What’s the Matter with Red Wines Having Lots of Fruit?

This has almost become an annual blog topic, but after reading yet another wine column on the trend towards less fruity/more “balanced and complex” wines, I felt the need to ask, yet again – what is wrong with red wines that emphasize fruit?

To start, ask yourself what wine is made of – grapes, which are a fruit. So shouldn’t the taste of the wine reflect that? And when you eat fruit, do you want it ripe or unripe (picture a hard pear or peach…). Again, a no brainer – ripe, of course. So what’s going on here?

Well, let’s take the criticisms one by one – and debunk them!

The first is that fruit-forward red wines are somehow one-dimensional and simple. Well, there are those, of course. But the good ones – and they come in all price categories – are far from that. The purity of fruit, for example, can be striking – the blackcurrants in Cabernet Sauvignon, the dark plums in Merlot, the black cherries in Pinot Noir. Then add in the wood and herbal overlays, such as oak/vanilla, pepper, earth and even meat; the result is anything but simple and one dimensional.

I would make this same argument even with “jammy” red wines, like some Shiraz and Zinfandel. If anything, the depth of fruit and flavor – and the ease of drinking – make the best ones even more enjoyable, including for those who haven’t tried red wines before or think they don’t like them. Yes, some of these wines can go too far and come off as unbalanced, syrupy or overripe. But the best ones (again, in many price categories) are a joy to drink.

Another argument is that more fruit forward red wines are more alcoholic. That can be true – the riper the fruit, the more sugar, the more that is turned to alcohol. But for me, the amount of alcohol isn’t an issue unless the wine is unbalanced because of it (or “hot” as wine dweebs like to say). Most red wines I drink these days are in the 14 – 14.5% range, and I can’t taste the alcohol. That is the case even for some old vine Shiraz and Zins that get into the 15 – 16% range. So to generalize about alcohol being bad is wrong, in my opinion. And if your complaint is you can’t drink as much because of the alcohol – then don’t! You aren’t drinking wine to get drunk, after all.

A third claim is that wines with too much fruit don’t go well with food, and aren’t “food wines”. Well, that is a pile of you know what as well. Can a really fruity, powerful red wine overwhelm a delicate sauce or fish dish? Of course it can. But why would you serve it then? Why not save it for your barbecue ribs or steak, and have a lighter Pinot Noir instead. And don’t give me this “food wine” garbage. As I have said so many times before, if a wine needs food to taste good, then I think there is something wrong with that wine in first place.

Finally, there is the argument that fruity red wines can’t age. For many that may be true, but it is more because 90+ % of all red wines are meant to be drunk in the first few years of their lives anyway. They just dry out and become woody after that. But, just have a taste – if you are ever lucky enough – to some of the outstanding California Cabernets out there and you will see how that is not true. I have had some, for great producers in great years, that at 10, 15 and even 20 years of age are still in fabulous shape. The fruit may have mellowed a bit, but it is still in balance with any wood and secondary flavours. The same can be said, although to lesser extent, for Aussie Cabs and Old Vine Shiraz. If anything, some of the latter become more “Syrah-like” as they age!

So my conclusion? Well, as if you haven’t guessed – I will take fruit in my red wine, please! And leave the so-called more “sophisticated wines” for those who like a different sort of beverage.




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