Thanks at least in part to the 2004 movie Sideways, pinot noir has skyrocketed in popularity and price over the last few years. A pinot that once was priced for the everyday table now may be better suited to special occasions.
A good value-priced alternative is a California petite sirah like the 2005 Guenoc, which retails at many local outlets in the $9 to $11 range. This friendly wine is produced with 100 percent petite sirah grapes from several Lake County growers by Langtry Estate & Vineyards in the Guenoc Valley, some 90 miles north of San Francisco, where growing season days are warm and nights are cool.
We're recommending it not only as a budget-minded alternative to pinot noir, but also as a change from white wine with white meats, especially herb-roasted chicken or pork liberally spiked with rosemary and garlic. Fruit dominates in this lightbodied red, especially flavors of dark berries and cherries, but subtle notes of pepper and leather combine with restrained, silky tannins to give it punch. Its nuanced spice makes it a good companion for savory meats and it will drink well right through a light chocolate or berry dessert.
By Colette and John Bancroft. Colette Bancroft is the Times' book editor. John Bancroft is a freelance writer specializing in food, wine and travel.