Meet the Reds: Pinot Noir


I saved my favorite for last. Yes, I’ve been on a serious Noir kick for the last few years and, once again, it has nothing to do with a certain wine movie I’ve yet to watch. Although, if that had anything to do with Pinot Noirs being easier to find, then, okay, maybe it has a little something to do with it.

As a grape, Pinot is another farmed in the Burgundy region of France as well as Champagne–according to one source 75% of Champagne is produced by Pinot Noir grapes. It’s grown all over Europe, actually, as well as in the States but it does tend to be a finicky grape, high maintenance in soil requirements and enjoys a later harvest than others so many vintners consider it a difficult grape. I think the rewards far outweight the cost.

My love of Pinot Noir came quite by chance. I was browsing the wine aisles of my local World Market when I saw a fun-looking label featuring the See/Hear/Speak No Evil monkeys, that wine was named Pinot Evil (think about it, maybe say it aloud for the joke to kick in). Now, I know certain wine experts have said that anything with an animal on the label isn’t worth drinking but I found this Pinot Noir to be quite delicious, especially for $6.99. The label describes it as “velvety” and I couldn’t agree more. But, hearkening to other reviews I’ve read, do let it breathe for about an hour or so before drinking it. Goes well with almost anything, in our house.

Another good Pinot, this one from California (Pinot Evil is a French Import), comes from Echelon Vineyards in Napa. Carried by our favorite local steakhouse (and retailing for about $10.99 at World Market), it comes off a little sharper than the Pinot Evil but still with the dry dry red characteristics and a bit of spice. Obviously it goes well with steaks and pork chops, but anything rich and saucy would do well with this pairing.

Meet the Reds: Malbec


Not exactly a new grape, Malbec is one of many grown in the Bordeaux region, usually as a mix-in to (once again) smooth out Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s a very popular grape to plant, however, in South America and it’s the Argentina Malbecs that really are something worth looking into.

They range in temperament from soft and fruity to bold and spicy. The latter is my favorite and what I had the pleasure of tasting at a local wine festival. The spice notes were slightly smoky and really developed into a nice finish, tingling in the back of my throat.

An awesome fact about this particular wine is that it’s still under many radars (though gaining in popularity) and some really great bottles can be found for $10 and under. If you like bold, spicy reds, pick one up and give it a try.

Meet the Reds: Merlot


Oh, probably one of the better known reds and, in some circles, the most maligned. Just the word “Merlot” sounds like smoky back rooms and femme fatales making breathy requests of the sommelier. Or something like that. Of course, just as quickly I’m reminded of Selma Blair’s nose-in-the-air reminder to her guests to not forget to “bring your own Merlot” (in Legally Blonde). And I’m told there are some very negative sentiments towards this particular grape in a certain wine-centric movie that I haven’t gotten around to watching myself. (I know, for shame, one of these days…)

The Merlot grape is grown extensively in the Bordeaux region of France as well as in Italy and Switzerland. It’s also one of the most popular grapes cultivated in California as well as a handful of other states. It’s generally considered softer and fruitier than the other Big Red (Cabernet) which is why some prefer it and others do not. To me it’s more a middle-of-the-road red and I prefer my wines more pronounced. It goes well with simpler red meat dishes, nothing too fussy or you might overpower the wine.

As hinted above, I’m not a huge fan of Merlot as a varietal and, to be honest, Cabernet is okay, but it’s not my wine of choice. Given this, I was quite surprised to find that a blend of the two really produces a lovely wine. At a Key Lime Cook-Off a couple of months ago, I tasted the Snoqualmie Vineyards Whistle Stop Red, which is a 70-30 Cabernet-Merlot blend. According to my wine reference, the French have been blending a bit of Merlot into Cabs for ages as it tends to blunt Cabernet’s natural tendency towards astringency while punching up the Merlot’s softer nature. It was an absolute revelation for me, to find that I liked it so much, and I snapped up a couple of bottles before leaving the event. (It also didn’t hurt that the cook-off and a portion of that day’s sales at the host location went to help the Leon County Humane Society.)