What’s not to love about Pinot Noir? The grape’s naturally high acid, thin skins, and low levels of tannins lead to bright, easy-drinking wines that are perfect for serving with a variety of foods. It’s no surprise that consumers, industry folks, and collectors alike all go crazy for wines made from this versatile grape. When served with a slight chill and sipped on its own, Pinot Noir is downright refreshing, though when paired with a variety of hearty meats, cheeses, or vegetarian dishes, the wine equally comes to life.
As much as we love Pinot Noir, there are so many other lesser-known red grapes that are structurally similar to it -- meaning there are tons of other refreshing, chillable, and downright delicious red wines out there to satiate your craving. We’ve rounded up six alternative grape varieties for those who go crazy for Pinot Noir. Simply pop, serve with a slight chill, and get ready to have your thirst quenched.
If Gamay isn’t on your radar by now, it most definitely should be. This high-acid red grape is as close to Pinot Noir as it gets -- think of it as Pinot's juicier cousin. While Pinot Noir is the official red grape of Burgundy, Gamay is the signature variety of Beaujolais, located just south of Burgundy’s Mâconnais region. Gamay is known for its racy acidity, low levels of tannins, and juicy fruit-forwardness. Additionally, a large number of Gamay-based wines are vinified via carbonic maceration, which adds to the wines’ quaffable nature. Whether perusing through France’s many expressions or diving into the world of domestic Gamay, you really can’t go wrong with these lip-smacking bottles.
If you’ve already conquered the world of Gamay, then you should absolutely jump into a bottle of Trousseau. This grape is predominantly grown in France’s Jura region, though it also has a significant presence in the USA and Spain (where it goes by the name Bastardo). Trousseau-based wines are known for their earth-driven flavors of tart cranberries, white pepper, and damp soil. Trousseau wines are generally very pale in color and show a beautiful translucent pink-magenta hue in the glass. We recommend serving cold and sipping on warm evenings outdoors. Get ready to fall in love.
Frappato is Sicily’s answer to chillable, easy-drinking red wines. These bottles are loaded with acid and marked by low levels of tannins, with a structure very reminiscent of Pinot Noir. Frappato-based wines tend to show flavors of tangy red cherries, pomegranate, and white pepper -- think Burgundian Pinot Noir meets Gamay with an Italian twist. For nights where you’re feeling indecisive on what to drink but definitely need your thirst quenched, these bottles are just the ticket.
In the world of Pinot Noir-reminiscent reds, not all Grenache is created equal. When it comes to finding bottles that are lighter-bodied in style, we recommend looking towards the Garnacha-based wines of Sierra de Gredos. Although tons of non-Spanish Grenache is light to medium-bodied and easy-drinking (we particularly love the expressions from our friends at An Approach to Relaxation and Newfound), many expressions from southern France tend to show a more muscular side. In this case, we’d stick to Garnacha from western Spain and the New World expressions listed above. These wines ooze with flavors of cherry, tart red fruits, cracked pepper, and earth, similar to your favorite New World Pinot Noir bottlings.
When vinified on its own, Cinsault can lead to some of the softest, most quaffable, and downright delicious ‘chillable reds’ out there. These wines are marked by floral-driven flavors of white cherry, sweet spice, and crushed rocks. However, similar to Grenache/Garnacha, we recommend sticking to specific regions/styles. Here, we recommend seeking out varietal Cinsaults (not blends) from South Africa and the Languedoc. Craven and Maxime Magnon are two of our top go-to producers for thirst-quenching Cinsault.
If you love Pinot Noir, Gamay, and Cabernet Franc, then you’re almost guaranteed to fall in love with Mencia. Imagine that these three varieties got together and had a Spanish baby. Mencia would be the outcome! These wines are earth-driven and juicy, marked by flavors of red and dark fruits, potting soil, and violets. Think of these wines as the juicier Spanish relative of Pinot Noir, marked by slightly more tannins and a signature Gallego accent. Best of all, Mencia-based wines tend to be relatively affordable in comparison to their Pinot Noir-based counterparts. Downright delicious and budget-friendly all in one? That’s what we call a win-win. Serve chilled and pop at summer barbecues all season long!