Fall is the season of change—as the trees shed their leaves and temperatures drop, both people and animals begin hunkering down for the cold, dark winter months ahead. The wine industry also changes this time of the year as wine enthusiasts stow their crisp white and rosé wines and replace them with bolder, richer reds that pair well with hearty fall dishes.
However, intense, full-bodied red wines aren’t necessarily the best choice for every meal or dinner party. In fact, light red wines like Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, and Cabernet Franc often pair much better with traditional fall dishes than fuller-bodied reds. Light reds are less intense than Syrah but more robust than Pinot Grigio, making them ideal transition wines to enjoy between the summer and winter seasons. In our guide to the best light red wines for fall, we’ll explain what makes this style of wine so spectacular for the season and which wines pair best with your favorite fall dishes.
Why You Should Drink Light Red Wines in the Fall
It’s tempting to pair a classic fall dish with a full-bodied red wine like Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Malbec. While this is a perfectly acceptable pairing, a light red wine is almost always a better option. That’s because lighter-bodied reds are often more acidic, so they lift the flavors of heavy fall dishes like stews, casseroles, and creamy soups. They can also counterbalance heavy, rich foods and dense vegetables like squashes and potatoes. Drinking a huge, concentrated wine with these foods may make them seem even heavier than they are. By contrast, a bright, acidic Sangiovese like 2010 Valdicava Brunello di Montalcino Madonna del Piano Riserva excites the palate and brings some much-needed zest to a fatty stew or a buttery soup. It’s a perfect balance of fat and acid.
Light red wines are incredibly versatile, with just enough body and intensity to hold up to hearty dishes without overwhelming your taste buds
Not only do light red wines counterbalance rich and heavy foods, but they also pair well with lighter dishes as well. A red like 2012 Domaine Rossignol-Trapet Chambertin Grand Cru can be served with anything from crisp, peppery arugula salad to succulent beef bourguignon. Light red wines are incredibly versatile, with just enough body and intensity to hold up to hearty dishes without overwhelming your taste buds, and without so much density that they cover the subtleties of more delicate foods.
Light red wines are versatile wines that you’ll want to drink no matter the temperature. This is especially important in autumn, when the weather is changeable and unpredictable. Some days are unseasonably warm, particularly in the early fall months, while other days feel bitterly cold and gloomy. When it’s chilly outside, a crisp white wine or rosé may the last thing you want to drink. Likewise, if it’s a warm and sunny day, a bold red wine may taste too heavy. Light-bodied reds fit the season perfectly.
What Are the Best Light Red Wines for Fall?
The best light red wines for fall are acidic and complex, as these are the easiest wines to pair with a wide variety of foods. Fine Italian wines are some of the most fascinating to drink during the fall season due to their very high acidity and firm structure. One example of an excellent acidic light red wine for fall is Brunello di Montalcino. A few good choices are:
- 2010 Casanova di Neri Brunello di Montalcino Tenuta Nuova
- 2010 Valdicava Brunello di Montalcino
- 2010 Casanova di Neri Brunello di Montalcino Cerretalto
When you select an acidic wine, try to avoid wines that are too fruit-forward in style or high in alcohol, as these may taste too flabby or bland when paired with rich fall dishes. Some fruitiness in a light red wine helps balance out the acid and makes the wine taste sweeter, but make sure that the wine isn’t overly ripe. Younger wines (less than about five years old) are also good options, as they will still taste bright and fresh. Older wines take on more stewed fruit flavors with age, which may not suit heavier dishes. Additionally, wines that are more than 20 years old are more delicate than younger wines, so be careful if you plan on serving them with food—they are easily overpowered.
If you’re looking for an easy fall wine and food pairing, favor oaked wines over those aged in steel vats.
Another perfect light red wine for fall is an herbaceous style like Cabernet Franc:
- 2006 Hourglass Blueline Vineyard Cabernet Franc
- 2008 Pride Mountain Napa/Sonoma Cabernet Franc
- 2013 TOR Beckstoffer To Kalon Cabernet Franc
These wines are ideal for fall celebrations because so many traditional autumn dishes make use of herbs like sage, thyme, and rosemary, and many of these flavors can be found in fine Cabernet Franc.
You may also want to pair light red wines with fall dishes that use a lot of baking spices, like vanilla, cinnamon, or nutmeg. Burgundian Pinot Noir contains many of these spice flavors, particularly when aged in oak. Some great options are:
- 2012 Domaine Jean Grivot Vosne-Romanée Les Beaux Monts Premier Cru
- 2016 Domaine Trapet Latricières-Chambertin Grand Cru
- 2015 Domaine Faiveley Latricières-Chambertin Grand Cru
All of the wines above age for some time in oak barrels, which gives them prominent flavors of baking spices. So, if you’re looking for an easy fall wine and food pairing, favor oaked wines over those aged in steel vats.
These are only general guidelines on how to find the best light red wines for fall. Many other styles and varieties pair well with specific fall foods, so it’s a good idea to consider exactly what you’re serving before you select a wine to pair with it (or vice versa). Below, you’ll find a few perfect wine pairings for some iconic autumn meals.
How to Serve Light Red Wines with Traditional Fall Dishes
Most light red wines pair well with nearly any food. Still, there are a few pairings that are particularly delicious and bring out the best qualities in both the food and the wine. If you’re looking for a perfect light red wine to serve at your next fall dinner party, try one of these options:
- Stuffed green peppers and Cabernet Franc: The savory green pepper note in the wine makes these two foods a natural match.
- Butternut squash soup and Chianti Classico: This Sangiovese-based Italian wine is very acidic, which contrasts beautifully with the creamy and buttery notes of the soup. The wine also has some earthiness, which complements the squash’s savory side.
- Baked yams and oaky Zinfandel: When this light- to medium-bodied red wine is heavily oaked, it develops wonderful baking spice flavors, including cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Baked yams and other similar dishes are often sprinkled with these spices, so the two work well together.
- Chicken pot pie and Grenache: Many wine enthusiasts opt to drink a buttery Chardonnay with this dish, but a Grenache-based wine is an equally fine pairing. Light-bodied Grenache has a subtle white pepper flavor that complements the herbs and spices in the pie. The sweet red fruit and medium acidity also play well with the dish’s richness without overpowering it.
- Beef bourguignon and Pinot Noir: Because this dish is actually made using Pinot Noir, the two make an excellent pairing. You can either splash some wine into the dish and drink the rest of the bottle with dinner or use a simple, affordable Pinot Noir in the dish and serve it with a higher-quality wine.
- Roasted turkey and Zinfandel: Light-bodied styles of Zinfandel made in cooler regions often have a distinct cranberry flavor, making this wine ideal for pairing with a Thanksgiving meal. The sweet-and-sour quality of the wine’s fruit flavors will excite the palate and balance out the dish’s rich savoriness.
Whether you’re looking for a special Thanksgiving wine to share with your family such as 2005 Maison Nicolas Potel Chambertin Grand Cru or you want to buy a more approachable wine for a casual fall dinner (like 2007 Crocker & Starr Cabernet Franc), there are many fantastic light red wines to choose from. The best light red wines for fall pair naturally with almost all foods and are equally intriguing to drink on their own. Any one of these wines is sure to impress you and your guests this autumn.
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