is a black wine grape whose name is derived from the French words for ‘pine’ and ‘black’, alluding to the vine’s tightly clustered purple pine cone-shaped bunches of fruit. Pinot Noir grapes are grown around the world, mostly in cooler regions, but the grape is chiefly associated with the Burgundy
region of France
. It is widely considered to produce some of the finest wines in the world, but it is a difficult variety to cultivate and vinify.
To produce fine wines, Pinot Noir needs warm days, cool nights and a long, even growing period. If the grape receives too little heat in the growing season, its wines are thin and pale. Conversely, if the growing season is too warm, the wines have an overripe, ‘cooked’ flavor. The grape is a little like a petulant child, it doesn't like it too wet, too windy, too cold or too hot, it despises frost and can get 'burnt' if exposed to too much sunshine. The bunches are small and very tight so if one grape is affected by rot it spreads quickly throughout the bunch. Traditionally the French believed only they had the correct terroir
to produce Pinot Noir well but advances in vineyard management and winemaking techniques have made it more approachable the world over.
Pinot Noir causes more discussions and disputes in the wine world than any other grape variety. Most of this debate centers around which style best represents the ‘true’ Pinot Noir character. A Pinot Noir wine from Central Otago in New Zealand is very different to one from Pommard
in Burgundy, even to the untrained palate. Domaine Parigot Pommard 'Clos de la Channier' 1er Cru Pommard
is a great example of the latter style and yet both are unmistakably, unquestionably Pinot Noir. It is this strength of character that has made Pinot Noir such a successful grape variety. While Cabernet Sauvignon can be relied on to give good yields and make acceptable quality wine, Pinot is decidedly fussier, making either watery and acidic wines or some of the richest, most intensely perfumed wines on earth. Of all grape varieties Pinot Noir is the one that expresses it's surroundings the most. It can be planted on different soils and will taste slightly different, hence why the best reds from Burgundy can be produced a stones throw apart but display their own idiosyncratic nuances.
Pinot Noir produces a small crop, with low amounts of tannin and relatively high acid levels. The skin is very thin producing light-bodied wines that can be identified by their strong cherry and strawberry aromas and notes of undergrowth, savoury-ness, truffles and even farmyardy earthiness. Although Pinot Noir is typically used to make varietal red wines – such as those from the unique terroirs of Burgundy – in Champagne
, Pinot Noir is blended with Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier to create the region's famous sparkling wines. This successful blend has been adopted for sparkling wine production in regions as far apart as Alsace and Tasmania. The white juice is pressed straight out of the dark skins to produce white wines but if the skins are left in tact for a little while one can produce pink wine too. The grape is even used to make still white wines in eastern Italy.
The ageing potential for red Pinot Noir wines can range from 3 to 20 years, depending on the quality and style of the wine. This potential longevity combined with the low yields, tough viticulture and meticulous winemaking means Pinot Noirs can often command relatively high prices. The fact that Pinot Noir comes in all manner of styles and is very complex means it is very versatile with food. It is excellent with smoked or meaty fish, cheese, chicken/turkey, white meats, venison, game birds (particularly duck), mushrooms and roasted vegetables. Being a light style of wine it also lends itself to being served slightly cooler than one would normally serve red wine. In some parts of the world it is even served chilled to highlight the fresh quality of the fruit.