All About Pinot Noir

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Pee-noh Nwar

Pinot Noir is grown all over the world, but its true home is Burgundy, France, where some the world’s most coveted bottles are produced. The name Pinot Noir comes from the French words for “Pine” and “black”, due to its pinecone shaped grape clusters and the dark, purple-black color of the grapes. This light-bodied wine is known for being complex, full of flavor, and is one of the most popular red wines around the world. It is a great wine for those just venturing into the world of red wine and it also happens to be one of the most versatile wines when it comes to food pairing.

The Pinot Noir grapes are notoriously difficult to grow and can be temperamental if not in the optimal climate and soil. Pinot Noir favors loamy soil, so it is usually found in cool climate areas near bodies of water or in valleys. Because the thin-skinned grapes grow in tightly packed clusters that limit airflow between the grapes, uneven ripening may occur, or worse, rot. However, in spite of these challenges, there are still plenty of wine makers willing to take the chance on Pinot Noir, and doing it successfully.

Pinot Noir Tasting Notes

Pinot Noir is a moderately dry red with light-to-medium body, low tannins, and relatively high acidity. The ABV depends largely on where its grown. Cooler regions will have a lower ABV, usually around 12-13.5%, while warmer climate bottles can run anywhere from 13.5-15%.

Pinot Noir is a highly fragrant wine full of berry and floral aromas like hibiscus. The primary tasting notes are luscious red fruits, particularly cherry, raspberry and strawberry. You may also pick up subtle notes of mushroom and clove. More mature bottles will also develop undertones of leather, vanilla, or truffle.

Pinot Noir Styles

Pinot Noir is a prime example of a wine that is greatly impacted by climate. You will notice a distinct difference in Pinot’s from cool climates than those grown in warm climates. Pinot Noir is, after all, a capricious grape that greatly prefers cool temperatures. This doesn’t mean it cannot be grown in warm climates, it just takes a little more attention and care.  

Cool Climate Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir is at its best when grown in cool climates. A Pinot from say, Burgundy or Willamette Valley in Oregon, is going to produce fruit-forward wines full of raspberry and cherry flavor, refreshing acidity and soft aromatics. Earthy notes of herb and spice will also be present, along with a velvety mouthfeel. 

Warm Climate Pinot Noir

Just because Pinot Noir prefers cool climates, does not mean you won’t find a quality bottle from warmer climates. The consistent temperature in warm climates often results in fully ripened grapes so time of picking is crucial. If picked too late the grapes will lose their acidity and you will see an increase in sugar levels. Warm climate Pinot Noir’s from regions such as Chile and Australia can be quite good, but with some differences. You will likely find less acidity and higher tannins in a warm climate Pinot Noir, with plum, cedar and chocolate notes. 

Serving Pinot Noir

The serving temperature for Pinot Noir is slightly lower than most reds. The ideal temperature is 55-60°F or 12-15°C, and for those who do not have a wine fridge at home, placing a bottle in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes prior to serving should bring the bottle to the appropriate temperature. This wine does not need to be decanted prior to drinking. Just serve in a large glass that is wide at the bottom and narrow at the top and enjoy!

Aging Pinot Noir

Aging Pinot Noir is a topic that is sure to get wine enthusiasts talking. The general consensus seems to be that Pinot does not hold up to a long aging process and should be drunk within 4 to 5 years of the vintage date. However, there is a belief that with the right region, say Burgundy, and a vineyard known for producing outstanding Pinot Noir, a good bottle can easily be aged for 10 years or more. Those bottles are the exception. Most Pinot Noir will be perfectly enjoyable without any aging at all. 

If you are going to try aging your Pinot Noir, it is important that the wine is stored properly. Bottles should rest on their side, in an area with low light and low humidity. The temperature should be cool, but take care to ensure it does not get cold. You will also want to be sure to avoid high traffic areas that could cause vibration as this will harm your wine and dull the flavor.

Pinot Noir Blends

You won’t see many blends using Pinot Noir. The unique characteristics of this grape allow it to shine on its own, so most producers are not eager to dilute those qualities by blending it with another grape. Occasionally, a vintner will add a touch of Syrah to California Pinot Noir, but these are exceptions. 

The one notable Pinot Noir blend is Champagne, which also comprises Chardonnay and the French blending grape, Pinot Meunier. The Pinot Noir grape brings elegance, structure and complexity to the grand dame of sparkling wine.

Average Price of Pinot Noir

As with most wines Pinot Noir is available at a wide range of prices. With bottles starting at $3 and running upwards of $100,000 (the 2015 Domaine Leroy Musigny Grand Cru goes for $136,296), you are sure to find something in your budget. You can find plenty of quality wines for under $50, and even under $20 in many cases. The key is to try Pinot’s from different regions and discover what you like best. Remember, price is not necessarily an indicator of quality.

Fun Facts about Pinot Noir

  • Pinot Noir has its own day: August 18th is Pinot Noir Day!
  • A DNA analysis showed that Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris are all mutations of the same grape.
  • Versatility is one of the highlights of the Pinot Noir. It’s one of few red grapes that is made into red, white, rosé, and sparkling wine.
  • You may be surprised to learn that Pinot Noir is one of the key grapes used to create Champagne.
  • It is one of the oldest grapes in the world; over 1,000 years older than Cabernet Sauvignon.
  • Pinot Noir is related to Chardonnay. The two can almost always be found grown together.
  • Pinot Noir experienced a surge of popularity after the 2004 movie “Sideways”.

Pinot Noir Food Pairing