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It doesnt mean that red wine is dead, only that consumer tastes are changing. Riper, smoother, sleeker style reds are whats hot, and while merlot may be the former poster child for sipping red, pinot noir, shiraz/syrah and malbec are moving quickly to fill the gap.
Pinot noirs star continues to rise in the wake of the hit film Sideways although the finicky grape with the thin skin isnt as amenable to being trendy as some opportunistic producers would like. Translation: there is a lot of pinot junk out there so shop carefully.
What is clear is that Burgundy, once regarded a temple of pinot noir production, is now merely a place in France that produces some of the worlds best pinot noir.
After that you can turn to an ever-growing number of regions such as Central Otago, Martinborough, Canterbury, Nelson and Marlborough in New Zealand; Russian River, Carneros, Monterey, and Santa Barbara County in California; Leyda, Casablanca and maybe Marchigue in Chile. Throw in Oregon, Tasmania and Yarra Valley in Australia, parts of coastal South Africa, and British Columbia and Ontario and you get the picture the game is on.
As for pinot names to look for this year, I like Hartford, La Crema, Rodney Strong, Marimar Torres, Paul Hobbs, Byron, Cambria, Saintsbury, Cuvaison, Gloria Ferrer and Domaine Carneros from California.
CedarCreek, Quails Gate, Inniskillin, Coyotes Run and Henry of Pelham are my Canadian picks. From the rest of the world Main Divide, Spy Valley, Shingle Peak and Felton Road are top kiwi labels to search out, as are Casas del Bosque, Cono Sur and Valdivieso in Chile, De Bortoli in Australia and Bouchard Finlayson in South Africa.
Finally, shiraz (or syrah as they say in France) will remain a quick-pick red for most everyone. From Yellowtail to Grange and everything in between, it seems we cant get enough of the red some describe as merlot with flavour.
The big attraction here is the peppery, meaty black fruit flavours and soft supple tannins.
The totally hip in 2006 will be drinking Casillero del Diablo Syrah (Chile), Torbreck Woodcutters Shiraz, Ben Glaetzers Stickleback or Thomas Hyland Shiraz (Australia). From South Africas count on bargain basement prices and plenty of flavour when sipping Obikwa and Bellingham Shiraz, while closer to home Cline Syrah from California or La Frenz and Jackson-Triggs Sun Rock all from British Columbia offer the ripeness everyone is looking for.
The new red kid this year will be malbec and almost all of it will come from Argentina, specifically Mendoza and environs. Soft, round and juicy with just enough savoury bits to keep it interesting, malbec is a terrific choice for grilled meats, and the prices at both the low and high end represent excellent value.