-Villages are lighter than other producers' straight Beauj, and the vintage too is a factor. The "villages" label has been much more common in the US, also, in my experience.

            In the US, I think the most commonly encountered producer anyway (of either designation), by far, is Jadot.

            2 Replies
            1. re: eatzalot

              >>> but in practice the two categories overlap considerably in style, some producers' Beauj-Villages are lighter than other producers' straight Beauj, and the vintage too is a factor. <<<

              I agree 100% . . .

              1. re: zin1953

                You see I was only counseling caution with the broad brush. In fact, at one time I was comparing a lot of "cru" Beaujolais and certain of even those, e.g. Brouilly from some producers, ran lighter than the typical Beauj.-Villages. (For those unacquainted with Beaujolais wines, some sub-districts are entitled to use a more specific name, like Brouilly, on the label, and generally have more specific style and fetch higher prices.)

                Another category, "Beaujolais Supérieur," I've seen only occasionally in the US, I wonder if it's even still used. Traditionally its definition was just slightly more restrictive than plain Beaujolais (10% min. alcohol, rather than 9% -- most Beaujolais were higher anyway -- and a bit lower limit on yield per hectare).

            2. Served cool in France in the summer, could have been Morgon (cru Beaujolais), anyway that's what I order in Bordeaux city on a hot summer day. My favorite is the PUR Cote du Py but I have yet to taste a Morgon I didn't like.

              When I lived in Italy, my usual picnic red was Grignolino. They're not all light but most are.

              Sparkling Bonarda (hard to find) and Lambrusco (be sure to find the dry version, not the sweet) are also served cool. Nothing better with charcuterie.

              1. Beyond Beaujolais tout court, there are a number of delicious gamay-based quafs from Touraine and mondeuse-based Savoie reds; Bardolino (red or chiaretto) from Verona and even a frappato from Sicily. Seconding Grignolino, if you can find one easily.

                1 Reply
                1. re: bob96

                  The Frappato and Mondeuse wines I know are lighter than your average Cabernet blend or Syrah, but they're not what I'd call light in the way Bardolino and Grignolno are.

                2. What is the name and city of the restaurant?

                  1. As Robert said, my first guess would be a Morgon--a cru of Beaujolais made from the Gamay grape--just to be clear here. :)

                    However, more importantly, I feel the need to inform the term "crusher." It is originally in regard to a can of beer that will be consumed post haste and will likely slake thirst, i.e. crushed. To call a wine a "crusher" would be to suggest you could drink a lot of it rather quickly and easily, enjoyably. Used in a sentence: "Dude, we chilled that single vineyard 'Les Corcelettes' Morgon down and the bottle was gone before the song was over. It's a crusher."

                    Note: I find that Morgon is the chilled Beaujolais I run across most often but I don't know if that is right cru, per se, to be doing that to.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: ArchibaldDrinks

                      Traditionally, Fleurie, Chiroubles, and Brouilly would be "lighter" crus than Morgon or, say, Moulin-a-Vent.

                      1. re: bob96

                        Yes, thanks for pointing out that background info, bob96.

                        Of the nine traditional "cru" place-names in the Beaujolais district, as a rule, M-a-V has produced the weightiest and Morgon the second-weightiest wines. They could produce long-lived, mineraled, ageworthy reds and there were some especially dramatic examples of this in strong years like 1976.

                        For which reason it will strike many old Beaujolais hands as strange to see people today volunteering Morgon (out of all ten crus) as a "light" cru example, but there are reasons why it can be so -- less from being Morgon than other practical factors -- elaborated below.

                        Brouilly, Chiroubles, and maybe Côte-de-Brouilly customarily being among the lightest styled of all classic nine crus. (Regnié, the first new "cru" to join after a long interval of their being nine, also tended very light, in examples I've tried.

                        However, that's a general and traditional rule, and subject to producer style. Largely, that rule preceded the advent of Georges DuBoeuf who quickly rose to dominate mainstream Beaujolais distribution in the US, some years back, though this invasion seems to've receded.

                        DuBoeuf's label often showed up on both lighter and less distinctive renditions of many of these wines (IMO, skewing public perception of Beaujolais styles, though the larger mechanism of such skewing was the explosion of maceration-carbonique production, in which DuBoeuf certainly was also a factor; that fermentation technique, which I alluded to earlier in this thread, tends to make red wines taste the same -- they taste of the technique more than the grape or provenance -- even with Pinot Noir or Cabernet grapes, in my experience).

                        But I certainly had Morgons in a range of styles and weights over the decades, occasionally even light ones, all aside from DuBoeuf and the carbonique trend.

                      2. There are some super light low end pinot noirs that might work chilled. Cloudline springs to mind.