Inspired by the heat-wave in early July, I decided to be optimistic with my recommendations. I've extolled the virtues of drinking fine rosé on a hot afternoon, professed my love for a proper G&T of a summer evening, and waxed lyrical about light whiskies that enjoy the nice weather as much as we do.
And throughout, it has been largely overcast or rainy. I think it's almost getting to the point where I should start recommending the best in autumnal fare… By way of compromise (as I'm still hedging my bets on some nice weather) I'll offer some general tips on finding lighter-bodied red wines, followed by a few recommendations of some bottles.
By describing a red wine as 'light' or 'light-bodied', people tend to mean wines that have low levels of the composite parts that make up red wine, resulting from having been produced from delicate, thin-skinned grapes. These are wines that are invariably lower in tannin (and as a result, opacity), as well as frequently lower in things like alcohol, sugar and acidity.
Common varieties of grape that are on the lighter side of things include: Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Gamay Primitivo, and Zweigelt. By far the most common of these is Pinot Noir, a grape that is very widespread and very versatile (read: not always super-light). If you are into old world wine, you will most commonly find Pinot Noir coming from France (almost all Red Burgundy is Pinot Noir) and Germany (where it is known as Spätburgunder).
From the new world, you will frequently find Pinot Noir grown in New Zealand, the USA, Chile and Argentina on the shop shelf, however the 'lightness' of expressions from around the world are not as reliable as from Burgundy. As daft as it might sound, a very general rule of thumb for testing tannic 'lightness' is to hold the bottle up to a light source and look at how dense the wine looks (although please note that this is no guarantor). If no light gets through, it's probably pretty dense.
The Beaujolais region in France is famous for producing light wines, mostly from Gamay grapes (but some from Pinot Noir), and is probably the safest bet for a dependably light red wine. Well-known and widely available wines from Beaujolais include those from around the areas of (listed from lightest to fullest bodied) Brouilly, Fleurie, and Morgon and Moulin-á-Vent.
So, on to recommendations. First up, I'd recommend Cellier Saint-Jean Fleurie 2011 (£6.49, Lidl) as an affordable introduction to Beaujolais. It's simple and delicate, with a lovely ruby-redness in the glass. To taste, it has a wee burst of red berry fruit, with a slightly gamey aspect on the finish. While very light, this wine has a nice rustic side that would make it robust enough for a barbecue bottle.
Next, you could try out Indomita Pinot Noir (£6.75, Oddbins) from Chile' s Casablanca Valley, which does a good line in delicate reds. This has a classic Pinot nose of dark cherry and pencil shavings, but the wines is deceptively light to look at (in the glass, you'd be forgiven for thinking it was a rosé), as the supercharged red fruit palate is very intense and long lasting.
Lastly, go for Francois Martenot Red Burgundy (£9.49, Waitrose). A funny one this; being one of those rare Red Burgundies made from Gamay, it mixes the styles of Beaujolais and Burgundy. It's a bit more bodied and intense than the Fleurie, but with a much zippier acidity, and a cleaner, fruit-led finish. It's firmly on the 'light side' of Burgundy, but still has loads of character.
Enjoy these while you can - next week I'll probably be back to 'winter warmers'…