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What Makes a Red Wine Crushable?

For starters, it’s a wine you won’t want to put down

Janice Williams By March 18, 2022
collage of red wine bottles
Illustration by Pix

Sometimes the best wine for the occasion is the easiest one to drink. That may mean grabbing a zesty, crisp white wine or a fruity basket of berries that come in the form of rosé. And then there are the light wines that are best described with one simple term: crushable. 

These are the porch pounders; the picnic wines, the bottles to throw in the cooler while hanging out on the boat. These luminous red wines are lighter in body and lower in alcohol, making them easy to knock back — or rather, crush — without the weight of intense tannins and deep flavors. 

“A crushable red wine encourages you to keep coming back, exploring, and drinking it. It’s a wine you don’t want to put down,” says sommelier Madison Michael, a wine and hospitality consultant in San Francisco. 

But where did the word come from? Well, it starts with the craft beer industry. 

The creation of crushable 

People have used the term crushable to describe a drink for as long as fraternity brothers have thrown kegger parties. However, the term wasn’t used as a marketing tool until 2012 when Seattle’s Redhook Brewery trademarked the tagline “Crushable Craft,” according to Punch. The earliest use of the word on the internet came a year later in an article about Redhook’s Audible Ale — a session pale ale marketed toward sports fans.

While it’s unclear exactly when the wine industry picked up the term, crushable has since become a word sommeliers and retail workers have used to describe a style of wine, particularly light-bodied reds, to customers. 

“You still have a segment of customers who like their big, rich reds. But on the other end of the spectrum, you have those people who are big-time white wine and rosé drinkers and are becoming more interested in red wines. Some drinkers will start with these lighter styles and gradually start exploring heavier red wines,” says Thad Parsons, owner and buyer for Crystal City Wine Shop in Virginia. 

What makes a wine crushable

Although there are no set standards for what constitutes a light, crushable red wine, the general rule of thumb is that they are juicier and acid-driven. They lean on the dry side — though there are sweeter examples — and typically tend to be more fruit-toward. 

Gamay from Beaujolais and sparkling Lambrusco from Emilia-Romagna are usually among the first wines that come to mind when the mood calls for light red wines. However, others are worth considering. 

Frappato from Sicily is an immediate go-to for me. The grape produces wines with a light body and bright acidity. They burst with juicy red cherry-berry fruit with just enough tannin to frame the wine,” says Mary Gorman-McAdams, director of the International Wine Center in New York City. “Another great choice is Australian Grenache, especially the new wave styles that are made with no oak and are very fruity.”

There’s more a light red wine can display than just fruit nuances, though.

“Are we getting to play with fun floral notes? Is there some juxtaposition between the acid and the texture? Anything that’s intriguing on the palate and can be served chilled makes for a crushable red wine,” says Michael. 

Of course, it’s not just matters of aroma, flavor, and texture that make a red wine crushable.

“There’s a group of characteristics to consider, but sometimes the best of these wines break the mold a little bit because they’re not a category — they’re more a lifestyle wine. They’re often a more fun type of wine that you don’t necessarily have to think too much about,” says Parsons. 

Light, crushable reds are also food-friendly wines that can pair well with anything from pizza and burgers to cheese plates and fresh vegetables. 

“Or you can just enjoy a glass completely on its own while walking around a party,” says Parsons.

Bottles to try:

bottle of Cleto Chiarli Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro Centenario Amabile

Cleto Chiarli Grasparossa di Castelvetro Amabile Lambrusco NV (~$14)

Fizzy. Lively. Fruity. This semi-sweet, deep Lambrusco, produced by Cleto Chiarli in Emilia-Romagna, is bustling with red fruit and floral aromas. Though the wine’s effervescence is constant, its texture is smooth and fresh.

bottle of Lini 910 In Correggio Metodo Classico Lambrusco Rosso

Lini 910 Labrusca Emilia-Romagna Lambrusco Rosso NV (~$17)

Another Lambrusco from Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region, this blend of Salamino and Ancellotta is much drier. Red berries lead the aroma while the palate is juicy and fresh with bright minerality. The wine ends with a clean and lingering finish.

bottle of Bernabeleva Camino de Navaherreros Madrid Garnacha

Bernabeleva Camino de Navaherreros Vinos de Madrid Garnacha 2019 (~$17)

This wine hails from the mountainous Castilla La Mancha region of Spain, northwest of Madrid. Made with Garnacha grapes from some of the oldest vines of the estate, the wine has intense fruit aromas and vibrant acidity backed by light oak flavors. The finish is juicy and quick.

bottle of Planeta Frappato Vittoria

Planeta Vittoria Frappato 2018 (~$20)

Booming with aromas of strawberry, red cherry, and a hint of pepper, this Frappato from Planeta is every bit of a complex wine, although relatively easy drinking. Light and silky, the palate displays a slight smokiness and flavors of pomegranate with a finish that’s radiant with acidity.

bottle of Domaine Diochon Moulin-a-Vent Vielles Vignes

Domaine Diochon Moulin-à-Vent Vieilles Vignes 2020 (~$26)

It doesn’t get any juicier than Diochon’s Moulin-à-Vent. Despite its full body, this Gamay is lush, supple, and totally crushable. Produced by a winery that’s existed in Beaujolais since 1935, this wine is the one to drink when you need something with a bit of tannin structure without the weight.

bottle of Orr Wines Grenache Royal Slope Columbia Valley

Orr Wines Columbia Valley Grenache Rouge 2020 (~$26)

Winemaker Erica Orr produces natural Grenache in the Columbia Valley region of Washington state with grapes that come from the newly designated Royal Slope AVA. The wine displays a glimmering red hue and is light, lively, and refreshing with juicy red fruit flavors — think cranberry and pomegranate.

bottle of 2020 Azienda Agricola COS Frappato Sicily

Azienda Agricola COS Terre Siciliane IGT Frappato 2020 (~$29)

Here’s an organic Frappato from the Vittoria area of Sicily. Produced by COS, founded in 1980, the wine is bursting with ripe dark fruit and jammy character that drenches the palate from first sip to finish.

bottle of Domaine Chignard “Les Moriers” Fleurie

Domaine Chignard Les Moriers Fleurie 2020 (~$30)

One of the Cru regions of Beaujolais, Fleurie is known for producing irresistible, floral Gamay wines with structure. The rose petal aromas are noticeable in this bottle, along with nuances of red fruit, smoke, and minerality. Though overall light in body, the wine has a backbone doused in acidity and round tannins.

bottle of 2020 Chateau Thivin Côte de Brouilly

Château Thivin Cóte de Brouilly 2020 (~$33)

From the Côte de Brouilly of Beaujolais comes this bottle of Gamay that’s plush with red berry and plum nuances. More on the medium-body side, the wine is layered with fruit, floral, and spice characteristics balanced by dashing acidity.

bottle of Tablas Creek Grenache Paso Robles

Tablas Creek Vineyard Paso Robles Grenache 2019 (~$35)

This Grenache produced by Tablas Creek hails from California’s Paso Robles wine region. The wine is expressive with fresh cherry and strawberry aromas, while the palate is cloaked in similar crunchy flavors alongside hints of mint and spices like star anise.

bottle of Olga Raffault Chinon Les Picasses

Olga Riffault Les Picasses Loire Chinon 2017 (~$35)

Fancy an easy-drinking wine with some spice? Cabernet Franc is the only red grape allowed for red wines in Chinon — though blends can include no more than 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. This one, produced by Olga Raffault in the Touraine subregion of Loire in France, is like a candied plum, licorice, and spice bomb. The wine is light-to-medium body, framed with acidity and supple tannins. Drink it now or drink it later — this is a lighter style of red wine that will only get better with time.

bottle of Bernard Baudry Le Clos Guillot Chinon

Bernard Baudry Le Clos Guillot Chinon 2019 (~$39)

If it were possible to drink silk, this Chinon would be the glass to sip. The texture is plush with dark red and black fruit flavors and a hint of oak, while high acidity keeps the wine fresh. Bernard Baudry has produced ethereal silky wines in the Loire Valley since the winery was founded in 1975.