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The Best Light Reds that Aren't Pinot Noir

The Best Light Reds that Aren't Pinot Noir

Adapted from Not Pinot Noir, The first edition of Parcelle Press, Parcelle's Wine Zine.


If you’ve opened up this journal, you’ve likely heard of pinot noir. And, well, if you haven’t, then welcome to wine. Pinot noir, or just pinot for short, is one of the most popular wines across the world. Unless they are trying to make a statement, every restaurant will have pinot on their wine list. (And if they don’t, you should ask why-- they want you to ask.) Pinot is always a safe option. For many people, It’s what they order when they just want a good ole glass rather than to be adventurous. Also for many people, it’s the wine they consume their entire lives without considering trying something else. It’s familiar-- and frankly, most of the time, it’s pretty delicious.


Understanding pinot is essential for any wine drinker. Its origin story is worthy of several volumes of this journal, but since we like to keep it short and cute, we made the handy chart to the left to sum up its defining characteristics. But there’s more than just pinot out there.


We encourage you to try wines that are like pinot, but not pinot. Doing so will open your eyes to all the other possibilities in the world for light, fruity, super drinkable red wines. Here, we’ll walk you through a handful of wines you might not have heard of, but we think you’ll probably like.

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The Jura


The Jura is a remote region in the mountains bordering Switzerland, about an hour’s drive east from Burgundy. If Burgundy is Fifth Avenue, the Jura is a sleepy side street that emits cool and nostalgia. It feels like a spot where only locals know to hang out.


We should start by making it clear that in the Jura, you will find pinot noir. But here it tastes like a wild version of the grape. If California pinot is a giant, juicy strawberry, Jura pinot is the ugly little wild ones whose flavor is exceptionally tart. This difference results from the high altitude and cooler weather in the Jura in contrast to other areas where it is grown. The cold weather impacts all fruit– including grapes.


Trousseau is the main grape of the Jura. It has potential for making it onto the long list of important varieties in the world, and it’s working its way up, but right now, it’s still on the JV team. If you really like pinot but want something that leans more toward dried mushrooms and grilled meat and tastes just a little bit different, this is for you. If the thing you like about pinot is how fruity and sometimes sweet some versions can be this may make you pissed.


Poulsard is on the extreme end of light red wines. In fact, it can even appear to be like rosé. This is a paler and stinkier version of pinot. And it’s infamous among vineyard workers. Unfortunately, Poulsard is prone to all sorts of diseases that discourage farmers from growing it, as there is a focus on organic farming in the Jura, and poulsard requires an abundance of sprays and chemicals. Naturally, producers committed to organic farming are discouraged from growing these grapes because of the risk that they will spoil. Some of them still go for it though– not all farmers are boring.


Beaujolais


Beaujolais’s history is only important to understand insofar as why there’s so much excitement– and at times astonishment– over it being a place with well-crafted wines. We’re of the mindset that a lot of good came out of the 1980s, but it wasn’t a great period for this wine region. Simply put, producers here made very simple, very cheap wine– and they became famous for it. That style of wine is called Beaujolais Nouveau; it haunts Beaujolais in the same way ripped tights and permed hair may haunt you. It tastes like Welch’s grape jelly and was often served in cans. It became all the rage, so much so that there were wine parties, wine fairs, and even swimming pools full of the stuff.


But today, Beaujolais tells a different story. It’s littered with a younger, more ambitious generation of winemakers whose goal is not just commerce (and wine parties); instead, they’ve devoted themselves to the uphill battle of making a high-quality wine from gamay, the only grape here. These people are all inspired by the neighboring Burgundy, which is just to the north, and many practice similar viticulture and winemaking since the grapes are so similar.


Gamay has brisk acidity; it’s both fruity and a little savory; it has low tannin, which is the dryness in wine; and it’s light in color. Gamay might be the greatest comparison to pinot, but with a distinguishing spicy and floral edge. The region and grape are synonymous, as the grape is rarely seen outside of this zone– so if you see gamay, it’s very likely from Beaujolais. And if you see Beaujolais, it is absolutely gamay.


Italy


Italian red wine as exclusively big and powerful is a misconception. The grapes and regions we talk most about-- Barolo, Brunello di Montalcino, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo-- are exactly that. But Italy is full of 1000 different grape varieties and within that there’s some diversity of flavor. Italy is also full of 1000 different climates. The combination of a thin-skinned grape and a cold climate is perfect for making a light red wine.


Here’s a rundown of the grapes to look for:
Dolcetto– it’s like pinot, but a touch darker in color and tastes spicy.
Barbera— it’s like pinot, but subtly richer and with fruity flavors.
Frappato– it’s like pinot, but is almost impossible to find. It only grows in Sicily and tastes like maraschino cherries.
Schiava– it’s like pinot, but extremely light in color (and we think it tastes just ok).


If there were a comment section in this journal, wine geeks would be yelling at us to include some other obscure grapes. Thankfully, print is not dead yet. We concede that there are plenty more grapes, but this is a nice start.


Austria


Austria is known for making white wine-- and they do a good job at it. These wines are very precise. They are never oaky, and they should always be crisp. Understanding their white wines can help you understand the reds that come from their native grapes, too. Grüner veltliner is known for being peppery, floral, and refreshing. It’s easy drinking. The grape has the potential to make a serious wine, but most often, it’s refreshing and simple.


Now apply that description to the grapes zweigelt and blaufränkisch. These are found scattered around the country, but the best region for them is Burgenland. While zweigelt is a tart and straightforward grape, blaufränkisch is hyped for being a pretty serious wine. It’s a bit darker in color than pinot, and it tastes like black pepper and blackberries.


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