By Rick Riozza

Continuing with the theme of last week’s column, it’s holiday wine for the 2020 holiday table; and there’s no way to exclude talking about the season’s traditional wine: Pinot Noir.

But why would we even wish to “exclude” discussion on our favorite pinot!? Well—believe it or not, there is a “strange” movement afoot to discount Pinot Noir as the “go to” red for the holidays. Why some folks have the time to make this an issue—well it’s one crazy year! On the other hand, I do hear from a lot of customers (Cab Sauv drinkers, probably) that they’d like to have something “different this time” (2020?) with turkey, ham, and prime rib.

Pinot Noir has enjoyed wild popularity during the last couple of decades (think of the movie Sideways) and has indeed moved in at the holiday table. But it’s a grape that has earned its venerated reputation. Just the term Burgundy—brings joy to many a quaffer. And even if mean Mister Mustard forced me to only drink red Burgundy for the rest of my life—that would work fine with me.

As we know, Pinot Noir is on the lighter end of the red wine spectrum and, bursting with flavors that include ripe red fruits, fragrant flowers, baking spices, and earthly undertones. One has to admit that this wine indeed goes well with a traditional holiday meal.

But for those who wish to change it up a bit, how fun an endeavor to bring other lighter-bodied reds wines to the season’s table. Consider below:

Well—it’s not breaking news that we can always switch a Pinot Noir for one of our favorite Beaujolais bottles. The Gamay grape is a genetic cousin of pinot and grows pretty much in the same places with similar weather. Known for juicy, lively and fun light-bodied wines with varying degrees of seriousness—check out the “10 Crus”–one or more of which will have a flavor profile and style (from light-bodied to much heavier) that will impress all day: Fresh flowers, dried herbs and tart red fruits, with an appealing streak of minerality on the palate.

Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé! is the chant for party folk to frolic French as we drink the youngest French wine of the season, uncorking the 2020 bottle this past 3rd Thursday of November all over the world! Back in the recent day, there were parties all over. Lately nothing’s going on (see: And lately there are nouveau haters claiming the new stuff is just too insipid to even look at!–Geez!?

Well I hate bursting the “hater” bubble, but I just enjoyed the 2020 Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Noveau ($11) and it is one of the best nouveau I’ve had since the 2012 vintage. Full mouth flavor with those classic young fruity notes of blueberries, cherries, flowers, grapes, plums, raspberries, spices, and strawberries. It’s a fun treat! Something to smile about!

Another wonderful light bodied wine is Verona’s Valpolicella, primarily from the Corvina grape. The table wines of Valpolicella are an excellent and affordable alternative to Pinot Noir: Light on their feet and distinctly reminiscent of sour cherries, figs, herbs, almonds, leather, smoke, spices, and strawberries with a smooth bitter red-cherry finish. If you prefer a higher acidity wine to match your meals-this is the one!

For those folks seeking a more serious age-worthy style of Pinot Noir—as in very Burgundian French, give a try to Nerello Mascalese. This Sicilian variety is at its best when produced around volcanic Mount Etna. It’s quite firm and structured, yet still lush with bright red fruit accented by a smoky, mineral quality derived from Etna’s charred soils. Actually, this wine should be tasted by any wine enthusiast in your circle of socially distant friends.

Finally, known as Blaufränkisch in Austria, Lemberger in Germany, Kekfrankos in Hungary—and probably other names in other Central European countries. Don’t be confused. Much like a good cool-climate California pinot, it’s bright and juicy, full of delicious purple and black fruit flavor, with velvet-soft tannins and a piquant hint of peppery spice. Drink this and imagine your holidays as you drift along the Danube.

All right then: After a little of this and a little of that—I’m sure we’ll all be trying a nice Pinot Noir with some holiday meal. For those wishing to find a pinot deal look no further than picking up a 2018 Hahn Monterey County (around $10) or 2018 Castle Rock Mendocino County (under $10). Both provide classic Pinot Noir flavors: Hahn shows toasty notes of dried berry and cherry flavors with a bit of wet earth for a savory finish; Castle Rock shows dark cherry, currant, and raspberry with floral accents in a spicy finish.

And for those of you looking to absolutely treat the table with outstanding pinot to celebrate the last months of 2020, and Winespectator have just come out with their pick of the best. And it’s no surprise to any enthusiast who’s well aware of the consistent two shining stars in the pinot wine game:

2016 Kosta Browne Santa Rita Hills ($98) is one of the treasured producers of exceptional, unabashedly California-style Pinot Noirs. Vivid aromas of ripe wild strawberry, tangy black cherry, cranberry, and hints of blood orange, fleshy and delicious fruit flavors are supported by grippy tannins. Juicy acidity rounds out this wine of elegance, precision, tension and finesse.”

2017 Gary Farrell Pinot Noir Fort Ross-Seaview ($75) puts their best foot forward, representing California’s great state with this exquisite pinot. The pinot is translucent ruby with cherry, blood orange, clove and grapefruit zest. Gentle tannins met with sweet cedar unfurl in brown spices, cola, and cinnamon through a red berry-driven finish with elegant minerality.” To the allure of Pinot Noir—Cheers!

Rick is your somm-about town and can be reached at