Flexible wines: Lighter reds taste great with a world of foods

When I ponder pairing wine and food, looking for the right match of liquid and larder, I picture myself standing in an elevator lobby of a very large, rather tall building.

All the food in the world is in that building, all the many bases of different animal or aquatic protein, all the globe’s vegetables and starches, and all the various preparations that cooks work those with: Asian salt and heat, American char and sugar, Italian and French fats and fancies. Every permutation possible, food for a Jain vegan to an eater of bison tartare, all in one big, tall building.

On the first floor of the building are eats such as unadorned tofu or chicken tenders poached in water. On the top floor, whichever the number (it doesn’t matter), is live bear. All else is in between.

What I want to do is taste and enjoy as many of the world’s foods and their preparations with as many different kinds of wines as would marry them well. So I look for the sweep of the elevator’s controls, as in those old-fashioned arrow pointers that fanned over the floor numbers as the car went up or down.

The best wines for me to choose are those that can handle a ride to as many floors as possible. The least useful are those that niche themselves onto only one or two floors. For the first floor, a lot of Italian pinot grigio works. For the live bear, a head-banging 17 percent alcohol California red will do.

Either wine fits with only a few foods; they work well there, but there only.

To speak about just red wines here, the more flexible are what we can call “the lighter reds,” those easy of tannin, moderate of alcohol, medium-weight in body and less extracted of fruit and phenol.

Such red wines taste delicious with white, pink and many red meats, with mild and spicy foods, with vegetable-based preparations and a raft of cheeses.

Well-made pinot noir is such a wine, whether from its kingdom of Burgundy or as it appears in most all winemaking countries. The 2011 Friedrich Becker Family Pinot Noir, Pfalz, Germany ($19), comes to mind, with its softly rendered cherrylike fruit; so does the 2013 Erath Winery Pinot Noir, Oregon ($17), light on the tongue but headily scented.

From Trentino in northern Italy, the 2014 Cantina Terlan Blauburgunder (pinot noir’s name up there) brings aromas of burnt hay and char to pinot’s red fruit base and is but a delicious $15 to boot. And the spicy, nervy 2010 Clos des Fous Pinot Noir Latuffa, Traiguen, Chile ($35), well captures the wet black rock aromas to which its name alludes. It’s terrific South American pinot.

But there is a world of lighter red beyond pinot noir too. Try good cru Beaujolais for example, such as the lively 2012 Daniel Bouland Chiroubles, Burgundy, France ($27), made from organic grapes in the low yield, old school method to capture the juicy fruit of its gamay grapes. From Italy’s central region of Tuscany, a river of medium-bodied, refreshing Chianti Classico flows, such as the 2012 Collazzi Chianti Classico I Bastioni, Tuscany, Italy ($19), like drinking cool well water flavored with Bing cherry.

In northern Spain, they make one of the world’s great lighter reds from the tempranillo grape (sometimes with ancillary grapes of mazuelo and graciano, but just for flavor and texture notes) in the Rioja district. One such is the 2008 Beronia Rioja Tinto Reserva, Rioja, Spain ($20), bringing to the table its many layers of flavor and aroma, and its elegant texture on the tongue.

Notice something going on with these wines? They are, by and large, from cooler climates that do not ripen red grapes into sporting boorish fruit, thick tannins and potentially high alcohol. So, back to northern Italy for the 2013 Kellerei Kaltern Vernatsch/Schiava Campaner, Trentino-Alto Adige ($20), and the 2012 Elena Walch Schiava, Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy ($13), both intensively fruity and snappily acidic (the dual name on the Kellerei Kaltern is its moniker in both German and Italian, the two languages of Trentino).

Or have a go in a lighter textured red with the 2012 Brezza San Lorenzo Dolcetto d’Alba, Piedmont, Italy ($24), and its plush, plump body, highly scented red fruit and zippy finish. Experiment with some of the newer ways with Emilia-Romagna’s great light red in the NV Cleto Chiarli Lambrusco di Sorbara Vecchia Modena, Emilia-Romagna, Italy ($15-$17), and its flavors of strawberry and red cherry ever so slightly sweet and lightly fizzed.

The 2013 J. Lohr Valdiguie Wildflower, Monterey, California ($12), approaches the Lambrusco’s lifted fruit, but is drier, not at all bubbly and chin-dripping juicy. Valdiguie is an obscure red grape that J. Lohr has revived as a red wine and gets some applause for doing so.

Keep in mind that it’s the globe’s lighter reds that will put your palate in good stead with as wide a range of foods as you wish to tolerate and enjoy.

If your wine store does not carry these wines, ask for one similar in style and price.