Your Guide to Pinot Noir
Where does Pinot Noir Come From?
Pinot Noir is indigenous to Burgundy, France. Pinot Noir is notoriously difficult to grow, demanding a cool climate and rich soil that holds nutrients and drains water. We consider it the Goldilocks Grape. This grape is prone to disease and rot thanks to its cone-shaped grape bunches that retain water. These vines like plenty of growth days, but not too much direct sunshine because the grapes will essentially get sunburnt and whither.
For being such a light red wine, Pinot Noir can age for decades…as long as it is taken care of. Pinot Noir doesn’t stop being delicate after it’s bottled.
This red burgundy wine started its slow rise to fame from the Cisterian monks, who grew Pinot Noir in abundance. This also led to the ‘downfall’ of Gamay, although that is picking its popularity back up. Over 1,000 years ago, these monks believed that hard labor earned them brownie points with God…hard labor they got with Pinot Noir. Because of the difficulties they had growing this grape, they kept detailed records that helped future grape growers in Burgundy and throughout the world successfully grow Pinot Noir. It is likely that we would still be figuring this grape out if not for the monks.
Pinot Noir is known for its red fruit flavors, black pepper, and mushroom. This wine readily showcases the skills of the winemaker and terroir.
Pinot Noir Profile
Color: Light Burgundy color, often see-through
Aromas: Cranberry, cherry, raspberry, black pepper, mushroom
Flavors: Cranberry, black pepper, blackberry, cherry, raspberry, mushroom, tobacco, vanilla
Tip: Just because Pinot Noir has light tannins does not mean you are saved from ‘tannin teeth’. When this happens just use wine wipes. What are wine wipes? They are little wipes that remove red wine stains from your teeth and mouth. They are compact and easy to fit into pockets or clutches.
Pairing Pinot Noir really depends on where it is from…those from Willamette vs. New Zealand are vastly different in body and tannins.
Burgundy and Willamette:
Pair with roasted pork, game hen, tofu, and chicken fettuccine
California and New Zealand:
Pair with lamb, beef Bourgogne, or creamy pasta dishes
For being such a picky grape variety, Pinot Noir grows well in select regions around the world.
The King of Burgundy, Pinot Noir originated and continues to thrive here. These wines will be light in color, light-bodied, an aromatic bouquet, with plenty of cranberry and mushroom flavors. If you prefer tradition and history; a Pinot from Burgundy is your best bet. Many of these are also largely produced, affordable, and available in any wine shop.
Willamette Valley, Oregon
Willamette Valley has nearly surpassed Burgundy with their Pinot Noir popularity. They make such a delicate and unique Pinot, full of cranberry, mushroom, and earth flavors. These wines are great for aging and many of the wineries have cult-followings…some even have waiting lists to be in their wine club!
California and Washington
Much of California is known for its Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Merlot. However, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley, Napa Valley, and areas around the Santa Barbara regions grow a lot of Pinot Noir. These regions, along with the Columbia Valley, Washington will produce fuller-bodied Pinot that is earthy and spicy.
Germany is the third-largest producer of Pinot Noir in the world. This is not surprising since they are a cool climate and have a focus on many cool-climate varietals like Pinot Noir, Riesling, and Gewurztraminer. These wines will be similar in style to those of Burgundy, France.
Did you know Italy also grows Pinot Noir? Although the international focus of Italy is Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio, the northern wine regions also grow Pinot. They are very similar to those of France and are made in a very traditional Old-World style. Italy is the fifth largest producer of Pinot Noir in the world.
New Zealand isn’t just Sauvignon Blanc and white wines (although they do this very well). Many Pinot Noirs from New Zealand will be from the Central Otago or Martinborough region. The terroir makes it an ideal condition for rich and tannic Pinot to grow. Pinot from here will be darker in color and fuller-bodied than those from Willamette and Burgundy.
Mornington Peninsula near Victoria, Australia is a wine region that is surrounded on three sides by water. This is the ultimate maritime climate and Pinot loves it. No vineyard is further than 7km from the water. This is a popular place for Pinot Noir to grow, although it is also grown in other maritime parts of Australia.
Chile, Argentina, and South Africa also grow Pinot Noir. Because these regions are warmer, the wines will be fuller-bodied with more intense tannins. These Pinots are not as fruit-forward but have a delicious taste of earth and spice. Winemaking in these parts often takes a more modern approach.
What’s the Big Deal with Pinot?
There are over 40 clones of Pinot Noir. This includes everything from rich and tannic Pinots to soft and fruit-forward ones. There really is a Pinot for everyone and every taste. This also makes for easy pairing. Tried Pinot and haven’t liked it? Try Pinot Noir wines from a different region; they will likely use a different clone that tastes vastly different.
People seem to either not care too much for Pinot Noir or they are absolute Pinot-philes. We are on the latter. Pinot is so versatile and delicious. We encourage you to try it with food, age them, and try them from all around the globe. If you want something a bit more heavy-duty than the typical Willamette and Burgundy Pinot’s, try one from New Zealand. They are hardier and more tannic.
Because Pinot Noir grapes are so hard to grow, there is also a great pride for regions and winemakers who produce them well. An exceptional Pinot Noir is hard to find, but quite the gem when you do. This makes for cult-followings for the best Pinot Noir producers.
How Much Should I Spend on Pinot Noir?
Some Pinots can go into the hundreds of dollar for wine collectors and sommeliers…but for us regular folks $30-40 will get you a great bottle of Pinot Noir that is ready to drink now or ready to be tucked into the cellar for 5-10 years.
Check out this Pinot Noir buying guide to get the best Pinot for the best price.
Did you know that Champagne and other sparkling wines are made with both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir? A blanc de blanc Champagne is just Chardonnay. However, a blanc de Noir is made with Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, both red grapes. Because the skins of these red grapes are thin and they are not fermented on the skins, the wine comes out white.
Winemakers also make rose Champagne, where the Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier is fermented on the skins for a bit to give it that wonderful pink color.