3 Brilliant Value-Priced Reds For An Aging Palate

Big, bold, rich reds are everywhere. It's what the American palate wants - or at least the largest segment of wine-buying America - and that's great. But as my thirties turned to forties - and recently (gasp!) fifties, my personal preferences have wandered decidedly in the direction of wines (both red and white) that are:

  • lower in density
  • higher in acidity
  • lower in alcohol
  • higher in granular flavors or nuance
  • lower in residual sugars

Though wines that fit this profile are rarely found in grocery stores, they are absolutely worth the search. They make for more interesting drinking and, even better, easier drinking. Not easier as in easy listening, but easier on the body and mind.

When density, alcohol, and residual sugars are high, a single glass can bludgeon your senses into dullness. After that, the only way to experience a wine is if it's shouting at you. If you've ever looked in the mirror and seen ink-stained teeth through purple-rimmed lips, you know you've been drinking one these monsters. And chances are you'll think of it as even more of a monster the next morning.

By contrast, lighter, fleet-footed wine leaves you with more sensory bandwidth to clue in to its intricacies, as well as the flavors of any foods you might be enjoying. As a bonus, wines like this tend to have lower alcohol, much less sugar, and are sometimes made with fewer additives. All those things translate to being gentler on your body. And if your aging body is at all like mine, gentler is definitely better.

In recent years, the go-to sources for wines of this profile have been higher altitude vineyards where temperatures are lower and sunshine is abundant so that the grapes can achieve phenolic (color, acidity) ripeness around the same time as brix (sugar) ripeness. But the three reds below buck that trend, as they are all from Italian islands - Sardinia and Sicily. They are also all around $15 apiece.

From left to right:

2020 Pedres Cannonau di Sardegna 'Sulitai' $12 Cannonau is made from grenache, which on Sardinia, achieves terrific tannic concentration while staying light-bodied. The result is a lip-smacking, super flavorful wine with triple the antioxidant flavonoids of most other reds. If you can't find this specific cannonau, fret not. Just grab any you can.

2018 Tenuta Tascante Etna Rosso 'Ghiaia Nera' $16 Made of 100% nerello mascalese (a grape deserving of your exploration) grown in black gravelly vineyards, the purity here is amazing. Such a bargain.

2019 Murgo Etna Rosso $15 Also made of 100% nerello mascalese, the freshness of this wine is thanks in part to its fermentation and ageing exclusively in stainless steel. Versatile and fun.