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Pinot is King, but here are 4 Sexy Alternatives for the Savvy SF Wine Drinker

Saturday, August 18, 2012
Let’s face it - America’s obsession with Pinot has gotten a little bit out of control.  Attribute this to the movie “Sideways” or its incredible versatility, elegance and food-friendliness, but Pinot Noir has become the darling of the wine industry.  It’s the grape most desired, with the price point to match.  While the nectar is good, the ensuing price escalation is hardly palatable for most newly weds saving for the future.  Furthermore, as winemakers meet the demand, the Pinot Noir gold rush has supplanted many interesting, noteworthy varietals.  This article looks to highlight these underdog grape varieties, which embody many of the same great qualities we admire in Pinot Noir, including: high acidity, balance, fruit-forwardness, moderate to low tannins and compatibility with food - and they’re downright sexier to order.  Just like Pinot Noir, these Pinot peers range in style and seduce with both their bright red, fruity qualities as well as their earthier notes and pair with a range of foods accordingly.  Since variety is the spice of life, below is your guide to four intriguing Pinot alternatives from around the world, along with their most compatible food pairings.  

Pronounced "dole-chetto," this grape may be named for the Italian phrase “little sweet one,” implying high sugar levels, these wines are typically drier in style and hail from Italy’s Piedmont region.  Dolcetto is medium bodied, light and fruity with moderate levels of acidity and meant to be consumed one to two years after release.  This translates to great affordability for how delicious and suave they can be.  Dolcetto expresses cherry and baked fruit flavors, and are known for a slightly bitter finish reminiscent of almond skin. It’s an excellent everyday drinking wine as it pairs with a great variety of foods. Try this smooth Italian with pastas and pizzas, sausage or pork.

Top Examples to try: Luigi Einaudi Dolcetto di Dogliani Vigna Tecc, Palmina Dolcetto Santa Barbara County, Fratelli Brovia Dolcetto d'Alba Solatio

This overlooked grape comes from Beaujolais, pronounced “bow-jol-lay,” the winemaking region just south of Burgundy in France and has long been thought of as a Pinot Noir clone. In contrast to the Pinot variety, Gamay typically ripens two weeks earlier, is less difficult to cultivate and is more abundant than Pinot. Gamay grapes are often blended but can be made into beautiful single varietal wines that are medium to light bodied with intense acidity.  They have floral aromas of lilac and violet and exude hedonistic flavors of crushed raspberry, strawberry, and red cherry fruit as well as distinct herbaceous qualities, making them downright incredible with foods. Gamay is a wonderful pairing for any dish that features mushrooms, cured meat and pâté, veal or roasted duck.

Top examples to try: Domaine Geoffrenet-Morval Cuvée Comte de Barcelone, Domaine Chignard Cuvée Spéciale Gamay Fleurie, Mommessin Les Caves Grand Exception Gamay Moulin-à-Vent

The Italian island of Sicily is also home to a lovely aromatic indigenous grape called Frappato. This gorgeous grape produces beautiful, cherry blossom-scented wines that express the subtlety and delicacy you might find in a Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. These wines typically aren’t aged in oak but rather in stainless steel tanks, which affords them to retain a very light and pure style.  Frappato exudes fruit flavors of strawberry jam, blackberry and bing cherries. Try pairing Frappato with herb roasted chicken, veal or couscous.

Top examples to try: Arianna Ochipinti, Valle dell'Acate, Il Frappato, Duca di Salaparuta, Calanìca

One of the world’s most versatile and widely planted grape varietals, Grenache is my pick for the biggest up and comer in the wine world.  Its bright berry flavors with hints of spice and soft tannins make it easy on the palate and excellent to pair with a multitude of dishes.  If you lean towards more fruit-forward, California Pinots (think Kosta Browne) you’ll adore grenache with its tendency towards higher alcohol content and a chewier, full body and mouth feel.  The characteristics that make this wine a great alternative to Pinot are its red berry fruit palette such as wild raspberries and strawberries, and its ability to develop complex secondary earthy and herbal notes such as black olives, coffee, gingerbread, black pepper and leather.  Grenache is also a grape that is commonly made into rose, which is another great light wine to pair with foods and a wonderful daytime wine alternative.  Try pairing grenache with your Thanksgiving turkey, rabbit, game such as venison, and roasted root vegetables.

Top examples to try: Argiolas 1997 Turriga Grenache, Zaca Mesa, Santa Ynez Valley, California, Clos Erasmuth, Priorat

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