Lighter American pinot noirs, if you can find them, can have a charm that is often missing in the brawnier versions that have become popular in recent years. I have been tasting more and more big, fleshy pinots from California and Oregon that seem to think they are California cabernets — dense, high-alcohol wines that bear no resemblance to red Burgundy from France, which, for me, provides the definition of lean elegance and complexity in pinot noir.
That’s why I was excited to discover a California wine the other day that bucked this trend: the 2005 Irony Pinot Noir from Monterey County, south of San Francisco. The context was a quick, late-evening dinner — some spicy pulled chicken with a side of fries that I took out from a local barbecue place. One sip of the pinot noir and I knew it was just right for this full-flavored dish.
Here’s why: Many wine lovers may not realize it, but lighter, fruitier reds are often the best companions to strongly flavored foods such as barbecue or spicy Indian dishes (now there’s an irony). Beyond pinot noir, young Beaujolais from France, made from the gamay grape, and barberas from Italy’s Piedmont, fall into this category.
Their fruit, acidity, lower alcohol (Irony is 13.5 percent) and, hopefully, modest exposure to oak, help them withstand the assertive flavors of these foods. By contrast, bigger, more oak-driven wines like cabernets, merlots and syrahs, when paired with such foods, can produce a clash of titans in the mouth, with the wine and food battling it out for dominance and your taste buds caught in the middle of the ring.
Irony is one of those wine names that can drive me a little nuts (as can animal motifs on labels) because what’s inside the bottle often doesn’t measure up to the gimmickry of the packaging. Luckily, that’s not the case here.
This modest yet delicious $15 wine is light ruby in color and transparent, with aromas and tastes of cherry, blueberry and vanilla, supported by a good tannic structure. It reminded me of both lighter Burgundy and Beaujolais and, as is common with these wines, chilling it for 10 or 15 minutes will make it more refreshing. Beyond spicy foods, it will match well with just about any grilled food, even fish, if you prefer a red.
A friend called Irony “light and un-aggressive” and a “nice wine without being obtrusive,” suggesting her own desire for wines that don’t call you to battle. In these easygoing days of summer, when casual dining is the rule, what could be better for everyday enjoyment? No irony there.
Edward Deitch’s wine column appears Wednesdays. He is the recipient of the 2007 James Beard Foundation Journalism Award for Best Multimedia Writing. He welcomes comments from readers. Write to him at