Crisp California Red Wines that Transcend the Seasons

Power isn't everything. Central Coast winemakers are making refreshing, light reds perfect for enjoying year-round. Here are the labels to know.
From left to right: Thacher 2015 Glenrose Vineyard Cinsault (Adelaida District); Stolpman 2017 Love You Bunches Carbonic Sangiovese (Santa Barbara County) ; J. Lohr 2016 Wildflower Valdiguié (Monterey); Tercero 2017 Aberration (Santa Barbara County) / Photo by Marcus Nilsson

The sun is shining, the barbecue is ablaze and you’re thinking this shoulder-season weather couldn’t be any sweeter. It’s time to hit that cooler and whip out…red wine?

Well, that’s what’s happening on California’s Central Coast, where some winemakers are making lighter reds that are prime for glugging on still-warm September days. Whether made from grapes like Cinsault and Valdiguié, fermented carbonically to retain fruitiness or aged in steel rather than oak, these so-called “sessionable reds” are a refreshing change of pace from pesky dogma that only whites should be served chilled.

Stolpman Vineyards in Santa Barbara County produces a carbonically fermented Sangiovese called Love You Bunches. Peter Stolpman, managing partner at the winery, says wines like these are as joyous as rosés, but with more depth and texture. Around the estate, its rendition has earned the nickname, “rosé con cojones.”

These wines are a nice transition from a white to a red, and, being typically lower in alcohol, are also perfect for midday sipping.

Embracing the Graciano Goof

“What are you gonna drink at lunch? You don’t want a big bomber,” says Sherman Thacher, who makes a cheery Cinsault in Paso Robles.

Thacher worked for Los Gatos Brewing Co. for 14 years before founding Thacher Winery & Vineyard in 2006. It was a search for lighter beer that initially motivated him to craft a more easygoing wine option.

“A few years ago, I opened the fridge door at two in the afternoon, and all I had were double IPAs,” he says. “I just needed a light beer…and there’s a bit of a hole for wines in that segment.”

Winemaker Larry Schaffer of Tercero Wines also works with Cinsault, as part of a blend called Aberration. Schaffer ages the red in stainless steel, despite warnings how that may make red wine reductive.

“With the wine chilled, I find that the fruitiness is reduced, and there is more earthiness, stemminess and smokiness,” says Schaffer. “It’s not a serious wine in the sense that you’re gonna sit there and postulate over it for hours—that’s not the point. Not all wine needs to be like that.”

Four recommended wines to try

Thacher 2015 Glenrose Vineyard Cinsault (Adelaida District); $42, 94 points. Consider this bottling the antidote to the richness of Paso Robles. Extremely fresh aromas of framboise, rosewater and white pepper align for a beautifully inviting nose. There is brilliant acidity at the tip of the palate, evolving into elegant tones of rose, red plum, pomegranate and exotic Middle Eastern spice. Editors’ Choice.

Tercero 2017 Aberration (Santa Barbara County); $30, 91 points. This is another boundary-breaking bottling by Larry Tercero, who foot stomped this whole cluster blend of 40% Cinsault, 40% Grenache and 20% Carignan, aged it solely in stainless steel and then released it young with advice to chill before drinking. It’s light in color and loaded with aromas of carnation, rose petal, red plum, cola and wet stone. The palate’s rounded bright red fruit is fun and easy to glug. Editors’ Choice.

J. Lohr 2016 Wildflower Valdiguié (Monterey); $10, 90 points. This bottling of an obscure grape originally from France shows crushed violets and tart boysenberry on the nose. Best served with a slight chill, it packs black plum skin, potpourri and marjoram flavors onto the palate. It is both refreshing and satisfying. Best Buy.

Stolpman 2017 Love You Bunches Carbonic Sangiovese (Santa Barbara County); $24, 90 points. Released each year around Valentine’s Day, this carbonic experiment was an immediate hit. Served with a chill and very light in the glass, it shows primary aromas of strawberry, cola and rosewater. The playful palate is zippy with acid and dances across the tongue with flavors of tart red fruit. A great sunny day wine, but buy multiple bottles because they go fast. Editors’ Choice.

Published on July 30, 2018
Topics: Wine and Ratings
About the Author
Matt Kettmann
Contributing Editor

Reviews wines from California.

A fifth generation Californian originally from San Jose, Matt Kettmann covers California’s Central Coast and South Coast for the magazine. He is also the senior editor of The Santa Barbara Independent, where he’s worked since 1999, has written for the New York Times, Time Magazine, Wine Spectator, and Smithsonian, and co-founded New Noise Santa Barbara, a music festival.

Email: mkettmann@wineenthusiast.net.




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