Since its release in 2004, Sideways has always been one of the most beloved wine films in America. Even more so, no other movie has ever had such a profound impact on our country’s wine industry. Studies have pointed to a increase in price and consumption of Pinot Noir, while a simultaneous drop in demand for Merlot occurred in the years following its release.
While the two main characters attended San Diego State, and it can therefore be assumed that they are smart and trustworthy, it is still surprising that their praise for Pinot Noir and despise of Merlot, spouted while on a trail of Wine Country shenanigans, could have such an effect in the actual marketplace.
Sure, Pinot Noir is great for a whole host of reasons. It is fragrant and pretty. It is gulpable and refreshing on the palate. It is conducive to pairing with a wide range of foods. Still, at the rate we are consuming the grape, it is certainly possible that Pinot Noir fatigue will set in soon. When it does, here are a few great alternatives to quench your thirst for a silky, brightly-fruited red.
A Tribute to Grace - Grenache, Santa Barbara, CA 2014
$29.99 at Wine.com
Angela Osborne is from New Zealand, but came to California in search of the right amount of sunshine to ripen her favorite grape: Grenache. In the dining room, I often describe Grenache as Pinot Noir “on steroids,” combining many of the same aromatics in a more full-bodied frame.
Dashe Cellars - Zinfandel, ‘Heart Arrow Ranch’, Mendocino, CA 2015
$26.00 at Dashecellars.com
The Zinfandel grape may have more in common in Pinot Noir than meets the eye or palate. Both grapes are thin-skinned and give off notes of predominantly red fruits. Since the 1800s in California, Zinfandel has almost been blended with small amounts of darker, more structured grapes such as Petite Sirah. (UC Davis wasn’t around yet to tell the Italian immigrants exactly what was in their vineyards, and this tradition of mix planting continues today.) Dashe, located in Alameda, is part of a new wave of Zinfandel producers, picking grapes earlier to maximize freshness, lighten body, and preserve notes of strawberry, raspberry, and fresh herbs and spices.
Carignan, Redwood Valley, Mendocino, CA 2015
$30.00 at Vincaminorwine.com
Carignan is often used in large bulk wine blends in the South of France. Grown under the right conditions however, the grape can yield remarkable character. Young winemaker Jason Charles sources this from a dry-farmed, organic, old-vine vineyard that gives off small amounts of highly aromatic fruit each year. Like Pinot Noir, this bottling is medium-bodied with bright berry notes and loads of crushed rose petals on the nose.
Barbera D’Alba, Piemonte, Italy 2014
Available at William Cross Wine Merchants on Polk Street
The Barbera grape has long been a work-horse of the Piemonte region, grown on many less-than-prime sites in comparison to the famed Nebbiolo vineyards of the region. This example comes from a small family estate on the sandy banks of the Tanaro River. These well-positioned grapevines produce a wine with delicate red cherry and berry fruit notes and lifted floral aromas. A necessary ingredient for your next homemade pizza night.
Gamay, ‘Corcellette’, Morgon, Beaujolais, France 2014
$26.99 at winehouse.com
A longtime darling of the sommelier community, the Gamay grape has slowly built a reputation of offering Pinot Noir fragrance and complexity at, well, Gamay Noir prices. At home in the Beaujolais district of central France, the cru of Morgon, with its volcanic and schist soils, produces some of the most structured Gamay examples in the world – wines that can certainly compete with Pinot Noir grown in some of the fanciest locales in Burgundy. Mee studied at Oregon State University before heading to France to pursue wine full-time. She is one of the rising stars of the region.