Where are the thirst-quenching domestic reds?

red wine glass The French have a wine term that doesn’t translate. No, it’s not terroir. It’s vin de soif. A wine that’s thirst-quenching is a fun drink that accompanies food or a moment but doesn’t dominate them. It’s lowish in alcohol and in price. While the concept translates, the category comes up frustratingly empty when looking for American answers (for red, at least).

I put the question to my tweeps the other day “What’s in your glass when you want a thirst-quenching, domestic red wine?” The replies were telling. Bruce Schoenfeld,”Something domestic to a different country.” Mike Steinberger said “Um, Beaujolais.” Michael Kortrady replied ” (uh, gosh, umm, well, ya know…I’m sure I’ve had one).”

There may be hope. Chambers Street Wines recently offered the wines of Chris Brockway’s Broc Cellars calling them “Californian vin de soif,” including his 11.9% alcohol cabernet franc. Hirsch Vineyards has the ebullient, crackling Bohan Dillon 2009, a 13.1% pinot noir. Sommelier Raj Parr is teaming up with Arnot-Roberts to make a gamay. The trouble with the first two examples is that they are north of $25, so there’s only so much thirst one can quench. We have discussed California’s value challenge before several times.

Do you lament the dearth of American thirst-quenching reds or do you find some good examples?

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27 Responses to “Where are the thirst-quenching domestic reds?”


  1. It is surprising that one can’t find any, especially from areas like Washington and Oregon.


  2. Grochau Cellars Commuter Cuvee Pinot Noir. Hard to find, though.


  3. Not sure why no one mentions the Gamay produced by Edmunds St. John. At the risk of tooting my own horn, I think it qualifies rather well.


  4. Funny, just last night I was in the mood for a thirst quenching red, and quickly grabbed a bottle of 2010 Chiroubles from my cellar. I didn’t give one second of thought to grabbing an American wine. I agree with some of the comments in your post…American wines tend to either be too big and extracted to be thirst quenching, or too expensive for me to reach for one in that instance.


  5. Teutonic Wine Company out of Portland is a good choice in this category. Not widely-distributed, but their Pinots are generally south of 13%-alc and south of $20.


  6. Try Chateau Grand Traverse Gamay Noir, light in color, good acidity, nice with food, particularly in the summer. I preferred the 2010 to the 2009 but both were very pleasant. Around $10 if you buy by the case.


  7. I second CGT Gamay. It’s very good.


  8. The Finger Lakes is an excellent place to look, especially for Cab Franc and Lemberger/Blaufrankesch. Good sources abound, three that come to mind in the lower price range are Hosmer, Standing Stone and Damiani.


  9. It’s not just USA… I live in quite a northern winemaking country (Czech Republic) and we used to have quite a lot of quaffable red wines, but more and more winemakers are trying to make those “southern style” ones. And their results are usually a) boring b) more expensive than their southern counterparts c) terroir-free. Fortunately still enough Blauer Portugiesers and similar wines to enjoy :-) With foreign ones I love to drink Beaujolais, especially things like Beaujolais “L’Ancien” from Domaine des Terres Dorées (Jean Paul Brun) and stuff like this.


  10. I’m from Australia and the same thing applies here. You can find a few sub $20 Pinots and the odd cool climate Shiraz, but again these will all nudge 13% – 13.5% alc. There seems to be a distinct lack of appreciation for lighter styles of reds in the new world, while they’ve been so readily available (and reasonably priced) in Europe for centuries. Maybe we should revisit this topic in 200 years.


  11. Thirst quenching…wine…does this mean something fit to guzzle? I don’t think of wine as a thirst quencher. Water quenches my thirst.
    Or perhaps a few drops of red dye in your moscato?


  12. Teutonic Wine Company in Willamette Valley Oregon produce vins de soif. Light, low alcohol, germanic styled Pinot Noir with bit of Meunier as well (and of course delicious whites). They are all the rave in Portland Oregon, and I’m sure once the world at large knows about them they will help ring in the future of low alcohol new world wines!


  13. we are making a lot of those types of wines here in Oregon and Washington, but they are still pretty small production, and struggling to gain traction outside the state.

    Grochau Cellars is trying to double the production of the Commuter Cuvee without raising the price, but it is a work in progress. He is also part of the Guild, a group of local winemakers making $10 bottles of red & white blends. Keep an eye on those guys, they are hugely popular around Portland


  14. I have the good fortune to sell Matt Kinne’s McKinlay Vinyards Willamette Valley Pinot Noir here in Chicago and it is a perfect thirst quencher! Around $20 here,12.5 in alcohol and easy to drink. Wines like Matt’s should be a somm or restaurant owners dream, so easy to drink you may have to order a second bottle!


  15. Hmmm…. I really like Pindar Vineyard’s Sweet Scarlet for a a thirst quenching red. Them again, I am biased here on two fronts: one, I find a little sweetness to be more easily quaffable then its opposite (what would you call that? Dryness? More tannic? Certainly not acidic – think lemonade, I guess.) Two: I really like Long Island wines.


  16. Thanks for all the great comments here.

    Steve – Your Bone Jolly was definitely worth mentioning. Sorry to have not done so.

    Grochau Cellars Commuter Cuvee definitely sounds like it fits the bill! Sigh, another reason to love Portland…I’ll have to try to get out there and try it.

    Scott – yes, frustrating, isn’t it?

    J.C. – I love the Terres Dorees in almost every vintage. Yes, that’s the sort of vin de soif we’re talking about. Interesting that even in the Czech Republic there’s been a move away from that style. How do you explain the shift?

    Ben – thanks for the observations from Down Under. I read an article recently saying that imports are booming in Australia thanks to the strong Aussie dollar. So maybe you will be getting bargains on your vin de soif from France?

    Quizicat – try a good Beaujolais, if you haven’t already!


  17. Dr. Vino: I was talking about it with several MW’s which were evaluating wines in Prague and they were also kind of perplexed what’s going on in here :) But the answer is quite simple… money :-) You can charge significantly more for opaque strong barrique red than for lighter quaffable one these days :-) Regardless what kind of enzymes, artificial tannins and other stuff you had to use to make them from grapes of whatever internationaly acclaimed varietal you choose (in current TOP 100 wines from Czech Republic there is three times more Cabernet Savignon wines than our most rewarded ones from Welschriesling, I just don’t get it) hanging on vines until it’s criminally overripe. I’m not buying those “let’s make it look like Chile” wines anymore, at least not the renditions from Czech Republic (which is much more suited for completely different style), but it seems I’m in minority…


  18. This just in: Jenny & Francois are pitching this Deep Creek Cellars as a “vin de soif” from Maryland:
    http://www.jennyandfrancois.com/wines/usa/deep-creek-cellars/


  19. Richard Sanford’s Alma Rosa Pinot Gris ~ definitely a vin de soif ~ and it almost follows the French price-mantra weighing in around fifteen bucks.


  20. We have been selling the Broc Cellars wines for a couple of years, now.

    While some of his wines are not to my liking, many are. Check out his Mourvedre, if you can find it.


  21. Dr V
    National Wine Bloggers Conference will be in Portland this year…


  22. Lemberger, Ridge East Bench Zinfandel


  23. If we’re talking about thirst quenching reds then I must say that the Nero D’Avola, Feudo Arancio, Italy is one great wine for the occasion. It really stands out for its fruity taste for a cost of $20-$21!


  24. […] Vino chimes in with a question asking where are the ‘thirst quenching red wines‘ which makes sense to me. The comments give some great […]


  25. Surprised that the McKinlay makes it out to Chicago…its a steal. And to previous posters mentioning OR and WA wines..they are dead on. The 2008 vintage in WA produced some wonderfully restrained cabs that are the closest to BDX you’ll find outside of France. A strange quasi-red that fits this category…Gilbert’s (WA) rose of Mouvedre after about 2 years of age. Drinking the 2009 right now and its not Bandol, but it does evolve into one hell of a drink for $10-$15 bucks…all hibiscus tea and sweet beet root.


  26. As far as I am concerned, this is THE question–especially for Oregon winemakers. I often find myself just craving a 12.5% (or less) aromatic and complex lighter red–especially pinot noir. Maybe something like a Jura. Maysara has the 3 degrees. St. Innocent sometimes tilts toward this. Rarely does anyone achieve the minerality and low alcohol I’m thinking of, though. Aren’t we all ready for something like this?


  27. I know I’m late to the party, but Preston’s sabbath-only Guadagni jug fits the bill. But, shh, don’t tell anyone.


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