Big Wine Is Over. Here's What's Next

All hail the end of overwhelming wine. Our resident wine expert shares his pick of beautifully balanced bottles.

If there's one stylistic trend that has marked the past seven or eight years, it's a turn away from high-alcohol, super-ripe wines—red or white—toward lighter, more savory styles. Cooler-climate regions; earlier harvesting; renewed attention paid to wines like Beaujolais, once out of fashion for its lightness, and classic Napa Valley producers known more for balance than massiveness ... well. Elegance is in, as these four paradigm-shifting categories amply demonstrate.

wine bottles
Photo by Jennifer Causey / Prop Styling by Heather Chadduck Hillegas

Cool-Climate Chardonnay

Cooler regions make Chardonnays that tend to be lower in alcohol, with bright acidity and less overtly ripe fruit. Chablis is the touch-stone, but regions like Australia's Yarra Valley, where the vibrant 2020 Giant Steps Chardonnay ($35) comes from, are rising fast.

California Re-Envisioned

Winemakers Alex Krause and John Locke are emblematic of a cadre of California vintners who started aiming for elegant, lighter styles in the past decade. Their violet-scented 2019 Birichino Bechthold Vineyard Cinsault ($26) captures this sensibility perfectly.

Cru Beaujolais

Cru Beaujolais all but vanished under an ocean of Beaujolais Nouveau before sommeliers fell newly in love with them in the mid-2000s. The silky 2019 Jean-Paul Thévenet Morgon ($40) feels so vibrantly alive that it's impossible not to ask for another glass.

Classic Napa Comes Back

In the early 2000s, Napa Cabernet went ultra-ripe; the most bloated were like a wine version of Juggernaut from Deadpool 2. But some winemakers stuck to their love for power balanced with elegance, as the 2017 Corison Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($100) shows.

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