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Ripe Pinot Noir grapes hang on the vine at Colmant, a winery in Franschoek, South Africa, on Feb. 4, 2021.RODGER BOSCH/AFP/Getty Images

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It’s a common complaint that people who love pinot noir aren’t as fond of the prices that quality bottles fetch. It might be the fifth-most-widely planted red wine grape in the world, but a significant portion of pinot plantings are earmarked for sparkling wine production. As a result, red wines made from pinot noir don’t command the shelf space or present the range of value-priced selections that cabernet sauvignon, malbec and shiraz commonly offer.

Many famous wine regions around the world are too warm to successfully ripen the thin-skinned grape for red wine production, which gives an opportunity for cooler-climate regions in Germany, Canada and New Zealand to test their mettle. But even there, pinot is produced in relatively small quantities, with prices starting around $20 per bottle. More compelling examples, including premier crus and grand crus from Burgundy, carry significantly more expensive price tags.

Wines made from pinot have become more fashionable as consumer tastes shift from power and concentration to freshness and finesse. The best bottles from Burgundy and cooler climates are refreshing red wines with lighter bodies that offer a mix of berry and cherry flavours combined with floral, spice and earthy notes. More flavourful examples from warmer areas in California, Oregon or Chile deliver more concentrated fruit and structure. Fans looking for similar thrills, while possibly saving money, should check out these excellent pinot alternatives.

Gamay Once an insider’s grape variety, gamay is courting mainstream attention. Top quality cru Beaujolais, which carry the name of the village where the grapes were grown, such as Brouilly or Moulin-à-Vent, present similar flavours as pinot, such as ripe red fruit, pepper and, possibly, oak-derived vanilla and spice notes. Wines labelled Beaujolais-Villages are affordable blends of gamay grown in the best areas in the region that are a step up in flavour and concentration than basic Beaujolais. It’s exciting to see production of gamay increasing in Niagara and the Okanagan, with more quality producers joining pioneers such as Blue Mountain, Cave Spring and Malivoire. In my books, gamay consistently represents some of the best-quality red wines made in Canada that also offer good value for money.

Barbera A more extensive list of pinot substitutes could touch upon any number of native Italian grape varieties, starting with personal favourites frappato, nerello mascalese and nero d’avola from Sicily. There’s no shortage of refreshing and fruity red wines on offer from Italy, but I’m here to sing the praises of Barbera. Barbera hails from Piedmont, where it plays the cheap and cheerful companion to the bold and beautiful red wines made from the nebbiolo grape in the region. The best examples that come to market are labelled Barbera d’Asti or Barbera d’Alba, which lets you know you’re buying a wine made with the barbera grape grown in the region of Asti or Alba. Low in tannin, high in acidity, these inexpensive reds have a pleasant mix of red and blue fruit with floral, spice and earthy notes that add interest to the aroma and flavour.

Grenache The heat-loving grenache grape might strike some as a strange stand-in for pinot noir. Higher in alcohol and fuller in body, this is a grape that contributes concentration and character to some of the richest and ripest red blends made in southern France and Spain. But producers around the world are increasingly looking to champion the lower tannins and crowd-pleasing fruity character of the grape, which, lest we forget, produces its fair share of delicious rosé wines. More graceful expressions are being made in Australia and South Africa as well as France and Spain, where winemakers are calling grenache the hot-weather cousin of pinot. Pinot lovers, especially fans of riper styles from California, would appreciate grenache’s mix of dark- and red-fruit notes and spicy quality.

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