Stuck in a wine rut? Pinot Noir is the world’s most popular light-bodied red wine and it’s hands-down our most requested wine in the shop! It’s loved for its red fruit, flower, and spice aromas that are accentuated by a long, smooth finish. But did you know there are several other grape varieties that have similar flavor profiles that come from different regions and have different qualities that you might enjoy? I asked our “wine-guy” Bryan to give me the scoop on what he recommends when you want to try something outside of the Pinot Noir realm.
First, let’s figure out why we love Pinot Noir so much. Its easy-drinking status means it pairs well with most foods and tends to be a crowd-pleaser for all. Its lightness allows it to be a great year-round wine, and even benefits from being slightly chilled during the summer. Its fruit-forward flavors tend to depend on the region with domestic varieties being more opulent, with generous notes of red berries, and the French varieties being more complex, and intense with bright red fruit aromas. The grape varietals we will be showcasing here today, all have similar qualities.
Gamay, found most notably in Beaujolais, is a light-bodied red wine that’s similar in taste to Pinot Noir. In fact, this variety is a cousin of Pinot Noir and it grows primarily next to Burgundy, France (Pinot motherland) in a region called Beaujolais. Gamay wines are loved for their delicate floral aromas, subtle earthy notes, and surprising ability to pair with food (even fish!). The best part is, you can find high-quality Gamay at a much better price than Pinot Noir.
Grignolino is a red Italian wine grape variety traditionally found in Monferrato, a town in southern Piedmont. It makes light-colored wines and rosés with very fruity aromas, strong acidity, and tannins. This is a wine meant to drink fresh and young. You might consider serving it at lunch with salads or with salmon. Many Grignolino lovers feel that this wine comes close to Gamay in a fruit-forward style, and to Pinot Noir as well.
While this may be true in aroma and flavor, Grignolino does not have the structure of a top Pinot Noir, nor the length. With notes of red cherry fruit on the nose and bright refreshing red fruit flavors on the palate, this Italian grape has a refreshing finish perfect for everyday drinking. It is a somewhat obscure wine well-loved by wine aficionados who prefer lesser-known varieties.
Corvina, another Italian varietal, produces a lighter-bodied wine with floral red fruits on the nose and savory currant, red cherry, and plum fruits on the palate. Bright and fruity, it has historically been compared to Beaujolais and the two definitely have quaff-ability in common. Its most commonly cited characteristic is its sour cherry flavor, as well as its lack of color and tannin – Corvina wines tend to be bright red and lighter in structure.
Corvina on its own pairs well with lighter fair; think spicy seafood stews or grilled salmon. When blended with other grapes in wine such as Valpolicella, they work well with poultry and game, roasted vegetables, and earthy stews. Amarones, another Corvina blend, demand heartier fare, like lamb, Bolognese sauce, or even spiced barbecue.
So now that you have a good starting place, let us know which wines you try and how you think they hold up to the “Pinot Noir standard”!