Rajat Parr, the Calcutta-raised superstar sommelier who’s now a winemaker on California’s Central Coast, used the word “crunchy” regularly to describe wines when he worked at RN74 restaurant in San Francisco more than a decade ago.
“It’s a textural thing,” he says of the term. “I always think of wine in different textures, as a square box, or as round, or with triangular edges. So crunchy for me is a wine that has many edges, wines that have acid and brittle tannins, not hard tannins, but brittle tannins which hit you all over your mouth.”
So, what does “crunchy” mean, exactly? To many wine professionals, it’s a style of crisp and taut wine with a fresh cranberry-like tang. Crunchy wines tend to be food friendly and often result from minimal-intervention winemaking, but there’s no formal definition.
To Parr, good examples of crunchy wines are cool-climate Syrahs and Cabernet Francs, Pineau d’Aunis, Mondeuse and most reds from the Canary Islands. Though Pinot Noir can be crunchy, he doesn’t usually find that, nor does he with wines made from Nebbiolo. New oak also tends to round out the tannins and remove the crunch.
“Whole cluster can add to the crunch,” says Parr, as can dissolved carbon dioxide, which adds a fresh sensation to wine. “Different things can come into play to be called a crunchy wine.”
“It’s like the experience of having a cranberry or fresh cherry or raspberry that still have crunchiness to them… They just leap out and grab you.” —Jackson Rohrbaugh
Seattle-based sommelier Jackson Rohrbaugh, who worked many years at Canlis, named his blog, and later his retail wine company, Crunchy Red Fruit. He recalls first seeing the word in the writings of legendary British wine scribes like Michael Broadbent and Hugh Johnson. It became a bit of a joke among friends while studying for somm exams. They’d often say, “crunchy red fruit” in an English accent.
“Crunchy, to me, describes wines that have a just-ripe or underripe quality in a very pleasant or appetizing way,” said Rohrbaugh. “It’s like the experience of having a cranberry or fresh cherry or raspberry that still have crunchiness to them. They’re textural and also tangy and vibrant on the palate. They just leap out and grab you.”
His crunchy picks are Gamay Noir, Mencía from Spain and, like Parr, Pineau d’Aunis. Some undergo carbonic fermentation, and many natural wines have this character.
“The types of natty stuff I like the most are those almost cloudy, bright cherry red wines that you could put in the fridge for an hour, and are meant to be crushed,” he says. “They’re glou glou. They’re quaffable.”
Both agree that interest in crunchy wines has been on the rise in the U.S. Parr believes its tarted with a Syrah that Pax Mahle made from the Sonoma Coast for his Wind Gap label more than a dozen years ago.
“That was like, crunch,” says Parr. “Now you see a lot more people doing that.”