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Friday, September 7, 2012

Why Pinot Noir is headed for #1

Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay are number one and two in American wine sales. It's been this way for a very long time. Third is Pinot Noir and fourth Pinot Gris (or Grigio). These last two are relative newcomers to challenging the top dogs.

Twenty years ago white wine outsold red by a large margin. Then the news stories about the health benefits of red wine started with the famous French Paradox story on 60 Minutes in 1991. It's still being debated whether red wine is really a fountain of youth, but the consumer has spoken as about half of all sales are red wine now.

So that's well and good, but why should Chardonnay and Cabernet be unseated? Many Chard lovers are a bit tired of it's typical "over-done" style. Pinot Gris is lighter, fruitier, and cheaper (no oak barrels required).

Cabernet Sauvignon will be knocked off as Americans eating styles change. We're moving from steak and potatoes to lighter and more complex fare. "Lighter and more complex" sounds like a comparison of Pinot to Cabernet, huh? There are styles of Pinots that match well with everything from salmon to pizza to beef tenderloin along with the traditional lamb, dishes with mushrooms, etc.
Miles & Jack taking their Pinot Noir seriously

Pinot Noir sales shot up after the movie Sideways popularized the wine. Sales seem to be sustaining so it wasn't just a short-term trend after the movie's release. What might hold back Pinot from taking over the #1 spot? Price because (1) It's difficult to grow and make compared to other reds and (2) supply-and-demand even though Sonoma County has been on a Pinot Noir "planting frenzy" for the past several years. Typically, premium Pinot Noir seems to be running $45-50. You can find good ones under $25, but it's not easy. In the lower price range Kenwood, MacMurray Ranch, and Mark West are good values.

In Sonoma County Delinger, Hanzell, Joseph Swan, Rochioli, and Williams-Selyem are some of the best-known producers that were specializing in Pinot long before it got trendy. Other folks getting lots of buzz are Kosta Brown, Martinelli, Merry Edwards, and Sojourn, but there are many other great ones out there. Have fun exploring!

Pinot Noir and Chardonnay overlooking the Pacific Ocean
Image from