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10 Light-Bodied American Red Wines Perfect for Grilling Season

Image Courtesy of Vivino and

While old school American grilling relied on full-bodied California Cabernet or heavily-fruited Syrah to carry the weight of its flavor, new school thinking casts a lighter array of supporting characters that complement, not contend, with grilled fare.

Experimentation with more unexpected grilling items like, say, swapping sirloin for salmon or ribs for calamari, has changed the way we pair wine with barbecue. While a fruit-forward, full-bodied red is still perhaps the grilling pairing of choice, the more nuanced flavor profiles in lighter-style wines are also a great reason to imbibe. 

Is it the slight char emanating from a fresh ‘cue that keeps us coming back for more? Or maybe it’s the uniquely smoked caramelization forming on the top of the grill? Perhaps it’s the faint scent of toasted cedar chips or glowing charcoal wafting through the air?

Whatever the reason for your pairing choice, this list of subtly-flavored American red wines can hold their own against the toughest barbecued meats or heartiest grilled veggies.  

Joyce 2020 Gamay Noir (San Benito)

Wine Enthusiast Rating: 93 Points

Fresh raspberry, tarragon, white-pepper and mossy earth aromas show on this bottling by Russell Joyce. There’s quite a bit of body on the palate, where a slightly viscous texture carries cherry, mint and lemon-verbena flavors. Matt Kettmann


Failla 2019 Bjornson Vineyard Gamay Noir (Eola-Amity Hills)

Wine Enthusiast Rating: 90 Points

A sappy, tart and lightly leathery wine, this brings a subtle sophistication to what is often an everyday quaffer. Cranberry and pomegranate flavors resonate with a gently mineral note. Not a big wine, but undeniably tasty, it may be enjoyed at cellar temperature or slightly chilled. Paul Gregutt


Whitecliff Vineyard 2018 Gamay Noir (Hudson River Region)

Wine Enthusiast Rating: 87 Points

This light and juicy red offers tasty flavors of crushed strawberry and cranberry accented by delicate peppery spice. Bright acidity propels everything along, with delicate tannins lending a gentle frame.Alexander Peartree



Terra d’Oro 2019 SHR Field Blend Zinfandel (Amador County)

Wine Enthusiast Rating: 93 Points

This excellent and well-balanced Zin packs in plenty of fresh raspberry and blackberry flavors, accenting them with hints of clove and wild sage for a complex expression that keeps getting better in the glass. Light tannins and a full body frame the fruits and spices beautifully. Editor’s Choice —Jim Gordon


Dancing Crow 2020 Old Stake 1901 Field Blend Red

Wine Enthusiast Rating: 90 Points

Dried herb and mineral aromas lead to concentrated and tangy red and black cherry flavors and savory, spicy accents. This full-bodied blend, made from 65% Zinfandel plus Cinsault, Alicante Bouschet and several other grape varieties, is moderately tannic and well-balanced. —J.G.


Scott Harvey 2019 Mountain Selection Barbera (Amador County)

Wine Enthusiast Rating: 89 Points

This smooth but nicely tangy wine combines extra-ripe red- and black-cherry flavors with appetizing acidity for a very focused effect. Mild tannins let the fresh fruitiness shine through. —J.G.


Seghesio 2018 Barbera (Alexander Valley)

Wine Enthusiast Rating: 90 Points

Smoky cherry and vanilla accent a leathery texture and enduring earthiness in this soft, sublime wine. A girth of tannin and oak contribute full-bodied intensity and density. —Virginie Boone


Margerum 2019 Grenache (Santa Barbara County)

Wine Enthusiast Rating: 93 Points

Fresh and lively aromas of red currant, strawberry, rose petal, sumac and tea leaves show on the nose of this bottling. The palate balances dark red with lighter red-fruit flavors, as fennel-pollen and sage elements add depth. —M.K.


Lava Cap 2019 Grenache (El Dorado)

Wine Enthusiast Rating: 93 Points

The friendly, warm texture of Grenache comes with nicely concentrated fruit flavors, good acidity and shaping tannins in this well-balanced, appetizing and generous wine. Best through 2026. —J.G.


Michael David 2019 Ancient Vine Bechthold Vineyard Cinsaut (Lodi)

Wine Enthusiast Rating: 91 Points

Tasty black plum, black cherry and spiced fruit flavors give this medium- to full-bodied wine a pure fruit focus. With very light tannins and little evident oak influence, its a joy to sip. It’s made from some of the oldest Cinsault vines in the world. —J.G.


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