A Guide to the Pinot Noir Grape

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Pinot Noir is a favorite the world over, with fine wines made in Old and New world countries. Its popularity shows it must be worth the trouble because, the fact is, Pinot Noir is fussy and difficult to grow.

France is the home of this very old, early budding and ripening varietal. Reflecting its environment and winemaking techniques all over the world, its style can range from light and fruit-forward with prominent cherry notes to layered and complex, with earthy, gamey, spicy tones. Owing to its thin skins, Pinot Noir wines are usually light in color, with light to medium tannin levels.

Some Pinot Noirs are oak matured but, because of their delicacy, winemakers have to treat this grape carefully as too much wood will mask its clean, pure fruit aromas and flavors. The very best from Burgundy and other premium regions benefit beautifully from bottle aging but most Pinot Noirs are best enjoyed young.

Best Regions for Pinot Noir

1. Burgundy

This region in central-east France represents the international benchmark for Pinot Noir production. Otherwise known as Red Burgundy, this fussy grape shows a different face in each village where it is produced and appears under different appellations.

Typically, at the lowest rung of the appellation ladder, Bourgogne AC has a balance of red fruit and savory hints, a medium body, gentle tannins, and a refreshing acidity.

When you taste Pinot Noir from individual villages, you start to see a different character. A little further up in the hierarchy, Gevrey-Chambertin, Nuits-Saint-Georges, Pommard, and Beaune display more intensity, complexity, and a long finish.

Red Burgundies with Grand Cru status are of the highest quality and command the highest prices. When you see this description on a label, you are looking at the top 1% of producers in Burgundy and can expect the wine to be powerful, complex, and an exceptional ager.


2. Germany

If Riesling is the king of whites in Germany, Pinot Noir is the leader of the reds.

Here it is known as Spätburgunder and cultivated mainly in Pfalz and Baden where cool climates give this red a perfumed fruity personality with light tannins. It is also made in rosé styles.


3. Australia

Much of this antipodean country is too hot for good Pinot Noir production but where it is made, it expresses skill, imagination, and panache.

Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula, and Tasmania are regions that benefit from a cooling altitude or ocean breezes, features that enable the production of high-quality Pinot Noir. The styles range from light, fragrant, and delicate to rich and fruity with cherry, plum, and strawberry and full tannins in a well-structured wine.


4. New Zealand

Also, in the southern hemisphere, the regions in New Zealand famed for Pinot Noir are Martinborough on the north island and Marlborough and Central Otago on the South Island.

These Pinot Noirs are less acidic with richer red fruit, spicy hints, and a fuller body than their cousins in Burgundy.

Wines from Central Otago are ripe and intense while Marlborough wines have a lighter character and Pinot Noir fruit is also made in sparkling styles.


5. USA, Chile, and South Africa

One of the top locations for Pinot Noir production in the USA is Oregon. With its moderate climate, its Pinot Noirs are acidic, spicy, and intensely fruity.

Largely known for its rich, full-bodied wines, California is generally too hot for Pinot Noir production but there are some cool pockets in Los Carneros, Sonoma, and Santa Barbara where notable wines are made. Pinot Noir from this state tends to have concentrated red cherry and strawberry flavors while some express leather, game, and vegetal notes.

Casablanca in Chile has gained a reputation for quality fruity, strawberry jam Pinot Noirs with a touch of herbals while the coastal area of Walker Bay in South Africa has long been associated with quality production of this temperamental red grape. Made in small quantities, here oak aging adds toasty notes.


Pinot Noir offers so much to explore with a multitude of expressions around the wine-producing world. Whether you like it lean and elegant or intense and fruity, enjoy your journey.

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