Pinot Noir is one of the greatest grape varietals in the world. It is the anchor of some of the most sought after and most expensive wines in the world.
It only grows well in specific, tucked-away corners of the world and needs constant care and attention. Pinot Noir is also one of the most versatile varietals on the planet (next only to Riesling) and can be enjoyed in a great variety of styles.
Body: Light – Medium
Tannin: Low – Medium
Alcohol: Medium – Medium High
Fruits: Red Cherries, Cranberries, Raspberries, Strawberries, Rhubarb
Non-Fruits: Red Flowers, Cola, Pine Needles, Bacon Fat
Minerals: Mushrooms, Truffles, Wet Hay, Forest Floor
Main Growing Regions
Burgundy: The inarguable benchmark of Pinot Noir
Champagne: One of the grape varietals in Champagne Cuvee and the grape for Blanc de Noir Champagne
Germany: Called Spätburgunder (or “Late Burgundian” for its late ripening characteristics)
California: Santa Barbara, Monterey, Sonoma, Carneros, Anderson Valley
Oregon: Willamette Valley, Columbia Gorge
New Zealand: Central Otago, Marlborough, Martinborough, Gisbourne
Where else I’m grown
Italy: Piedmont, Lombardy, Alto Adige
Australia: Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula, Geelong
Soils I like to grow in
Clay, Volcanic Ash
Climate I like
Cool: Pinot Noir needs a VERY LONG TIME to ripen properly. This is one of the reasons why it is either very good or very bad. It requires A LOT of attention on the vine. Pinot is a very fickle grape that will only grow in certain areas. It needs warm (not hot) days to ripen and cool nights to retain its acidity.
There are three rules to assure the purchase of a good Pinot Noir (especially from Burgundy): (1) Producer! (2) Producer!! (3) PRODUCER!!!
Pinot can be made from extremely delicate to almost syrah-like. It can be very, very fruity or very, very earthy. One of the best things about Pinot is that it a sponge for terroir. It soaks up all the essences of the vineyard and expresses them in the glass.
Pinot Noir Growing Regions
California has many established wine-growing regions for Pinot Noir, such as Russian River Valley, Carneros and Santa Barbara. But there are new growing regions in places such as Monterey and Mendocino that are starting to capture the true essence of this grape and threaten to become the premiere growing regions for this fickle varietal.
In regions outside of the United States, New Zealand has exploded onto the world stage in recent years and not just for Sauvignon Blanc. New Zealand Pinot Noirs have recently become some of the hottest wines in the world market. They have amazing depth of flavor and incredible complexity.
Burgundy is the Holy Grail of Pinot Noir for winemakers around the world. The best producers of the New World strive to capture hints of what this region has attained. The vintage-to-vintage variation of Burgundy and the specificity of its terroir make Pinot Noir from Burgundy a shining example of the sense of place that many Pinot Noir producers hope to capture.
Burgundy has the luxury of time on its side. They have been growing the same grapes in the same places for so many generations that they know exactly which wines perform best in which areas. As such, they have developed a cru system of quality levels, ranging from regional (Bourgogne) to specific villages (e.g. Gevrey-Chambertin) and single vineyard wines called Premier Crus (First Growths) or Grand Crus (Great Growths), which are rare vineyards that exemplify the best quality that Burgundy has to offer. As the area from which the grapes come from gets smaller and more specific, the quality of the wine typically increases.
Burgundy is all about the expression of terroir (sense of place). There are anecdotes about growers in Burgundy that scrambled to the bottom of their slopes after strong rains to collect the soil that ran off and returned it to its rightful place among the vines. They take their land THAT seriously. Even the simplest level of regional Bourgogne has a lot to offer us. They are complex, earthy and smoky with bright acidity and voluptuous texture. “Simple” Burgundy is an oxymoron – it does not exist.
Burgundy may have a significant head start on growing Pinot Noir, but the wine makers of California have been quick studies. In a relatively short few decades, they have vaulted to the forefront of the market, albeit with a style that is completely their own. The Pinots of California are very fruit-forward. They are juicy and delicate at the same time. Their complexity is only matched by their versatility.
Califonia’s newer growing areas also show great promise. The depth of the fruit and the balance achieved make them serious contenders to compete on the world stage. Great Pinot Noir is all about balance. The best examples from these new regions have this in spades. Rich fruit, toasty smokiness from the oak barrel and juicy acidity make them among the greatest examples of Pinot Noir in the world.
Although Sauvignon Blanc placed New Zealand on the wine map, it may be Pinot Noir that awards this southern hemisphere nation its true place among the great wine-growing countries in the World. The South Island’s regions of Central Otago and Nelson, plus the North Island’s Martinborough show the most promise.
Whereas the Pinots from California are known for richly textured Bing cherries, cola and bacon fat, the classic examples from New Zealand exhibit cranberry, rhubarb and cinnamon sweetness. The quality they have reached in such a short period of time makes us wonder what they are capable of when the vines reach 30, 40 and 50+ years of age. Their potential is endless.
Food Pairing with Pinot Noir
Pinot Noir is characterized by notes of black cherries, strawberries, raspberries, cranberries, prunes, toasty spice, bacon fat, cola and earthy mushrooms. Fruit-forward California examples contrast well with salty preparations. Burgundy and Old World styles are best with heartier, earthier cuisine.
- Duck Confit
- Mushrooms Risotto
- Seared Salmon (try Teriyaki)
- Spice Roasted Beets
- Roasted Duck Breast
- Braised Bacon / Pork Belly
- Game birds
- Richly sauced pasta dishes
- Beef stews and braises