Pinot Noir 101

Paige Comrie

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Pinot Noir is one of the great grapes of the world. It’s incredibly expressive of the terroir, has the ability to age, and can be made in a wide range of styles, allowing winemakers to really play and articulate their abilities. It’s difficult to grow (so much so that it’s referred to as the “heartbreak grape”) , but the rewards are more than worth it.

Pinot Noir is grown all over the world, but a few regions are truly known for it. These include Burgundy, France, Oregon, and Sonoma.

WHERE IS PINOT NOIR GROWN?

Pinot Noir is the 10th most planted grape in the world. It enjoys the same climate as Chardonnay, so you’ll often find the two planted together.

Pinot Noir vines tend to prefer intermediate climates with long, cool growing seasons. For this reason, you’ll often find Pinot Noir growing in protected valleys or near large bodies of water.

France is the largest producer of Pinot Noir, followed by the USA, and then Germany. Due to its unique ability to reflect the terroir it’s grown in, each place has its own unique style and flavors that are portrayed by the wines.Some notable Pinot Noir regions are below with their typical styles.

Burgundy – The King of Pinot Noir

Burgundy is the O.G. in the Pinot Noir world. Here it is typically herbaceous and light in style, with earthy aromas and a nose full of mushrooms and wet leaves. There are floral aromas, like violets and roses, with some mild fruit smells that tend towards cherry. Often you’ll also find notes of black tea.

Oregon Pinot Noir

Oregon’s main wine grape is Pinot Noir and actually accounts for over 60% of their wine grape harvest for the state. Due to the microclimates in the state’s growing areas and the winemaker’s tendency to try new things, their wines tend to have a larger range in style. I’ve had everything from dark, muscly Pinot Noir to a more fruit-forward ripe Pinot, to a refined Burgundian-esque version… and everything in between! It’s not uncommon for wine makers to create single-vineyard Pinot Noirs that truly express the unique microclimates and soil types that are present in small areas, thus producing a full spectrum of Pinot Noirs. Perhaps the most famous for this is Ken Wright. I’m also incredibly fond of the husband-wife duo who craft Boedeck Cellars; in addition to producing single-vineyard Pinot Noirs, they also each craft their own bottle in their personally preferred styles.

California Pinot Noir

California is a large state with a vast range of climates. Depending on where you are, different styles are prevalent. Perhaps what first comes to mind are Napa Pinot Noirs, which tend to be fruit-forward and full of big, lush flavors such as ripe cherry, black raspberry, vanilla, cloves, and caramel. On the other hand, Sonoma tends to make more refined-style Pinot Noirs with high acid and beautifully complex flavors that range from earthy and meaty to fruity and light. Sonoma Pinot Noir tends to be more similar to old-world styles and are very food-friendly.

Chile Pinot Noir

South America is an up-and-comer to Pinot Noir and is growing it in areas with heavy ocean influence in the coastal mountain ranges. These wines tend to be affordably priced and lean more towards floral aromas and flavors.

Australia Pinot Noir

While not particularly known for their Pinot Noir (it doesn’t grow well in their climate, except in a few areas in the Western part of the country and near Mornington Peninsula), there still is a small volume that comes from Australia. You can expect it to tend to be sweeter and fruitier, leaning towards blueberries and blackberries.

New Zealand Pinot Noir

Central Otago is the main source of New Zealand’s Pinot Noir. Due to its location, it gets enough sunshine to fully ripen the grapes and produce a rich Pinot Noir similar in style to California. It tends to have fresh fruit flavors and some gamey notes.

Germany Pinot Noir

Germany’s France-bordering region “Ahr” tends to produce a majority of the country’s Pinot Noir. It lends itself to be earthy with plenty of cherry and sweet raspberry.

WHAT TO PAIR WITH PINOT NOIR

Pinot Noir is an incredibly food-friendly wine, but also makes for the perfect after-work glass on its own. It’s light enough to be served with fish such as Salmon, but can also stand up to heartier red-meat based dishes as well. Personally, I’d pair it with a pasta (especially something with a cream-based mushroom sauce, which would bring out those earthy flavors) or some sort of pizza (especially a white pizza; the high acidity will cut through the cream and cheese and bring out any herbs you seasoned the pizza with).

IS PINOT NOIR DRY?

Yes, most styles of Pinot Noir are dry. Depending on the producer and the region, however, it is likely to find a bottle bursting with fruit-flavors that make it seem “sweet” on the palate even though there is no residual sugar.

IS PINOT NOIR RED OR WHITE?

Pinot Noir is a red wine… in fact, Pinot Noir means “black pine”, referring to the tight clusters of black-colored berries that hang off its vines. The thin skins and low levels of phenolic compounds lends the grapes to produce mostly lightly colored, medium-bodied and low-tannin wines, dry wines.

Rose is often also made from Pinot Noir, by minimizing skin contact with the grapes to create a delicate pink hue in the wines.

Fun fact for you here… DNA analysis has revealed that Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Blanc are simply mutations of the same grape! (Regner et al. 2000b)

WHEN IS PINOT NOIR DAY?

Pinot Noir day is August 18th.

IN CONCLUSION...

Overall, I love Pinot Noir. It’s a common thread in the wine industry, but it’s a well-deserved trope. It’s a really interesting grape that puts vineyards and winemakers to the test while showcasing a lot about where and how the grapes were grown and the wine was produced. I’d love to hear what your favorite Pinot Noirs are!

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Paige Comrie is a Certified American Wine Expert and holds her WSET3 Advanced Certificate in Wine. She's passionate about helping connect consumers with great bottles of wine, and inspiring people to live the "wine lifestyle". This phrase, to her, means elevating the everyday, enjoying the little moments, and taking time to sip and savor everything life has to offer. In addition to wine and food, Paige also writes on the subject of Social Media and Digital Marketing, specifically focusing on the wine industry. Follow her on Instagram @winewithpaige

Napa, CA
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