Pinot Noir is everyone’s favorite grape. It’s immensely versatile, elegant, and ethereal—all qualities that add up to soulful, unforgettable wine. Problem is, really good Pinot doesn’t come cheap, especially if you’re considering getting your Pinot fix from Burgundy. Luckily for you though, there are several under-the-radar grape varieties that don’t get as much play time or international praise as Pinot Noir, but offer an extremely comparable drinking experience. And they come at a far more palatable price. Read on to get the inside scoop on three perfect Pinot Noir alternatives. If you’re already revving up for Thanksgiving and wondering which wines you should serve this year, any of the following would make fabulous pairings for your holiday table.
Blaufränkisch is Austria’s star red grape that thrives in the region of Burgenland. It yields classy wines of great depth, grace, sophistication, and intrigue, yet has remained fairly unknown, which means you can still find some incredible bargains. If you’re a fan of Pinot Noir’s characteristic earthiness, fresh berry fruit, and polished mouthfeel, you’ll absolutely love Blaufränkisch. Like Pinot Noir, Blaufränkisch is made in a variety of styles ranging from sprightly and light-bodied to opulent and more medium-bodied. This native Austrian wine loves gamy meats such as duck, quail, lamb, and venison.
Top examples to try: J. Heinrich, Juris, Moric, and Rosi Schuster
The Italian island of Sicily has become very famous for its dark, brooding wines made from the Nero d’Avola grape. What most people don’t know, however, is that Sicily is also home to another fantastic indigenous grape called Frappato. This aromatic grape variety is an absolute knockout and produces beautiful, cherry-scented wines that express the subtlety and delicacy of top flight Pinot Noir. You’ll find that most wines made from 100% Frappato grapes are fermented and aged in stainless steel only, without the use of oak barrels, which allows the wine to remain fresh and pure. This grape is also used in the esteemed Cerasuolo di Vittoria wines which combine Nero d’Avola and Frappato grapes. These fuller-bodied blends usually undergo aging in large oak casks, small French barriques (small oak barrels), or terra cotta amphorae. Try pairing Frappato with herb roasted chicken, veal scaloppini, or rustic beans and farro stews.
Top examples to try: COS, Arianna Occhipinti, and Valle dell’Acate
Beaujolais, the winemaking region just south of Burgundy in France, is home to Gamay, one of the world’s most overlooked and underrated grapes. While Gamay has long been thought to be the underdog to Pinot Noir, the truth is that Gamay can absolutely hold its own next to far pricier Pinots. Forget about Beaujolais Nouveau, the simple, insipid stuff that put Beaujolais on the map, and instead, look out for the outstanding wines produced in the region’s ten crus or villages: Brouilly, Côte de Brouilly, Chénas, Chiroubles, Fleurie, Juliénas, Morgon, Moulin-à-Vent, Régnié, and Saint Amour. Wines made from Gamay will typically be light to medium bodied and will show hedonistic flavors of crushed raspberry, strawberry, and red cherry fruit as well as distinct notes of fresh or dried herbs. Gamay is a natural pairing for pasta or polenta dishes that feature wild mushrooms, charcuterie including pâtés and cured meats, or roasted duck.
Top examples to try: Daniel Bouland, Georges Descombes, and Jean-Paul Brun
Many of these suggested wines can be purchased online at http://www.plonkwinemerchants.com.
About the author: Etty Lewensztain is the owner of Plonk Wine Merchants, an online shop focused on small-production, artisanal and altogether great, cheap wine. The food and wine obsessed Los Angeles native cut her teeth in the wine biz running a marketing campaign to promote Chilean wine in the United States, and she is certified by the esteemed Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) and the American Sommelier Association. Plonk Wine Merchants specializes in hidden gems from around the globe and every bottle in the store is priced below $30. Follow Plonk Wine Merchants on Twitter.