What to Drink Now

Episode VIII: Fruity Reds


We’re getting fairly close to the end of this exploration of wine and I, possibly like yourself, am finding this more challenging, and preconceived notion-challenging in particular, than I had originally thought. Now recall that my point along this path was not to precisely classify wines, but was to try to build out a sort of flow chart to help you discover wines that you might enjoy based on wines you’ve already enjoyed.

There’s a whole business behind this sort of taste mapping, and it can get really complex, particularly when one tries to do this pragmatically. I’m trying to do it the old-fashioned way (sort of) with virtual pen and paper! Today I’m going to be taking a look at fruity, or more appropriately, fruitier red wines. Of course you can take almost any of these wines and fit them into another category, which is what I expect I’ll be doing soon, but for today we’ll be taking a look at the fruitier side of red wines!

Photo courtesy wolfpix via Flickr/CC


Merlot is one of the so-called Bordeaux varieties and as such, can be both earthy and herbal, yet I’ve opted to pull it into the fruity category. What gives! Well, Merlot is also kind of fruity. In fact, in many parts of the world (New World I should say), Merlot can be a downright fruit bomb full of plummy and black cherry flavors that are supported by the grape’s signature soft structure. That softness can enhance the fruitiness of merlot by leaving it free and unfettered.

That’s the rub about Merlot, and probably why it was the subject of so much Sideways-related scorn. In truth, the popularity of Merlot has taken a hit over the past few years, which has led quite a few follow the fad producer to graft over the vines or otherwise find new uses for the Merlot that they did produce. The results? There’s a ton of great Merlot out there and prices have yet to catch up with the resurgent quality. If you’re looking for the wine of the moment though, may I direct your attention to…

Photo courtesy zaveqna via Flickr/CC


Yes, Malbec is still the wine of the moment and it shows very little sign of losing its top spot. Well actually, that may not be true. The fact is that as Malbec’s popularity has soared, more and more producers have jumped on the bandwagon, many of them trying to match the style of some of the most popular pioneers. That is to say that some of the great Argentine Malbecs that have been responsible for this resurgence were rich and fruity, with the depth and power that comes from low yields,and mature vines planted in ideal spots.

Close on their heels, one finds many wines today that at first glance seem awfully similar but whose richness and fruitiness are based at least as much on the residual sugar left in the wine as the grapes that went into the bottle. And if some of those grapes are in fact Bonarda, well that wouldn’t be surprising either! It’s the unintended consequence of popularity. A shortage of supply and a blurring of identity. Not that that makes for bad wine or a lessening of popularity. Why just take a look at…

Photo courtesy monojussi via Flickr/CC

Pinot Noir

Yes, Pinot Noir is still hot, but a significant amount of Pinot Noir is not exactly Pinot Noir, which is a terribly unfair thing to say! Pinot Noir labored away in relative obscurity for decades in this country before being propelled to fame on the heels of Oregon, Santa Barbara and the movie Sideways. With this rise in popularity came several follow-on effects. For one there was a shortage of Pinot Noir grapes, which in turn caused the prices of existing grapes to spike. A significant stylistic change towards fruitier and rounder Pinots, those with a broader appeal, was also in the cards.

Mash all that together and what do you get? Producers looking for fruit to help make their Pinots, well, fruitier, and do you know what they found? Syrah! Seriously, it’s no secret that a bit of Syrah helps flesh out Pinot, particularly if you’re overcropping a bit to make up for excess demand. As it turns out, these Syrah’ed Pinots are quite popular, but if you’re looking for the fruit without the plumpness of a blending grape, you might want to check out…

Photo courtesy SantaraBarbaraCA.com


Gamay, yes the posterchild of fruity wines. Why, what do you think is in the Beaujolais Nouveau? It’s Gamay from Beaujolais, where Gamay grows best.

At its best, Beaujolais is a many splendored thing – a bit herbal, a bit savory, but also decidedly fruity with a zippy freshness and soft tannins that make it particularly easy and fun to drink! Gamay is all about red fruit to me and the examples from warmer, New World sites often feature red fruit to the exclusion of those savory elements, which might just be exactly what you are looking for, but the wines will always tend to be quite light bodied. If you want something with a little more oomph, try a…

Photo courtesy ShironekoEuro via Flickr/CC


In a way, Barbera’s fruitiness is similar to Merlot’s. Unencumbered by significant tannin, the deep berry/cherry fruit of Barbera us supported by the grape’s lip-smacking acidity, which can be the wine’s Achilles heel as well. When not fully ripened, that lip-smacking turns into gum-cutting, and bad Barbera is like drinking sour cherry-flavored glass. But most producers have figured out the tricks to Barbera by now.

In particular, New World producers have found that Barbera’s ability to retain acidity even in warm regions is a huge asset. You might even want to consider replacing some (most) of the Napa Valley floor Cabernet with Barbera. You could even keep the oak barrels since Barbera can use some of the tannins they supply! That oak might actually get in the way of some folks’ enjoyment of the richly fruity side of Barbera, in which case I suggest you try some…

Photo courtesy tiddfamily via Flickr/CC


For years, Dolcetto has been referred to as Beaujolais-like, which always seemed a stretch at best for me, and marketing speak at worst. Frappato, on the other hand, does share some traits with Beaujolais. It’s a light bodied wine, fresh and fruity with good acidity and moderate tannins, and like Gamay it is rarely oaked, though that seems to be an unsettling trend emerging from Sicily where Frappato is grown.

At its purest – and its best – Frappato is bright and fresh with perhaps a touch of herb and some traces of orange peel accenting its core of strawberry-ish fruit. It’s a wine that one drinks for joy. There is little intellectual pursuit to be found within a bottle of Frappato. That is, of course, best left for after a bottle, or two!

Photo courtesy Martin Cathrae via Flickr/CC

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  • Snooth User: steve666
    392767 155

    almost 40 years ago I read that Gamay and Gamay Beaujolais are not the same grape. What is the current thinking about the DNA of these two?

    Oct 11, 2011 at 7:08 AM

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