Wine doesn’t get much snootier than pinot noir. The grape is troublesome to grow, it’s difficult to turn into quality wine, and the wine is almost always pricey. In fact, save for the Burgundy region of France, a stretch of the Willamette Valley in Oregon and parts of California, most of the rest of the world has given up on pinot noir. (And, frankly, a lot of pinot from the rest of the world should be given up on.)
Plus, pinot drinkers — as demonstrated by the movie “Sideways” — can take their enthusiasm to unreasonable lengths. This produces a clubbiness that rivals that of red Bordeaux or Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon, two other leading causes of wine snobbery.
Which is a shame, because pinot is actually a food friendly, easy drinking wine. It doesn’t have the overwhelming tannins (that bitter astringent taste) that cabernet and merlot do, and it offers a berryish fruitiness that pairs with everything from barbecue to grilled chicken to salmon. Yes, even salmon, an example of just how much fun pinot noir can be.
Fortunately, there are a number of producers who understand this dilemma and are doing something about it:
• Mark West California Pinot Noir ($12): Remarkably consistent from vintage to vintage, something that’s not easy to do. Look for lots of raspberry, a classic pinot flavor, and even some vanilla.
• Matua Valley Pinot Noir ($14): New Zealand pinot of quality and value. This isn’t as jammy as the Mark West, and is kind of like red Burgundy in style — more earthiness and less fruit.
• Red Bicyclette Pinot Noir ($11): A big, jammy wine (think strawberries) from the Gallo empire. It doesn’t have the vanilla that the others do, since it saw less oak during the aging process. In flavor, it’s probably between the Matua and the Mark West.
Ask the Wine Guy
Q. What’s the difference between white zinfandel and red zinfandel?
A. White zinfandel is a sweet wine, while red zinfandel (known as just zinfandel) is dry. They’re made with the same grape, but white zinfandel’s color is lighter because the skins of the grape aren’t left in contact with the juice for very long. Typically, the longer the skins are left in contact with the juice, the darker (and more tannic) the wine.
WITH YOUR WINE
Italian-style sandwich bread
This bread only needs to rise once, which means it’s quite simple to make. Mix and knead it in a food processor, shape it into a loaf, and let it rise in the bread pan. You’ll be surprised at how well it turns out for toast and sandwiches.
Makes one loaf (90-100 minutes)
1 package quick-acting yeast
1 ½ teaspoons sugar
1 cup water
¼ cup olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
2 ¾ cups all-purpose or bread flour
¼ cup wheat bran
1. Put everything but the water in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the dough blade and pulse a couple of times to mix.
2. Add the water and mix until the dough comes together and rides on the blade. This will take 30 or 40 seconds. If the dough seems too dry, add a little more water.
3. Take the dough out of the processor and put it on a lightly floured surface. Shape into a loaf, and place in an eight-by-four bread pan. Cover with a cloth, and let rise until the top of the dough rises just above the top of the pan.
4. With a sharp knife, make a slash down the center of the loaf. Bake in a preheated 400-degree oven until done, about 40 minutes, or until the bread sounds hollow when tapped with the knuckles. Check after 30 minutes, and if it’s browning too quickly, cover with foil.