Learn about Pinot Noir — taste profile, popular regions and more ...
What Is Pinot Noir?
Pinot Noir is a black-skinned grape variety used to produce dry red and rosé wine, as well as sparkling wine. One of the most finicky grapes to grow, Pinot Noir demands a lot of attention in both the vineyard and winery. The combination of quality and complexity in Pinot Noir has made it one of the world’s most popular red wines. Pinot Noir is the greatest wine of Burgundy and proves that it is unquestionably worth the effort. In fact, it is the only red variety permitted in Burgundy.
Burgundy, whose cool climate and calcareous soils are perfectly suited for it, retains its status as the pinnacle of quality for Pinot Noir. Other fine French versions include those from Alsace and the Loire Valley. Germany and Italy also produce some Pinot Noir, while outstanding New World examples can be found from Oregon, California, New Zealand and South America.
The grape has gained even more glory as an important component of Champagne. Similarly, it is used in the production of many other sparkling wines from around the world.
Pinot Noir is believed to be over 2,000 years old, which makes it one of the oldest known wine varieties. Its parents and exact origin remain mysteries, but it is widely thought to have originated in northeast France, with Burgundy being the likely birthplace. From there it gradually spread to other cool climate regions like Champagne, Alsace and Sancerre in France. It traveled to Baden, Rheingau and others in Germany, as well as Alto Adige and Friuli in Italy. It wasn’t until late in the 20th century, though, that Pinot Noir gained a serious foothold in the New World.
Tasting Notes for Pinot Noir
Pinot Noir is a dry red wine that is relatively pale in color and is characterized by moderate tannins, moderate to moderate-plus alcohol and high acidity. Typical aromas and flavors include red fruit, savory herbs, earthy tones, black tea and violets. With age Pinot Noir wine can develop hauntingly alluring characteristics of fresh earth, savory spice and dried fruit. Pinot Noir is highly reflective of its terroir and therefore can offer a varied flavor profile, for example:
- Burgundy: Silky and ethereal, with cherry, cranberry, hibiscus, forest floor, mushroom, leather.
- Oregon: Complex and supple, with ripe red berries, dusty earth and loam.
- New Zealand: Concentrated yet balanced, with strawberry, cherry, wild herbs.
- California’s Russian River Valley: Can be bolder, with black cherry and plum, cola and dark loamy notes.
- California’s Sta. Rita Hills: Dynamic and vivid, with bright red fruit, oak and spice.
Pinot Noir Food Pairings
Pinot Noir is an incredibly versatile food wine. Its healthy acidity cuts through the oiliness of salmon or hearty texture of tuna but its mild-mannered tannins give it enough structure to pair the wine with all sorts of poultry: chicken, quail and especially duck. As the namesake wine of Boeuf Bourguignon, Pinot Noir has proven it isn’t afraid of beef. California examples work splendidly well with barbecue and Pinot Noir is also vegetarian-friendly—most notably with any dish that features mushrooms.
How to Serve Pinot Noir
As with all wines, temperature is crucial. A wine served too warm will seem out of balance, with the alcohol too “hot.” If too cold, the aromas and flavors are muted. Fuller, bolder styles of Pinot Noir are best at 65°F, while lighter styles are ideal from 55-60°F. As for Rosé and sparkling wines made from Pinot, serve at 50°F for the former and 40-45°F for the latter. If you don’t finish the bottle, re-cork it and place it in the refrigerator. It should stay nicely drinkable for 1-3 days. As for glassware, a classic red burgundy glass with a thin rim is perfect. These have a large bowl and taper towards the top.
Pinot Noir Facts
- Pinot Noir is a considered a “founder variety,” meaning it is a forefather of scores of wine grapes, including Chardonnay, Syrah, Gamay, Garganega and many more.
- Pinot Noir is genetically unstable and has many clones, including Pinot Meunier and the color mutations Pinot Gris (Grigio) and Pinot Blanc.
- Its name is believed to come from the resemblance of its grape clusters to pinecones, since the French word pin means pine.
Pinot Noir is typically a dry wine, which means there is little to no residual sugar. Thus, there are minimal carbohydrates, and there is no protein or fat. The caloric content comes from alcohol; a standard 5 ounce pour of Pinot Noir has about 120 calories.
Sommelier Secrets for Pinot Noir
For administrative purposes, the region of Beaujolais is often included in Burgundy. But it is extremely different in terms of topography, soil and climate, and the important red grape here is ultimately Gamay, not Pinot Noir. Truth be told, there is a tiny amount of Gamay sprinkled around the outlying parts of Burgundy (mainly in Maconnais), but it isn’t allowed with any great significance and certainly not in any Village or Cru level wines. So "red Burgundy" still necessarily refers to Pinot noir.
The most renowned Pinot Noirs in the world–Grand Cru Burgundies–can be extremely expensive, with top offerings selling for thousands of dollars per bottle. This is due to their quality, rarity and high demand from collectors. However, you can get tremendous bang for the buck by seeking out quality village-level Burgundies from good vintages. Quality Pinot Noir can age very well, even for decades.
Small Vines Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2014Pinot Noir from Sonoma Coast, Sonoma County, California