50 Light Red Wines (Under $25) Built for Fall

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50 Light Red Wines (Under $25) Built for Fall

Because it’s fall. Because it’s a little easier on your head and your waistline than higher-alcohol wines. Because according to my inbox, it’s “trending.” The world of lighter-bodied red wines is vast and amazing, and because some of these grapes lack the Oh So Very factor of, say, Cabernet Sauvignon, there are hidden treasures at great prices from all over the planet.

Quick primer: what gives a red wine its “body,” or viscosity, is its alcohol level and to some extent, its tannins. Some grapes just tend to make higher alcohol wines than others. Some of it has to do with how it’s treated, including how ripe the grapes are when they are picked and what climate they grow in (Zinfandel can make a hot and heavy wine in hot climates and a relatively smooth and silky one in cooler zones.) There’s also some degree to which tannin and sugar levels influence whether we experience a wine as “light” or “heavy.” While it’s not always directly related to its physical color, it happens to be the case that many of the lightest red wines are also lighter in color-clear ruby, for example-while heavy ones are purplish and dense and basically opaque in the glass. There are plenty of exceptions so don’t go based on color.

Common grapes that virtually never make light-bodied wines: Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Pinotage, Malbec, Aglianico, Petite Sirah, Mourvedre, Sagrantino and Nebbiolo. If it says “Bordeaux blend” expect heavy. Wines that couldn’t be heavy if they tried: Pinot Noir, Gamay, Dolcetto, Schiava, Grenache and Carignan. There’s a huge middle range where you generally find things like Barbera, Merlot, Aglianico, Tempranillo, Sangiovese and sometimes even Zinfandel.

These bottles run from weeknight quaffer to occasion-worthy and none are over $25 (OK, maybe one is), with a majority well below that. So, without further ado, here are 50 ways to Lighten Up.

Adam Les Natures Pinot Noir (Alsace, France) $20

Alsace is a wine region that should be on everyone’s radar. There are tons of really good wine from this area and it’s often available at very friendly prices for the quality. This organic pinot noir comes from granite soils and happy pesticide-free grapes. Nose of redcurrants and other tart red fruits-pomegranate, raspberry. Significant tannin structure but not overwhelming, kind of voluptuous actually. The winemaker’s recommendation on this is to pair it with red meat, which you can do. But personally, I think turkey or duck would enjoy a night out with this guy, if you eat those things. If you are an herbivore I will say my first impression was that this wine would be awesome with butternut squash ravioli and brown butter. It’s also wide-ranging in its fondness for cheese.

Adelaida Grenache (Paso Robles, CA) $20

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Grenache is a widely planted grape that probably originated in Spain. It likes hot, dry conditions (welcome to Paso Robles!) and produces wines with low tannins and a lot of red berry and spice notes-leathery or tarry notes enter the picture with age. Adelaida’s Grenache is a cherry and tobacco affair on the nose, with accents of allspice berries and a hint of cinnamon. The dominant flavor notes are strawberries, orange peel and oolong tea with a little black cherry. Though it’s perfectly happy to hang out with grilled meat, it’s at least as well suited to lighter dishes and since it’s a versatile character it’s a good pick for continuity with a range of tapas or small appetizer-type things (I think it’s great with smoked almonds). Also a great wine for sipping solo, paired with your back porch and a good book.

Argiolas Costera Cannonau (Sardinia) $13

Cannonau is the Sardinian spy name of Grenache and it is the major heavy-lifter red grape of that island. Sardinian expressions of Grenache tend to be heavier bodied than they are in some regions, so know this is the heavy end of “light.” You’ll get aromatic resinous herbs (like rosemary) over a layer of ripe strawberries, cherries and vanilla. This wine is a great companion to grilled meat.

Artezin Zinfandel (Mendocino, CA) $15

Zinfandel? I know, I know. But this one’s a cool-climate Zinfandel from Mendocino County, whose major exports are fog, chilly Pacific wind, and some of my favorite wines. If you’ve never compared a warm-climate Zin to something like this one, do it, because it’s really interesting. Words like “chewy and “jammy” do not come up with this wine; it’s silken and rounded. The nose hints at pomegranates and sour cherries. On the palate, an eccentric mélange of herbaceous and spice notes (I get nutmeg, and something like fenugreek) accompany a cedar and raspberry core. This wine is luscious but crisp and taut. A good friend to blue cheeses, pasta Bolognese, and anything you happen to be applying to an open flame, including Portobello mushrooms.

Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir (Santa Barbara, CA) $20

Pinot Noir is the classic red grape of Burgundy, and has become a staple of California’s coastal-influence AVAs. Santa Barbara’s Au Bon Climat makes a lot of wines that tend to go for a lot more than $25, but don’t think the more affordable price means the quality isn’t great. This is an incredibly versatile food wine and a major crowd-pleaser, light-hearted and casually elegant, with dominant notes of alpine strawberry and plum. Fruity and well-balanced. Seriously, pair it with whatever you happen to be eating.

Baileyana Firepeak Edna Valley Pinot Noir (Edna Valley, CA) $23


One of the winemakers I almost never stop nattering about is Domestic Terroirist Christian Roguenant, who is the genius behind the Niven Family wines including Baileyana. The central coast of CA is Pinot paradise and this guy is a confirmed Grape Whisperer and makes some of the best awesomeness-to-dollar-ratio wines in the state. Spicy, sleek, silken. Dominant notes are all classic Pinot: Cherries and red plums, dense florals, forest floor and loam, coffee, cocoa, and traces of baking spice (nutmeg pops up in this one and I think allspice). I think this is a marvelous companion to a summer evening on which you have chosen to go outside and apply various foods to an open flame. If you took it camping, which it would do obligingly because it is LeScrewcapped, you would deeply dignify whatever you put on the grill and I include the s’mores because Pinot Noir actually has a secret love of chocolate and graham crackers. Then again, don’t we all?

Balletto Estate Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley CA) $21

Graceful, cellar-worthy, giftable, hoardable, drinkable. Actually don’t hoard wine. You should drink it. You should drink this beauty from Russian River Valley fruit. It’s savory, with a lot of earthy notes, foresty aromatics, something meaty, something mossy, something deep and dark but also light and fresh. There’s a rose and violet thing happening here as well as chocolate and coffee. Fruit tends toward plum and black cherry. Ultra-balanced. Pair it with something pan-roasted and a little caramelized.

Banfi L’ardi Dolcetto d’Acqui (Piemonte, Italy) $12

Dolcetto is known for being a wine that doesn’t translate well, meaning that unlike for example Pinot Noir, which is tricky to grow but also a versatile terroir-sponge that will learn to speak the language wherever you plant it, Dolcetto is really a Piemontese character and the best ones come from there. Since in Piemonte it has to compete for space with the more highbrow varietals Nebbiolo and Barbera, its station has risen somewhat. This one’s very dry, very cherry. This Dolcetto has some herb notes on the finish and a little blackberry. Don’t age it. It enjoys youth. It also enjoys grilled prawns! Yum. Soft tannins and crisp, uncomplicated acidity also mean it’s a red that will deal graciously with tomato-based sauces.

Banshee Mordecai Proprietary Red Blend (Sonoma County) $24

Banshee is one of those wineries I kind of don’t like to write about because I don’t want to share. Out of Mendocino County, this red blend contains a wide range of hotter-climate varietals and expresses notes of chocolate and plums, blueberry jam and herbs, tar and baking spice and a blackberry kick that lets you know there’s Zinfandel in there. This is not a light-bodied wine. At all. It’s rich and powerful and frankly kind of a beast-but a charming, elegant beast. It’s a wine that wants to be in a dialogue with red meat, but that doesn’t mean vegetarians should shun it; it will play along beautifully with wild mushrooms, pizza, grilled veggies, and probably a lot of other stuff.

Banshee Sonoma County Pinot Noir (Sonoma County) $23

That’s right. I said I didn’t want to let the Banshee cat out of the bag and I am doing it twice because it’s such a good value and it might not stay that way. It is getting hard to find great Pinot Noir at this price point, to be honest. This one is great. The overwhelming impression I get from it is those red-fleshed Japanese plums, but also, cherry and blueberry and a forest floor character, something woodsy and mossy. A little wild strawberry too. There is a bit of a marine funk to this wine, and it is highly intriguing. It is a red that will happily hang out with seafood dishes, but I wouldn’t rule out turkey. Or duck breast.

Bonny Doon Clos de Gilroy (Central Coast, CA) $14

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Bonny Doon was the first winery I ever fell in love with and I still love them. They’re eclectic and thoughtful and their tasting notes are works of art. If you’re looking for a wine club to join and you have an adventurous streak, I cannot recommend them highly enough. This Grenache (with a mourvedre add-in is a slinky minx of a wine, cool and supple. The big notes are raspberry and black pepper but pay close attention and you’ll find things like thyme, mint, wet earth, and red currants. Head Doonstah Randall Grahm recommends serving this wine with pepper-crusted ahi, and I am not about to disagree with him.

Brethren of the Road Grenache (Alexander Valley, CA) $13

Sustainable dry-farmed fruit. Minimalist vinification. Fresh and clean-tasting, with a lot of cherry type fruit upfront and earth and spice notes batting cleanup. Great with meat, also a friend to hard cheeses, simple pasta dishes or pizza. Also pretty splendiferous on its own. This wine is very non-fancypants so don’t bother with cellaring, dressing up, or waiting for any sort of special occasion. It needs no occasion, and I mean that in a good way.

Bruno Giacosa Dolcetto d’Alba (Piemonte, Italy) $15

Violet-reflexed ruby tone, typical fragrant nose and long, chalky finish with a slight hint of bitterness. Violets, black pepper, blackberry and woodsy notes. Dolcetto is a casual, youthful wine (in its native Piemonte it’s what you pop open on weeknights while your special occasion Nebbiolo ages). It’s low-acid, which means it won’t last indefinitely in the cellar-I always find this is a nice excuse to open something. Like you’ll waste it otherwise. If you struggle with cork-guilt, Dolcetto and Gamay are your wines. It’s like your patriotic duty to drink them right away.

Cigar Box Pinot Noir (Chile) $11

Pinot Noir is a shapeshifter and expresses itself differently in different locations. I personally find the southern hemisphere ones a little chewy, and I happen to prefer them silky. But that’s me. And if you like the slightly more burly style of pinot, Cigar Box is a great example of it. Savory, unabashedly oaky, with mouth-filling tannins despite being fairly light-bodied. Some bright fruit notes, primarily raspberry, but also notes like pencil shavings and forest floor and cola and even… beets? Is it beets? There’s a bit of salinity too. There’s a lot going on with this wine. I see it being a good all-by-itself wine but also a fine friend for lasagna or pasta Bolognese.

Cultivate Pinot Noir (Santa Barbara, CA) $25

Though not the most inexpensive wine on the list, Cultivate ranks high on unpretentious, thoughtful, damn-good Pinot. Sourced from three cool-climate AVAs, this is a pinot with a very classic, elegant profile, clear ruby hue, vibrant and youthful aromatics (the “jump out of the glass” kind; this is not a wine you have to tap your toes over while it “opens up”). Red fruit city: pomegranates and raspberries dominate, with a little ripe strawberry and a tiny trace of blood orange. Give it a minute, however, and it will evolve into darker, juicier blackberry and rose notes, and a little bit of bergamot. Earth, raspberries and black tea follow. This wine’s ideal match is earnest debate. Philosophy, not politics-politics have been shown by recent studies to significantly disrupt digestion.

De Boeuf Fleurie Gamay (Beaujolais, France) $8

If you’d like a reminder that wine is, actually, a seasonal food, Gamay might be your grape. My Gamay Beaujolais loving friend always quips that you age this wine “in the car on the way home.” Youthful and juicy, it’s best drunk a little south of room temperature and is a wonderful thing to open in celebration of the fact that it’s 5:00 somewhere. Luscious-looking cherry-violet color with nice translucency, calm tannins, red and black fruit notes dominating (raspberry especially); this is a wine to drink as a casual aperitif or with any number of foods, especially the kinds you might bring on an elegant early fall picnic. (Its happy place might be alongside a crocque-monsieur or other ham and cheese type sandwich; it also has a fondness for paté, sausage, and robust cheese.) Pomegranates and cherries appreciate it, which might make it a great pal for Persian dishes if you are sitting on some killer recipes from an Iranian grandma, and it has an affinity for poultry, particularly cold poultry, so think chicken salads or even thanksgiving leftovers. You can try all of these without breaking the bank, so you might as well get creative.

DuBoeuf Saint-Amour Chateau de Saint-Amour Gamay (Beaujolais, France) $21

Pleasantly tannic and satiny in texture, with a bright garnet color and exuberant aromatics (fresh cherries dominate). This one’s on the rich side for a gamay but it’s very drinkable and non-overwhelming. Stony undertones, vivacious finish. Beaujolais has many different expressions of the Gamay grape (a sommelier will tell you there are specifically ten) and this one is on the serious side but still a best friend at a picnic and happy to hang out with a charcuterie plate, or just some bread and cheese.

De Grendel Pinot Noir (Durbanville, South Africa) $10

Bright, vivid cherry color with strong rose petal aromatics. Strong but pleasant acidity, low but well-structured tannins-tannin structure evokes pomegranate seeds more than oak. Red fruit tones; mulberry, raspberry, strawberry-if it’s a berry, it’s in here. Black plum and clove on the finish. Tart but lush. This is a wine that would enjoy a night out with game, if that is a thing with you. If not, games! And takeout pizza. You won’t disappoint it. And it won’t disappoint you. Note: sometimes crosses the $25 line.

Domaine Les Poete Le Gamay (Loire, France) $20

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Chill this light but elegant wine a bit and you have one of the few reds that do anything nice for oysters. Dry and crisp with a pomegranate core, this is a simply-made, minimalist gamay intended for goes-with-everything quaffing. The quintessential picnic wine, it should be paired with… well, picnic food. Cheese and fresh bread, leftover roast chicken, a little paté or something, a rustic salad. That said, there is no reason not to put this on your Thanksgiving table. It has a fondness for turkey. And cranberries.

Domaine Rabasse-Charavin Cotes du Rhone (Rhone, France) $14

If the term “bretty” gives you pause, let it be known that it might be a factor in this wine. Some people dislike the funk of brettanomyces-influenced wines, others love it. I detected a little in the one I sampled. This is a medium-bodied Rhone red with significant leatheriness. Raspberry and strawberry are the prominent fruit notes but this is not the fruitiest wine on this list by a longshot. Rustic goodness though! My draft pick for pairing this is probably poultry, but it’s got plenty of versatility.

Domaines Schlumberger Les Princes Abbes Pinot Noir (Alsace, France) $15

Alsace is a magical land, at least as far as wine goes. One of its best tricks is floral, velvety Pinot Noirs. This oneis a best friend to white meat, though those of us who prefer the vegetarian side of things will find it gets along well with things like potatoes and mushrooms and leeks. Ruby to slightly purple. Candied cherry and balsamic notes along with raspberry and a strawberry jam quality. Florals are present but muted; roses and peonies, not a lot of violet. Compact, firm tannins let you know this wine probably didn’t come from Sonoma. It’s tight and astringent, but not too much. Actually finely balanced and very, very tasty. Very good complexity and a vivacious but refined nature. The right occasion for this wine is “I feel like it.”

Duckhorn “Decoy” Sonoma Valley Red (Sonoma, CA) $20

OK: Honesty time. Duckhorn is on my list of wineries I’m not always in a huge hurry to say super nice things about because most of their wine, while very good, is an amazing example of Napa Valley Attitude Pricing Disease, also known as Pretty Damn Big for Your Britches Syndrome. Their Decoy line is a marked exception, so here we go. This is a Merlot based blend, so a velvety texture and a plummy nose are hallmark traits. You’ll also taste blackcurrant, chocolate, cloves and licorice. It’s complex and unfolds beautifully. Another great friend to mushrooms, or if you are someone who like a well-marbled rib eye, you and this bottle have something in common and should get together to discuss it. Note: this wine is at the far edge of anything I’d call “light-bodied.” That goes for just about any Merlot on this list.

E. Guigal Cotes du Rhone (Rhone, France) $13

Savory and kind of zippy or racy or zingy or something. This is on the dark and full side of the spectrum covered here (a lot of Syrah adds heft and depth) and is deep red in the glass with aromatics that range from earth and olive leaf to smoke and blackberries. Intense spice aromatics. Tannins are super smooth. Grilled or smoked things will appreciate this wine.

Evodia Garnacha (Calatayud, Spain) $8

A dusty style of Garnacha with some blackberry and smoke notes. Redcurrant, strawberry, a touch of leather. Fruity characteristics are pretty intense. What to pair it with? At this price you can afford to play around. If you’re a game eater, this wine’s up for that. Beans, lentils and aged cheeses are also good starting points.

Field Theory Blaufrankisch (California) $16

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Blaufrankisch is a grape that should get a little more attention than it tends to in this country. It’s a light bodied Austrian red (in Germany it’s known as Lemberger) that’s really pretty rare in California. This bottle makes the case for it to be much less rare. Deliciously drinkable, all about spice notes. Cloves, nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon and mace play over a layer of cherry notes. This is a wine I happen to like all by its lonesome but it pairs with lots of stuff-the People Who Pair Stuff suggest grilled lamb. If that’s not your bag, you can confidently play around with this wine. It’s not rigid and you shouldn’t have to be either.

Ferrari-Carano Merlot (Dry Creek Valley CA) $20

When you consider the lifespan of a grapevine and the lifespan of a fad, it is rather incredible to see how prices for Merlot have stayed down ever since they took a knockout punch from Paul Giamatti in Sideways. Truly. People, take advantage of this because it will eventually dust itself off and start pricing itself out of your weeknight dinner range eventually and you’ll wish you’d stored cases of absurdly cheap, super good Merlot bottles. Ferrari-Carano in Sonoma County makes a lovely one, with less plumminess than some Merlots but all the smooth, soft, velvet-like structure. Some Merlots are much more on the heavy-bodied end but I’m cool with including this cool-climate character here. Cherries pop up, along with blackberry, tea, cedar and cinnamon, a little mocha note on the finish, which is long. This stuff is just so easygoing it’s harder to say what not to pair it with. Have you ever had that thing with the soft polenta and the poached egg in the porcini broth? That. Also pasta. Also anything meaty. Oh. Gazpacho. That’s what I wouldn’t pair it with. I knew there was something.

Fossil Point Pinot Noir (Edna Valley CA) $18

The Center of Effort team put together this really well-priced Pinot from the marine-influenced terroir of Edna Valley. This one’s a bit of a voluptuary, soft and slightly fleshy. But not flabby, because there’s plenty of nicely balanced acidity. Plum hits the nose and palate before the hallmark Pinot cherry note, with raspberry, vanilla and baking spices following. Pinots frequently exhibit “forest floor” notes like oakmoss and wet leaves and mushrooms and damp earth. This one really doesn’t, though there is a touch of cedarwood. Bright fruit, spicy edge, warm, soft, and highly pleasant. This is a likely crowd-pleaser, by which I mean people who don’t like to have their palate seriously challenged will love it but seasoned wine-geeks will probably love it too. It’s just too easygoing not to like. It’ll hang out with whatever you’re cooking, with maybe a preference for grilled prawns or scallops, though it’s certainly a great complement to salmon or for that matter a well-made turkey burger.

Fritsch Zweigelt (Austria) $20

Zweigelt is fruity, dry, refreshing, and really food-forward. If you find one on a restaurant menu it’s the bottle to order when everyone’s eating something different because it just plain goes with everything. Fritsch is a biodynamically produced wine with delightful juiciness, a core of sweet cherries with aromatics that range from woodsy to flowery with a hint of pepper on the finish. It’s simple, easygoing, and remarkably versatile. Pair it with everything.

Joel Gott “Alakai” Grenache (California) $16

On the “pushing it” end of the light-bodied spectrum, this wine’s arguably not that light-bodied, mostly due to the addition of Syrah and Petite Sirah, which are generally heavyweights. They also blend really well with Grenache! Spicy, dark and ripe, with a pronounced blueberry note and elegant tannins. It has a long graceful finish with a peppery kick. It’s a classic Californian, laid-back and ready to roll with whatever you’ve got going on.

La Follette Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast, CA) $20

Fred and Ginger. Bogie and Bacall. The CA North Coast and Pinot Noir. ‘Nuff said? This beauty has an almost candied or sugary nose but do not be fooled, it’s bone dry on the palate. Luscious, with a lot of cherry and black plum with spicy accents. Coastal-influence classic hints of forest floor, cedar, and flowers (violets?) as well as a tiny hint of stone. Vivid intensity, good bones, a lean but not austere wine with enormous versatility and a high likelihood of making everyone happy. You like salmon? So does this guy. I bet it would have a positive working relationship with goat cheese as well.

Landmark Vineyards Overlook Pinot Noir (California) $20

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Definitely a fall wine. Blended from a variety of AVAs, Landmark’s Overlook Pinot is a spicy little thing with a satiny texture, molasses and mint on the nose, followed by a plum and oolong tea kind of thing. On the palate, like many a CA Pinot Noir, you’ll get cherries, cedar, raspberry, mocha and a tiny whisper of mushrooms. Luscious and easy to drink. Herb-crusted roast chicken would be a good starting point for food pairings but you’ll probably find this stuff pairs well with everything from grilled Portobello mushrooms to dark chocolate.

Las Rocas Garnacha (Calatayud, Spain) $12

Spanish Grenache from old vines. Supple tannins, good structure, nicely rounded and very smooth. Dark red hue, black cherry-forward with a bit of oak to it. Garnacha is one of the most food-friendly wines there is, and this one’s no exception. You should feel confident pairing it with just about anything.

Les Dauphins Cotes du Rhone (Rhone, France) $9

Ultra-bargain if you like your wine French. A classic GSM (Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre) blend with a light, clear ruby color and a bit of a blackcurrant thing on the nose. Super smooth tannins, nice structure, aromatics are predominantly red fruit (raspberries dominate for me). Traces of warm spices on the finish. This wine is a grill-tender’s buddy but will also play nicely with salads and personally, I have never met a Grenache-based wine that didn’t put me in the mood for goat cheese. Weekday wine. Party-friendly. Highly quaffable. That is all.

Lo-Fi Wines Gamay / Pinot Noir (Santa Barbara CA) $26

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On the splurge end and a really fun donation to the beverage stockpile at a nice dinner party. This wine is eclectic and slightly… I don’t know: Nerdy, but in a really good way. It has a bright garnet color, racy acidity, and unexpected aromatics including some oddball nut tones and woodsy, cedary notes over a fairly strong cherry midpalate. It likes to be served slightly chilled. On the tart side. Probably very food-versatile. I had it with poultry and it worked well.

Manincor Schiava Kalterersee Keil Schiava (Alto Adige-Trentino, Italy) $19

Schiava, which is actually a red grape versus a black one, makes wines so light you’ll think they’re rosé when you look at them (and there are pink styles made from it too). This one is a soft, pale, frosty ruby color. The dominant note in Schiava is often strawberries but this one happens to also display a healthy amount of red cherry and some almond on the finish. It’s succulent, juicy, easy-drinking and a really good friend to almost any pasta dishes. This might sound weird but I’d bet it goes nicely with trout. (Have not personally vetted this, just a feeling.)

Navarro Vineyards Pinot Noir (Anderson Valley, CA) $20

Anderson Valley Pinot = yes, please. Ruby color, damson plum on the nose, smooth and somewhat restrained both in aromatics and on the palate. This is a medium-bodied, lithe, slightly ethereal pinot, expressing primarily black plum and dark cherry flavors, a hint of cola and some stony notes. A soft, evanescent finish. If well-structured but not overly intense is your thing, this is your bottle. A friend to fish and poultry, and a good foil for a spring vegetable ragout or roasted young potatoes. Easy, easy, easy.

Nasty Woman Pantsuit Pinot (Oregon) $25

Pinot for Progress! Meg Murray came up with this wine in response to… well, yeah, that. Show your feminist creds by supporting Nasty Women! Willamette Valley Pinot Noir is great and only getting better, and in the Murrays’ crafty hands, you will get a really great taste of the region many people are calling the Burgundy of the New World, but which we west-coasters prefer to simply call “Oregon.” West Coast pinots are generally cherry-forward; with this one I also get a little blackberry upfront. The approach is a teensy bit hotheaded but when you consider the… current climate, what else would you expect, really? I expect that might have dissipated with a little more time to open up in the glass-frankly, it had been a long day and I was rather eager to put the stuff in my mouth! Pretty classic notes of black fruit, forest floor and a hint of cola follow. It’s a very solid wine, especially when you consider the frenetic pace of its release. You can confidently stock your… oh say it: cabinet with this.

Navarro Anderson Valley Pinot Noir (Anderson Valley, CA) $22

Anderson Valley Pinot = yes, please. Ruby color, damson plum on the nose, smooth and somewhat restrained both in aromatics and on the palate. This is a medium-bodied, lithe, slightly ethereal pinot, expressing primarily black plum and dark cherry flavors, a hint of cola and some stony notes. A soft, evanescent finish. If well-structured but not overly intense is your thing, this is your bottle. A friend to fish and poultry, and a good foil for a spring vegetable ragout or roasted young potatoes. Easy, easy, easy.

Niklas Schiava (Alto Adige, Italy) $18

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Schiavas aren’t as ubiquitous as, say, Pinot Noirs, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth seeking out. Niklas comes from a region where it is apparently very hard to make bad wine. Light but lavish, with an almost glowing red hue, this wine is one to drink young. Cherry-dominant at the core, it has intriguing notes of pomegranate, violets, almond and tangerine. It’s super-smooth, very subtle, and a great companion to lighter meals (many really rich, heavy foods might overwhelm this one). It does have a secret love affair with pork if that is something you eat. It’s lovely on its own too.

Palmina Dolcetto (Santa Ynez Valley, CA) $20

The name of this Piemontese grape means “little sweet one,” but it doesn’t generally make sweet wines. Dolcetto is not widely planted in California so it’s fun to see this one pop up in the Santa Ynez Valley. Dolcetto is not a wine you would typically age; it’s meant to be enjoyed in the bloom of its youth. Easygoing, light, brilliant ruby tone. While completely dry, some of the aromatics will invoke candied cherries – or cherry candy. Aromatic herbs unfold on the palate (a basil/gardenia thing? And some wintry baking spice note that’s a little hard to pin down). It has a lively, bright acidity, modest tannins and a swift and elegant finish. Dolcetto is one of the world’s most un-fussy food wines, but I’d say try it with dishes from the same region of Italy: it’s the homeland of the white truffle and a haven for cream sauces, eggy things, veal, salumi and other not-so-light fare, but branch out in any direction you like. You can’t miss.

Quivira Grenache (Dry Creek Valley, CA) $25

Genial, elegant and nuanced, this wine is sort of like that one friend of yours who tends to be quiet but when he does open his mouth he astonishes everyone in the room with some amazing insight. Do you know what I mean? I have seen this wine for over $25 and I have seen it for about $20, so be aware it can exceed the stated limit. I assure you that you won’t care once you open it. In addition to being sustainability rockstars and really nice folks, Quivira’s just ultra-consistent in being really yummy. Certified biodynamic grapes yield a high-acid wine with great freshness and vivacity. Spicy (I get pink peppercorn?) with hints of vanilla and strawberry and something subtly candied (though not sweet). Its preferred companions include slow-cooked or braised meats, paella, risotto, and sturdy vegetables. It’s not an interesting companion to green salads. Generally, though, versatile and lovely.

Restless Earth Grenache (Santa Barbara CA) $13

This Grenache is easy to obtain in the sense that it’s readily orderable (through Winc) but a little difficult in that it is not an enormous production run and it tends to sell out. This is because it is really good. Dominant flavors are cherry, strawberry, mocha and earth and it has a pronounced savory character. Structured but not “tight” with decent tannins. The soulmate of this wine is a wild mushroom ragout.

Robert Hall Cuvee de Robles (Paso Robles CA) $13

A “Rhone Ranger” blend of Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah and Petite Sirah, this is a wine that will not ever take itself too seriously. It’s lively and audacious and has a charming cherry-berry fruit-forward character with vivid aromatics and a very pleasant, lightly spicy finish. It’s juicy and crowd-pleasing and plain easy to drink. Summer backyard BBQ in a bottle.

Selection Laurence Feraud Cotes du Rhone (Rhone, France) $15

A traditional CDR blend and unlikely to fare all that well in the cellar, this “carpe diem” wine is begging to be opened right this minute. Cherry compote core, earth notes. Slightly leathery. Hint of cocoa powder. Some reviewers will place this wine in the full-bodied range, and while I wouldn’t exactly argue, I find it “medium” enough to warrant inclusion here. It’s not a schiava. But it is a perfect companion to food with a south-of-France inspiration. Do you like duck breast? So does this wine. Do you like cassoulet? So does this wine. Ratatouille? Totally. Paté? Yes! I also like this guy with just a handful of toasted nuts. It’s a lovely transitional wine; it’s got a fall kind of spirit.

Sokol-Blosser “Evolution” Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley, OR) $19

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Oregonians are often maverick dreamer types who disdain pretention. This wine is a good example of that spirit. “Dangerously” juicy and fruity, it’s also got a particularly attractive silkiness. Don’t age this stuff; drink it young and pair it with absolutely anything. A few scattered suggestions: salmon. Mushroom risotto. Winter squash (Pumpkin ravioli with sage butter?) or white meat. Pork. Duck. Trout. Almost any cheese you can think of. Hazelnuts. Cherries. Milk chocolate. Can handle strong herb and spice flavors from cardamom and cloves to chipotle and paprika to fennel and dill.

Steelhead Red (Sonoma County CA) $18

From the something-for-absolutely-everyone land of Sonoma County, Steelhead Red is crafted from North Coast fruit and it’s definitely a people pleaser. Aromatics leap out of the glass-wild berries, flowers, something like wintergreen. The texture is silky and subtle and the palate is heavy on cherries with a coffee edge and a subtle caramelized quality. Hippie alert: Steelhead is a great place to spend your wine dollars because in addition to crafting a totally beautiful wine, they are dedicated to sustainable farming and winemaking practices as well as waterway restoration. If you feel label-triggered to actually pair this wine with steelhead, I wouldn’t even try to talk you out of it.

Stellar Organics “The River’s End” Pinot Noir (Western Cape, South Africa) $9

A medium-intensity pinot and a stellar (…) choice for the eco-conscious, this Vegan-proof, super-sustainable wine is red cherry dominant with a juicy raspberry undertone and a lot of earth notes. It’s a bit “hot” (at least the one I opened seemed to be) but not to a troublesome degree-if “warming” is a pleasurable quality in a red wine for you, then you will like this one. It is eminently affordable and a great friend to Persian food, or anything involving lamb, saffron, cumin, or peppercorns. Has a long finish.

Talley Vineyards Bishop’s Peak Pinot Noir (San Luis Obispo, CA) $15

San Luis Obispo is California’s most marine-influenced AVA, with all of its vineyards within five miles of the Pacific. Pinots dig this marine influence. This is a delightfully affordable one with a translucent garnet color in the glass and a marasca cherry and baking spice nose. Soft, with subtle, reined-in acidity, the palate’s red-fruit driven (raspberry and alpine strawberry, mostly) with hints of bay laurel, crushed rock, and a little trace of nutmeg. Red wines can be hard to pair with salads, but this one isn’t. Especially if the salad features assertive greens like arugula and roasted fall veggies like beets and mushrooms and fennel and winter squash. You don’t have to restrict it to the salad course, obviously; this wine’s a go-along-to-get-along character.

Tommasi Rafael Valpolicella Classico Superiore (Italy) $12

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Valpolicella is a Veronese wine that can range from light and dry to Amarone, a very strong late harvest suckerpunch made from dried grapes. This one’s a single-vineyard beauty from the light and dry end of the spectrum. The color is deep, intense ruby-red, and the palate’s on the intense side too but it’s a low-alcohol wine, which makes the overall impression light and food-friendly. The aromatics are perfumey and strong on dried spices; the palate is all about cherries and soft leather. While this is probably first and foremost a meat-person’s wine, there’s no end to the possibilities if you prefer veggie dishes. Valpolicella is a friend to cheese, mushrooms, potatoes, and white pizzas, and probably any number of other things.

Trinity Hill Pinot Noir (Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand) $14

I will admit it openly. There are certain regions where wine just works for my palate and others where you have to work really hard to get my attention, and New Zealand wines are largely in the latter category. I mean, look, it’s personal. For you, the Italy-Austria border might be a land of lackluster where for me it can do no wrong. Taste buds are a mystery. What is certain is that Trinity Hill is rocking a very, very good Pinot Noir here. Where the grape can tend toward a heavily cherry-based affair, here there’s more bramble and spice and the intriguing set of flavor and aroma notes we call “forest floor,” meaning a kind of mélange of earth and wet stone and cedar and oakmoss and maybe violet petals and dry leaves and woodsy and musty and mushroomy tones. This has a lot of that. Pinot noir is not typically a go-to for red meat. This one is an exception. Can’t think of anything it would enjoy more than a grilled steak and a pile of sautéed wild mushrooms. You can cellar it for a while… but not forever.

Villa Gemma Masciarelli Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo DOC (Abruzzo, Italy) $15


I am cheating; technically, this is a very-heavyweight rosato. It has the character of a light-bodied red and it’s so tasty I had to mention it. Made with 100% Montepulciano d’Abruzzo grapes-the appellation “Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo” is the newest DOC of Abruzzo. This complex rosé wine is a deep cherry pink, offering an exquisite floral bouquet with hints of thyme, pomegranate and walnuts. With a palate that is balanced and fresh with subtle tannins and boasting flavors of red fruit, this wine is bold, elegant and a perfect pairing with lighter fare. It’s fall in a glass. Soft minerality and a tiny hint of dried rose petals. It’s interested in meaty fish like swordfish, mahi and tuna, but I’d also pair it with things like lentils, white beans and farro. Pasta dishes with fall flavors (pesto, sage butter or carbonara type sauces for example) will happily pair with this wine. So will anything featuring walnuts.