August 18 is National Pinot Noir Day. I’m not sure what marketing guru decided this already successful grape needs its own day – it’s not as if those of us who love pinot noir need an excuse to consume it. It is among the most versatile and food-friendly of wines. Still, on this day, it is perhaps a good time to take pity on those who haven’t yet discovered the joys of pinot (we fans are on an informal nickname basis with the grape, so it’s just “pinot”) and offer a little snapshot of the grape to give you an impetus to try it.
The good news is this: pinot is easy to like. It’s not nearly as tannic as cabernet sauvignon, nor is it usually as high in alcohol. Unlike cab (I’m informal with it as well), it’s a red wine that can be enjoyed young, though many pinots can age quite well. Pinot noir, like grenache (another red grape I love) tends to be a little light in color, more a medium ruby than a full blown inky purple wine like cab or syrah. Also like grenache, pinot noir is notable for its red fruit flavors rather than the blackberry and cassis we find in many other red wines. The wine has good acidity but relatively low tannin, which is why it can go with some dishes (like salmon) you might be hesitant to pair with other red wines.
Pinot noir makes lovely red wines and rosés, and it’s a major component of Champagne. Other than Champagne, where it happily marries with chardonnay, pinot noir is almost never blended with other varieties. The bad news about pinot is that it is a delicate grape that is finicky about where it is grown, so it isn’t easy to make wine from it, and it can be expensive. Fortunately, at the 2018 Best in Glass (BIG) Wine Challenge, our sommelier-judges found an excellent pinot noir at a fair price and I’m happy to recommend it here.
That BIG gold medal wine is the Gallo Signature Series 2013 Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir. You may find newer vintages in the market now since it has been several months since our panel reviewed the wine. It sells for around $30 a bottle, and brings a lot to the table – red fruit like raspberry and cranberry plus some black cherry, a little spice from the small amount of new oak used to mature the wine, and some of the earthiness that is a hallmark of classic pinot noir. I love this wine with grilled salmon, it’s beautiful with lamb and you can enjoy it on its own. Whether the weather is warm or cool, this is a great place to celebrate either your love or your discovery of pinot noir!