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Pinot Noir Grape Variety

pinot noir grapes in a vineyard

(PEE-noh-NWAHR)

Pinot Noir Origins

The “Pinot Noir” name is derived from the French words for “pine” and “black” alluding to the grape’s tightly clustered dark purple pine-cone shaped clusters of fruit. Due to Pinot Noir’s susceptibility to mutation, it maintains somewhat of an extended family—it’s widely used relatives such as Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Meunier have become well-known varieties on their own accord.

The cultivation of Pinot Noir (or Pinot, as it is often coined) dates back over 2000 years and today it is grown around the world. Pinot Noir is regarded as producing some of the most alluring and seductive red wines—and sparkling wines—in the world. André Tchelistcheff (d. 1994) is largely recognized as one of the modern fathers of California wine. He is famously quoted for declaring that “God made Cabernet Sauvignon whereas the devil made Pinot Noir.” His quote references the difficulties to grow good quality Pinot without a price—it takes painstaking efforts to produce it well.

Pinot Noir’s thin skin makes it highly susceptible to just about every possible disease infliction known to grapes. In addition, Pinot produces fairly low yields (particularly for making quality wines), which ultimately affects the selling price. With such challenging issues and overall limited production, good quality Pinots, when found, tend to be fairly expensive.

Pinot Noir Aroma and Flavor Components

Since Pinot maintains relatively thin skins and larger berries, they tend to contribute lighter color intensity than other red-wine grapes. The aromas and flavors can alternate between garden (earth, dust, peat moss, and mushroom) and dried red fruits (cherry, raspberry, cranberry, and black cherry), coffee shop (espresso, butterscotch, vanilla, clove, nutmeg, and anise), and subtle tobacco.

Pinot Noir Structural Components

Pinot Noir tends to be of light to medium body (depending upon hang-time and yield of the grapes), with low to medium levels of tannin, and medium to high acidity.

Pinot Noir Food Pairings

Pinot Noir is known to be the most food friendly wine. It pairs beautifully with a range of foods. Try it with turkey, game, fatty fish like salmon, and lean cuts of meats, like a rare to medium-rare Filet Mignon. Generally, middle-weight dishes with not a significant amount of fat will do very well with Pinot Noir wines. Mushrooms, truffles and roasted root vegetables are perhaps our favorite to pair with this wine. Semi-soft cheeses such as Gruyere, Comte and Gouda will also pair well with this wine. Creamy options include goat and brie, and more pungent options include Taleggio, Reblochon and Epoisses.

Pinot Noir Serving Tips

Generally, red wines should be served at around 55-60ºF. Put the bottle in the fridge for about 15 minutes before serving, that should do the trick. Serve Pinot Noir wines in a glass with a large, rounded bowl. High quality Pinot Noir can age up to a decade given ideal cellaring conditions.

Pinot Noir Significant Growing Locations

Pinot Noir thrives mostly in the cooler growing areas and is chiefly associated with France’s Champagne region—as well as Burgundy’s subregion of the Côte d’Or (coat-d-OR). New World locations include Oregon (Willamette Valley), California (Sonoma, Carneros, Russian River, Sonoma Coast, Sta. Rita Hills, and Santa Lucia Highlands), and New Zealand (Marlborough, Martinborough, and Central Otago).

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