Lighter reds leave room for complexity, nuances

  • By Ben Giliberti / Special to The Washington Post
  • Saturday, June 10, 2006 9:00pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

Although warmer weather calls for light red wines, a light wine isn’t necessarily a simple wine. In fact, it’s often quite the opposite. Many of the world’s most complex wines, such as Chateau Margaux in Bordeaux, Chambolle-Musigny in Burgundy and Cote-Roti in the northern Rhone, are relatively light.

To understand why lightness and complexity go together, think not about wine, but about a great steak, generously marbled and aged to perfection. Would you drown such a steak in brown gravy? Certainly not. Yet, the mounds of harsh tannins, excessive oak and head-spinning levels of alcohol of many popular wines today mask the nuances of the wine just as canned gravy would do to great steak.

This week’s wines hail from prime vineyards, which impart a complexity and dimension that eliminate the need for excessive elaboration. They also offer superior value. They’re listed in order of personal preference. Prices are approximate.

Adriano Ramos Pinto 2003 ($13; Portugal): This modestly priced red wine is a blend of the four traditional Portuguese red wine grapes, grown on the same superb vineyards that provide the gout de terroir of vintage ports. The winemaking is superb, capturing a dash of the black plum and spice notes of vintage port, but without its alcohol and sweetness. This brilliant ruby wine matches with tapas or chorizo sausage.

Tor Calvano 2001 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano ($25; Italy): This is made from the Sangiovese Grosso grape and is more robust than Chianti. It offers a vivid nose of nutmeg and violets, followed on the palate by flavors of wild berries nuanced by hints of chestnut, cedar and tobacco. Perfect for roast pork, duck or lamb.

Columbia Crest 2002 Merlot ($7-$8; Washington): Positioned at the same latitude as Bordeaux, and with a cooler climate than that of California, Washington produces merlots that are more like Saint-Emilion and Pomerol than they are like Napa Valley. This wine shows considerable complexity, with a ruby purple color, a spice and cedar bouquet and layered fruit. Light to midweight in body, this is best as an aperitif, or matched with pasta, roast chicken or salmon.

Hartwell Vineyards 2002 Merlot Stags Leap District Napa Valley ($65; winery, 800-366-6516): This is one of those wines that make you understand what great wine is all about, combining intensity of flavor with a sublime suppleness of fruit. A key is that it is from the Stags Leap District of Napa Valley, renowned for cabernet and merlot-based wines with exceptional bouquet and seamless, complex fruit. It’s also not a bad value, as many Stags Leap wines fetch $100 or more.

Nicolas Potel Bourgogne Rouge Vielles Vigne 2003 ($19-$20): This well-made 2003 red Burgundy from the Cote d’Or offers bright cherry and ripe blackberry fruit aromas and flavors, with an expansion of flavors on the finish.

Domaine Mas des Armes 2004 Vin de Pays de l’Herault Grains de Sagesse ($13-$14): This wine offers a pleasing cross between the ripe flavors of a Cotes-du-Rhone and more layered complexity of a petit chateau Bordeaux. That makes it a good match with marinated duck breast and veal sausage. The estate also offers an oak-aged cuvee, Domaine Mas des Armes 2003 Vin de Pays de l’Herault “Perspectives” ($21), that will work well with more garlicky Provencal dishes.

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