Lighter reds can be slightly chilled, perfect for still-warm autumn weather
“To everything there is a season” sang The Byrds in 1965, and lighter red wines seem to belong best to autumn, offering a bridge between summer’s zesty sauvignons blanc and the bold cabernet sauvignons of winter.
Best lightly chilled, making for great summer reds too, grenache noir, cinsaut and pinot noir may be lighter in body and colour, often with jewel-bright tones, but they’re by no means light on flavour and power, offering various combinations of aromatic, spicy, savoury, earthy and fresh red berry tastes.
Oddly enough, two of these are related – cinsaut or (cinsault) was previously known in South Africa as hermitage, and was crossed with pinot noir to make our full-bodied robust “national grape”, pinotage.
On their own, the parent grapes are much lighter than pinotage though, with cinsaut dubbed “the pinot noir of the Swartland” for the key role it plays in blends or wines made from old vines in the region.
Although it’s a tough grape that thrives in hot, dry climates like the Swartland, the wines it makes are delicate and fragrant, low in tannins, with juicy cherry flavours along with light spice, earthiness and sometimes a meaty note (described on winefolly.com as “hotdog”).
Cinsaut often adds its light elegant touch to blends with syrah/shiraz, and can also be found blended with cabernet sauvignon in the Revenant red from Waterkloof, harking back to its role as a key support in the great, classic Stellenbosch cabs of the 1970s.
Look for it solo in wines at under or just over R100 from Leeuwenkuil, Piekenierskloof, Waterkloof, Bellevue, Neil Ellis, Bosman, and Marras (who also do it in a Shiraz/Cinsault blend).
The other half of the pinotage parenting, pinot noir, is the sexy queen of lighter reds, medium-bodied, low on tannin, with fresh acidity.
Its lighter colour deceptively conceals serious intensity and complexity of flavours: bright, clean red berries balanced with wild mushroom and “forest floor” notes – imagine a morning walk in a damp Tsitsikamma forest – and a touch of the smoky-saltiness of cured meats, giving it an umami savouriness that develops more with age.
Pinot noir likes cool climates and because it’s notoriously tricky to get right, can be seriously pricey, but at just under or around the R100 mark, look for Newton Johnson’s Felicité or La Vierge Seduction for accessible Hemel-en-Aarde quality, from Elgin the Paul Cluver Village Pinot Noir, and from Africa’s southernmost winery, Strandveld, near Cape Agulhas, their First Sighting Pinot Noir.
Like cinsaut, grenache is better known in blends, mostly as a partner with syrah and mourvèdre in Rhone-style blends, but it’s increasingly being seen solo, and like cinsaut a lot of the focus on grenache comes from the Swartland.
Sometimes floral, sometimes lightly white peppery, grenache is also about red berries, but also leans more towards riper and dried fruit and a touch of leatheriness.
Aside from the many blends, single varietal grenache from Spice Route, Leeuwenkuil, Marras, Tierhoek, and Piekenierskloof can all be recommended in the around-R120 bracket.
This article was partly inspired by an e-mail this week from Cybercellar (www.cybercellar.com) where they’ve got some nifty specials going on “the lighter side of reds”, like a Bellevue Cinsault marked down to R69 and a mixed case of some rather good cinsaut, grenache and pinot noir for R685...