Lightness and transparency in wine have become essential to me. Not in formally rating and reviewing, where anything does and should go, but on a personal level.
Indeed, in my professional capacity as a wine reviewer, I use my training, memory, experience and judgement to score a wine. I look for balance, intensity and purity, and if these are appropriately met, the score will be high, regardless of style. My job is to judge quality and describe wine accurately.
But tasting and drinking are fundamentally different.
When it comes to sipping rather than spitting, I crave lightness and transparency, and I do not mean pours that are puny and thin.
On the contrary, I mean elegant and slender. I crave wines that don’t overpower but enliven, wines that invigorate. That even goes for winter reds in my house.
Heaviness in wine just doesn’t do it for me. I want depth rather than strength, and usually this comes with higher acidity and lower alcohol. I believe both these elements allow the fruit that goes into the wine to shine through more clearly. This is what I mean by transparency.
It’s a running joke that my editor calls me her “acid freak,” because I have always been drawn to the racy thrill of wines with high-octane acidity. I have come to believe that acidity works like a spotlight that brightens the entire palate and illuminates every nuance of flavor, and I want to live in that world of brilliance.
For that concept to work, the underlying fruit has to be pristine. Wine does not need heavy make-up of oak; if there is concentration, it should come from the grapes through appropriate extraction.
I am fortunate that numerous climates yield my preferred wine style, helped along by winemakers who revel in expressing this defining marginality. But I am also happy that the tide of fashion has turned.
When I first started learning about wine, the commonly believed maxim was that bigger was better. Today, everyone has learned that less can be more.
I freely admit that my cellar is full of traditional method sparkling wines, elegant Pinot Noir, vivid Blaufränkisch and dry Riesling, and the pristine, transparent wines I gravitate towards are produced around the globe. This style is not a fad, but an enduring fashion.
I will continue to seek out grace and sinuousness over sheer power, no matter where in the world a wine is made. I will never forget how Cathy Corison told me that her Napa Cabernet worked best “at the intersection of power and elegance.” In the end, it all comes down to good farming and confidence: If the fruit is good, it can be captured at its most vivid and stand on its own.
Acidity, focus and purity help us to see a wine for what it is and glimpse true vinous beauty in its most natural state.
Five wines to drink in the light
Muhr-Van der Niepoort 2016 Ried Spitzerberg Blaufränkisch (Carnuntum); $80, 96 points. A heady, floral note of violet and peony hovers above the scents of tart, bright red fruit. The palate gives a slightly darker aspect of blueberry to the brisk cranberry and red currant notes, while both white pepper and cinnamon shimmer. The body is sinuous, guided by the finest tannins and pervaded by an immensely uplifting freshness. The lovely, mouthwatering grip becomes apparent on the finish. Silky, slender and oh so seductive. Drink 2022–2035. Blue Danube Wine Co. Cellar Selection. —Anne Krebiehl MW
Rudolf Fürst 2015 Schlossberg GG Spätburgunder (Franken); $170, 95 points. Delicate whiffs of hazelnut, toast and leafy herbs lend dimension to crisp red cherry and berry in this invigorating wine. Its firm, precise style is augmented by shimmering red-currant acidity and a blanket of soft velvety tannins on the finish. —Anna Lee C. Iijima
Billecart-Salmon 2006 Vintage Extra Brut (Champagne); $85, 94 points. Billecart-Salmon’s style is dry, so an Extra Brut will be almost bone-dry. This wine is crisp and tight, bringing out grapefruit and citrus flavors and a steely, mineral character. It is still young, with freshness dominant, and needs to mature to blossom into a very fine Champagne. Drink from 2018. Billecart Salmon USA. —Roger Voss
Domäne Wachau 2017 Bruck Riesling Federspiel (Wachau); $25, 92 points. Grapefruit, lemon and tangerine notes unite on nose and palate of this wine, creating an intriguing interplay of ripe and tart citrus that tingles on the tongue and sweeps across the senses. It’s taut, fresh, fruity and full of refreshment and joy. Gonzalez Byass USA. —A.K.
Hirsch 2016 Reserve Estate Pinot Noir (Fort Ross-Seaview); $85, 92 points. Crushed rock and rose petal greet the palate with nuanced complexity in this light-bodied, classically made wine from the great site. Rhubarb, blood orange and a backbone of tannin intermingle with ease around fresh acidity and a lasting tease of black tea. —Virginie Boone