Pinot Noir is one of the most fascinating grape varieties in the world. Notoriously difficult to grow and make wine from, it nonetheless is responsible for some of the most iconic wines known to man, including the great reds of Burgundy and some of the finest champagnes and sparkling wines from across the globe.
Pinot Noir produces tightly packed clusters of large berries with thin skins, therefore it makes wines that are low in tannin, medium bodied and lightly coloured. Its thin skins mean that is is susceptible to many viticultural hazards, such as rot and fungal diseases, so needs careful handling throughout the winemaking process.
It is undoubtedly worth the effort though! When young, Pinot Noir is full of seductive red fruit flavours that tend to turn more vegetal, with a hint of ‘farmyard’ as it ages.
The Old World
The spiritual home of Pinot Noir is Burgundy in France, where it has helped to cement the reputation of one of the most famous wine regions in the world. Burgundian Pinot Noirs, particularly those from the Côte d’Or, are among some of the most highly renowned red wines, with eye watering price tags to match! They are also incredibly long lived, exhibiting alluring red cherry, raspberry and strawberry notes with a silky texture when young, developing into smoky, earthy and often gamey flavours as they age.
Young red Burgundy, with its red fruit flavour, has the acidity needed to cut through a juicy seared duck breast. While more complex, mature wines match well with full flavoured game dishes and lean red meat, such as venison or fillet steak. Given its lighter body and lower tannins, you don’t want to overwhelm Pinot Noir with heavy or creamy sauces.
Pinot Noir is also grown in Alsace and the Loire Valley, where it produces some lovely red and rosés. Surprisingly, Germany is the world’s third largest producer of Pinot Noir and makes more than Australia and New Zealand combined! Here it is known as Spätburgunder (literally translates as ‘late Burgundian’) and traditionally these wines were lighter in body and colour than Pinots from warmer climates. Modern winemakers, however, are producing wines in a more international style, with a fuller body and flavour, and sometimes the addition of oak aging to add extra finesse and a vanilla note.
The New World
Pinot Noir favours a cooler climate, and so is constrained to small, specific areas of the new world where conditions are favourable. One country that has succeeded in producing top notch Pinot Noir is the USA. The cooler Pacific Northwest region, where the ocean helps to moderate the temperature is one such example. Oregon and California are the stand out producers of Pinot Noir in the US, where the wines have aromas of fresh, ripe cherry fruit and gentle tannins.
Other notable new world Pinot Noir regions, include Martinborough and Central Otago in New Zealand, which both produce wines with juicy red fruit flavours and fresh acidity. Although Pinot Noir is less predominant in Australia, it is grown successfully in parts of Victoria and the cooler climate of Tasmania, where the long ripening season suits this temperamental grape down to the ground and allows it to reach its full potential.
Did you know that the largest plantings of Pinot Noir in France are actually in Champagne? The role of Pinot Noir in sparkling wine production is sometimes overlooked, but in fact it plays a key role across the world. In Champagne, it brings complexity and structure to the Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier grapes to produce the best quality fizz. When only Pinot Noir is used, it is known as Blanc de Noirs.
It is also a key component of the blend for many Champagne-esque wines from the new world, such as Cap Classique in South Africa, as well as featuring in the tasty Cremant de Bourgogne and the highly underrated Italian sparkling wine Franciacorta.
If you would like to explore the diversity and complexity that Pinot Noir has to offer, Winebuyers has a great range just waiting to be discovered.