Pinot Noir Wine & Grape Variety Profile
Commonly referred to as the “noble grape” or “red burgundy,” Pinot Noir is a blue-tinged grape variety that’s classified under the vitis vinifera species of grape vine. This fussy grape makes a popular red wine and originates from Burgundy, France. A French designation, the word “Pinot” translates to “Pine,” as a reference to the way the grapes cluster together on the vine, similar to a pinecone. “Noir,” also French, translates to “black”, referring to the color of the dark, thin-skinned grape.
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We can trace the drinking of Pinot Noir wines back to sometime during the first century – when the ancient Romans recorded drinking it not long after they captured much of the Gaul region – which is now France.
There is no definitive evidence as to when exactly the grape was first fermented and enjoyed, though needless to say it has been around for a long while.
While Burgundy continues to produce some of the finest Pinot Noir wines in the world, high-quality Pinot Noir is grown and made today in many cooler climates around the world.
In fact, a recent worldwide tasting has shown that certain wine regions within New Zealand are producing some of the best value Pinot’s in the world.
While demand for this light red wine has increased dramatically, the grape itself tends to be finicky and relatively difficult to grow. As such, prices for the wine have increased in recent years.
What Does Pinot Noir Taste Like?
Typically, younger Pinot Noirs taste less complex, and red fruit notes tend to be the most prominent. As Pinot Noirs age, their complexity is enhanced, revealing more earthy and smokey mineral notes.
Pinot Noir classically displays bright red cherry, raspberry, strawberry, cranberry, plum, currant, and pomegranate notes. Warmer climate Pinots tend to lean more towards richer black cherry. Secondary notes typically include gravel, chalk, mushrooms, earth, spice, and light oak.
Pinot Noir Food Pairings
For many, Pinot Noir is an any-occasion wine. It’s light enough that it can be enjoyed throughout the summer months and can be paired with almost any fish. Pinot Noir is also diverse enough in flavor that it works well with some meats and cheeses.
Pinot works beautifully with classic French dishes like cassoulet or soupe à l’oignon gratinee. Lighter Pinots can also work with salade Niçoise.
Pinots pair well with heavier fatty, oily fish, like salmon and sardines as well as aged cheddar and gouda. It’s become a favorite for holiday meals with roasted turkey or ham along with the many side dishes like roasted vegetables and gravies.
Climate and Terroir for Pinot Noir
A red, fickle grape, originating and made famous in Burgundy, France, Pinot Noir is now grown in many countries around the world. In fact, Burgundy almost exclusively grows Pinot Noir as its sole red wine grape variety. Needless to say, they’ve gotten pretty good at it over the years!
Pinot Noir vines require soil that is both aerated and drains well for optimal growth. These vines are typically rooted in soil with high concentrations of gravel, chalk, and/or clay. Climate-wise, the vine needs warm (but not hot) sun-filled days and crisp cool evenings with minimal weather variation before harvesting.
The grape itself has a thin skin (hence low tannins), which unfortunately makes it easily susceptible to disease and rot. All things considered, winemakers must watch their crops closely. Even the most experienced Pinot Noir winemakers can have trouble growing this variety, though some terroirs make for easier cultivation than others.
RELATED: Taste Pinot Noir in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, Which is on Burgundy’s Parallel
How is Pinot Noir Aged?
Due to the high acid, Pinots can age for many years, particularly when from cooler climates like Burgundy. In fact, the age-worthiness of Burgundies is why they remain highly sought-after and collectible wines year after year.
When Pinot Noir grapes are overripe, the resulting wines lack the acidity necessary for aging. That doesn’t mean these can’t be enjoyed immediately because they’re typically very approachable!
Try these gorgeous expressions of Pinot Noir from around the world:
- Joseph Drouhin, Beaune, ‘Clos des Mouches,’ Premier Cru, Côte de Beaune, Côte d’Or, Burgundy, France
- Faiveley, Mazis-Chambertin Grand Cru, Gevrey-Chambertin, Côte de Nuits, Côte d’Or, Burgundy, France
- Jean-François Merieau, ‘Hexagonales,’ Loire, France
- Bergström, Gregory ranch, Yamhill-Carlton District, Willamette Valley, Oregon
- Foxen, Santa Maria Valley, Central Coast, California
- Merry Edwards, Russian River, Sonoma County, California
- Escarpment, ‘Kupe,’ Martinborough, New Zealand
- Ravines, Finger Lakes, New York
Learn About These Other Wine Grape Varieties
Written By Jamie Metzgar
Jamie Elizabeth Metzgar began her career in wine by pouring in a tasting room on the East End of Long Island, NY. After moving to New York City, she landed a position at Chambers Street Wines where she was encouraged to pursue wine education at the Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET). She earned Level III certification there and has since earned California Wine Appellation Specialist and Certified Specialist of Wine certifications as well. After way too many moves, she has recently landed in Northern California where she is compiling an unofficial roster of dog-friendly tasting rooms.
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Pinot Noir Wine Profile & Food Pairings
Red – (Cherry, Plum, Raspberry, Strawberry, Cranberry, Guava, Currant, Pomegranate)
Earth & Mineral Tones
Shale, Chalk, Clay, Gravel
Light Oak, Smoke, Spice, Earth, Mushroom
Structure & Body
In the glass, Pinot Noir is typically translucent in color and light to medium in body. A traditionally dry wine, it emits obvious hints of bright red fruit on the palate and through its aromas. Yet these flavors are not particularly rich and tannin elements are subtle. The lighter, velvety feel combined with a low tannic content and medium-high acid makes Pinot Noir particularly easy to drink.
Finish Smooth, Floral, Medium
Despite Pinot Noir being rooted in France, it pairs particularly well with most Italian dishes. Especially tomato-based sauces and dishes.
Heavier fatty, oily fish, like salmon and sardines.
Aged Cheddar, Gouda
Additional Pinot Noir Pairing Ideas
Salmon, Sushi (Tempura and heavier fish preferably), Steak (Lean), Poultry (Grilled), Pork (Grilled), Duck (with spicier and heavier bodied Pinot's), Lamb, Grilled Vegetables
Had some French Pinot noir it seems to be less fruity than our pinot
From where in France, Dave? Old World Pinot Noir does tend to be more earthy and tertiary-forward. Especially when you’re comparing something like a Burgundian to a Napa Valley Pinot. Most of this has to do with the climate and production techniques. If you compare a Willamette Pinot to a Red Burgundy however, sometimes you can find some similarities because they’re on the same latitude.