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Q: How to Transition from Whites to Reds?

by David on July 30, 2007

Question from Jodie: I enjoy white wine or White Zinfandel but would like to start drinking red wine because I have heard that it is good for you to have a glass a day. I have tried a merlot and a cabernet but they are too strong for me. Could you recommend something more ‘gentle’ or ‘mellow’ for me to try?

Reply: Hi, Jodie! Thank you for writing, and congratulations on wanting to add more variety to your wine repertoire! You have many options.

The easiest thing to do is go to a wine shop with a knowledgeable staff and tell them exactly what you’ve told me. They’ll know their inventory and should be able to help you pick out some wines that you’ll like.

Otherwise, here are some wines that are usually lighter than the Cabernet and Merlot:

Pinot Noir is a great choice (ours is sold out, unfortunately). It’s nearly always very soft and approachable and goes well with a wide variety of foods.

Wines called “Beaujolais” are French wines made of the Gamay grape, which produces a light, fruity red wine that’s very low in astringency. The California versions of Beaujolais are called Gamay or Gamay Beaujolais. It’s not particularly popular right now, but you can find it.

You might try asking for a light-bodied red Zinfandel. Zin is made in many styles and you probably won’t enjoy the massive, high-alcohol, so-called “fruit-bombs” that are popular right now, but a light-bodied Zin will be big on fruit and low in tannin (astringency). From Italy, Valpolicella and Bardolino are light-bodied reds that go down easy.

The risk with the European wines is that you may not care for them if you’re not accustomed to wines that are somewhat tart. If you like dry, crisp whites like Sauvignon Blanc, it will probably work out OK, but if you prefer the sweetness of the White Zin, these wines might make you pucker. Ask for warm vintages from Europe like 2003 and 2005. Alternatively, many of the Aussie reds, like the Shiraz blends, have more body but are often slightly sweet or give the impression of sweetness.

For the lightest of the light, come November, look for the Beaujolais Nouveau (there are also a few California versions, often called Gamay Nouveau). It’s released the 3rd Thursday of each November and is one of the few reds that takes a chill well. It sells quickly, so you probably won’t be able to find it this time of year.

You’ll enjoy these wines more if you drink them with food, at least at first. Some people sip reds on their own, but generally they’re made to go with food. As you try more and more of them, I’ll bet you’ll find yourself developing a taste for something a little bigger after awhile. You’ll still appreciate the whites and delicate reds, but you’ll enjoy the big reds too. It’s the progression most all of us go through.

It sounds like you’re ready to explore! You might enjoy this episode from our podcast or our article on tasting techniques.

I hope this is helpful. Thanks, again, for writing and enjoy the wine!
Cheers! Nancy

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