Your Guide to Sonoma County's Unoaked or Light-Bodied, Chillable Red Wines
While white wines and rosé are what many of us consider to be “summer wines,” there are occasions when a red wine may simply be a better fit. Yet summer calls for something lighter, brighter, and more refreshing than a medium to full-bodied, structured, and oaked red wine. This is where chillable red wines take center stage.
What makes a red wine chillable? Typically, a red wine that is best served slightly chilled is a lighter-bodied wine with little to no oak treatment. Chillable reds are versatile, ranging from easy-sipping, light, bright, and fruity wines you can gulp by the pool or alongside cheese and charcuterie to complex wines with nuanced profiles that will hold up to those grilled meats and main dishes that call for something with a bit more tannin and structure than a white or light-bodied rosé.
The following is a list of lighter-bodied red wines and blends that have lower-alcohol, are unoaked or 100% neutral oaked (in vessels that are no longer imparting any oak flavors and the oak is no longer adding additional tannins) and are best served slightly chilled, especially in summer.
What do all of these wines have in common? They’re quaffable, juicy, refreshing, and made by Sonoma County wineries. You won’t get even a whiff of oak on these wines. Just wine!
Cruse Wine ‘Monkey Jacket’ Red Blend
Cruse Wine’s Monkey Jacket Red blend is a blend of Petite Syrah, Valdigue, and Carignane. The wine is fermented 50% in tank and 50% in completely neutral wood barrels (larger-sized puncheons). The result? A light-bodied, easy-drinking, yet layered red wine that’s best served slightly chilled and pairs perfectly with roasted meats, barbecued meats, or roasted/barbecued veggies.
**Cruse Wine Co. is a small winery and custom crush facility in Petaluma. They do not have a tasting room, but the wines can be purchased on the brand’s website or via their wine club (which gets access to wines not made available to the general public).
Idle Cellars Kick Ranch Vineyard Grenache
This Grenache from Idle Cellars is a medium-bodied, medium-acidity red with well-balanced tannins that is equally good served chilled or at room temperature. Aged for 16 months in neutral oak barrels (between 5 and 17 years old) this silky supple wine has aromas and flavors of black cherry, tobacco, raspberries, baking spices, and a touch of anise or fennel. This wine pairs excellently with whatever is on the barbecue, braised meats or game, and cured meats, but can also go nicely with spicier foods thanks to its lower acidity and soft tannins.
Idlewild Wines Grignolino
Making “Piedmontese-inspired wines from the rugged hills of Northern California,” Idlewild Wines is one of the only wineries in the state and country making wines from grapes such as Grignolino and Freisa (both grapes hailing from the Piedmont region of northern Italy).
Grignolino, a varietal that is made in small quantities, even in its home region of Piedmont, produces light-colored (almost translucent) red wines with a good amount of acidity and tannin and very fruity and/or perfumy aromas.
This 2021, Idlewild Grignolino from the North Coast shows off aromas of fresh flowers, hibiscus, potpourri, and raspberry, while on the palate, it’s fresh, bright, and firm with a purple-tasting grapey finish. At 12.2% alcohol, this is a refreshing wine that is versatile with summer foods. Good pairings include anything from cold herbed-chicken salads or sandwiches to Indian curry or pâté.
Idlewild Wines Freisa
Freisa, a varietal rarely seen in the United States (and for that matter, only seen in one region of Italy and made in relatively small amounts even there) is a unique Piemontese grape that is naturally high in acidity and tannin and that produces wines with a light, ruby hue and light body, yet plenty of exuberant fruity and floral aromatics.
Idlewild Wine's single-vineyard Freisa is a lovely, delicate red with hints of candied cherries or currants, violet or lilac on the nose and fresh wild strawberries and bramble or strawberry leaves on the palate. The wine is light, juicy, and pretty, yet still has a bit of well-integrated grippiness (tannin) that gives it substance. The wine has 12.4% alcohol, and less than 100 cases are produced.
Idlewild Wines are available for purchase at the tasting room or online via the brand’s website. *Some wines are allocated and available only to wine club members.
Kivelstadt Cellars KC Labs Zinfandel
Kivelstadt Cellars’ KC Labs Zin is the definition of a fresh, uncomplicated, sippable, chillable red wine. This wine is made from organically farmed Zinfandel grapes sourced from Venturi Vineyards in Mendocino County. The wine undergoes 50% carbonic maceration (a fermentation process in which the grapes are fermented whole rather than pressed/crushed and where there’s less access to oxygen), while the other half gets destemmed and fermented normally.
The wine is aged for six months in completely neutral French oak (i.e., oak that is no longer imparting oak flavors or tannins) and is unfined and unfiltered.
The KC Labs Zinfandel is available for purchase at the winery in 750 ml bottles or in 1 liter growlers (which can be brought back and refilled).
Old World Winery ‘Bloom’
Old World Winery’s Bloom is a blend of Abouriou, Pinot Noir, Merlot, and Chardonnay (though this blend changes a bit each year). Winemaker Darek Trowbridge carbonically ferments 5% of the Pinot Noir, with the majority fermented in whole clusters, crushed by foot, macerated, and aged in completely neutral oak barrels (10 years old, imparting no oak flavors or tannins). As with all wines at Old World Winery, this wine is made naturally, with organically farmed grapes, native yeasts, and without any additives or unnatural ingredients.
This wine has 12.8% alcohol and is bright with tart red fruit notes, a silky texture, and a smooth finish. The Abouriou (a Basque variety that Old World Winery farms one of the only plots of in the country) shines in this blend, adding brightness and red pomegranate/cranberry notes.
This wine can be purchased at the winery in Santa Rosa or via the winery’s website.
Meeker Vineyards Dolcetto
This 100% carbonically macerated Dolcetto from Meeker Vineyards is fresh and lively yet also round, supple, and structured. With aromas of wild sage and flavors of plum, raspberry, and a hint of baking spices and earth, this Dolcetto is the ultimate “drink with anything” red. Similar to Dolcettos in the Piedmont area of Italy (this grape’s home), this Dolcetto from Meeker is super flexible and able to be paired with heavy dishes (stews and roasted meats). It pairs particularly well with roasted meats, savory or rich pasta dishes (think sage raviolis or gnocchi with gorgonzola), and cured meats – or alongside any dish on the table, really.
Pellegrini Carbonic Pinot Noir
This 100% carbonically macerated Russian River Pinot Noir from Pellegrini-Olivet Lane displays fresh aromas and flavors of black and red fruit (think boysenberries) and has a clean, refreshing finish. This wine is delicious with anything you’d pair a Pinot Noir with but is extra versatile (think salads topped with fruit, summer sandwiches, etc.) due to its light body and extra-bright fruitiness without the earthiness and tannins you’d find in an oaked, non-carbonically macerated Pinot Noir. And, at 12.3% alcohol and zero oak barrel fermentation or aging, it makes an equally great (and refreshing) porch-sipper that doesn’t need any food at all.
Pax ‘Dazed and Carbonic’ Syrah (Organic)
This partially carbonically macerated blend from Pax Wines is a blend of fermented Syrah and Viognier (50/50 Syrah/Viognier) with carbonically macerated Trousseau Gris (30%) aged in neutral French oak puncheons. The result? A fresh, bright, juicy, low-alcohol (12.5%) red with a touch of floral aromatics on the nose and red fruit, animal, and leather on the palate, with a medium body and tannins. This naturally made wine is best served chilled and pairs well with anything from burgers and barbecue to charcuterie, pizza, or pasta.
Purchase Pax Wines at their tasting room in The Barlow, or online via their website.
Two Shepherds Bucking Luna
Bucking Luna is a sparkling wine made from a blend of carbonically macerated old vine Carignane (53%) and rosé of old vine Cinsault (47%). This wine is completely unoaked and has low alcohol (10.5%) and low tannin. Light, bright, juicy and refreshing, this sparkly stunner from Two Shepherds comes in 250 ml cans (the equivalent of about a third of a bottle), making it an even easier wine to throw in your picnic bag or backpack, or to enjoy around a campfire.
Written by Brooke Herron