Uncorking the Secrets of Pinot Noir: A Guide to the Great French Red Wine
Pinot Noir is one of the great French vines, the genetic and spiritual father of many vines such as Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, and Pinot Blanc. All the pinots we know are mutated versions of Pinot Noir that in some cases has merged with other vines along the way.
Do not think that it is an exceptional case, indeed, families with such numerous offspring are often very common, just think about the family of Lambrusco, Malvasia, or Moscati. There are mutations, crosses, and clones, so we can safely say that there are no pure vines, apart from some exceptions that have remained isolated and, above all, have been saved by phylloxera.
There is no certainty about the origins of Pinot Noir; we don’t know where or how it was born, but the undeniable fact is that it, like its son Chardonnay, is from Burgundy.
That said, let’s move on to its peculiar characteristics and discover how to recognize Pinot Noir when we find it in the glass.
Organoleptic characteristics of Pinot Noir
The color is ruby when young but tends to garnet as it ages. It is transparent, not too dense, but above all, it is delicate in color. Never expect a Montepulciano-style ruby ink: if you find a dark-colored Pinot like Snow White’s hair, most likely it is not a very fine wine or, even worse, it has been cut with more powerful and overbearing vines.
Pinot Noir bouquet
Pinot Noir is the quintessence of elegance and finesse, it is delicate, fragrant, and ethereal, with fruity notes of small berries, hazelnuts, tea, light spices, moss, mushrooms, lacquer, currant, pine, resin, orange peel, and raspberries.
To give you an idea in broad terms, think about Barolo. You will notice many similarities on an aromatic level, however, the body, structure, and tannins of Pinot Noir are more delicate, and the acidity is more intense.
Of course, the French will tell you that in the best Pinots there must be perfumes like “merde de poule,” or rooster poop, and it’s kind of true. There are scents that we could call “wild,” an animal smell, but they are never too intrusive or omnipresent.
What does Pinot Noir taste like?
On the palate, it’s smooth, sharp, and slightly balsamic. It’s not a big, full-bodied wine, but it’s never sloppy. Tannins are determined but not overpowering. Acidity and finesse are the keywords when it comes to Pinot Noir.
With these characteristics of finesse, Pinot Noir is one of the most fascinating and sophisticated wines that you can find. It can age very well, not thanks to tannins, but to his acidity, which over time transforms and leaves room for an incredible series of ethereal sensations, exactly like Nebbiolo.
He loves cold climates with a strong climatic excursion that helps to develop acidity and finesse in aromas, and for this reason, he is usually reserved for the tops of the most ventilated and sunny hills. It is not a vine that has problems of maturation, rather, it tends not to load the grapes too much with sugar to avoid the alcohol degree and heaviness that can ruin its natural elegance.
Production areas of Pinot Noir in the world
The Burgundy region in the east of France is probably the most well-known place to grow Pinot Noir. Burgundy is renowned as the Pinot Noir capital of the world, and has been farming the grape for decades. Burgundy’s soils are rich in limestone, giving the wines a minerality and depth of flavor that are distinctive to the region. Also, the area has marine soils, which means that the land was made from ocean silt. This makes the soil full of minerals that are great for growing grapes. Burgundy’s climate is also perfect for cultivating Pinot Noir, with cold temps and moderate rainfall.
Burgundy is divided into various subregions, each with its own distinct terroir and Pinot Noir wine style. The Côte d’Or is divided into two main subregions, The Côte de Nuits and The Côte de Beaune.
The Côte de Nuits
The Côte de Nuits is a region of the Côte d’Or that is famous for producing amazing red wines. It is located in the northern part of the Côte d’Or. This subregion is where Pinot Noir is thought to have come from, and it has a number of wineries that are considered to be among the best in the world. In the Côte de Nuits, it is common for wines to be aged for a few years before they are sold. This lets the tannins in the wine soften and lets the flavors develop. These wines are renowned for their robust, flavorful profiles. Most of the soil in this region is made up of limestone and clay, both of which give the wines made here their own unique flavor. The villages of Gevrey-Chambertin, Chambolle-Musigny, and Nuits-Saint-Georges are located in the Côte de Nuits and are known for producing some of the best Pinot Noir in the world.
The Côte de Beaune
The Côte de Beaune is a region of the Côte d’Or that is well-known for the production of both red and white wines. It can be found in the southern part of the Côte d’Or. This particular subregion is known as the cradle of Chardonnay and is responsible for the production of some of the world’s most sophisticated and exquisite Pinot Noir wines. The wines produced in this region are lauded for having a moderate amount of tannins, in addition to a harmony of acidity and fruity flavors. Pommard, Meursault, and Volnay are considered to be some of the most prestigious crus for Pinot Noir in the Côte de Beaune.
In Italy, Pinot Noir from South Tyrol reaches a plateau in Mazzon, where it does well, and artisanal wineries make plenty of good bottles.
Another area of interest for production is New Zealand, with Central Otago and Marlborough as the main areas.
In the United States, Pinot Noir has found a home in the two most exclusive areas: Napa and Sonoma. If you can find some Pinot from Russian River and Carneros, try them: they are delicious and flashy. Maybe not fine and thin like those of Côte-d’Or, but very intense. Don’t miss the Pinot from Oregon, a cold and rainy region, especially the Willamette Valley bottles, which are indeed precious and super-juicy and full of charisma.
Australia also makes some great Pinot Noir wines, especially in the regions of Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula, which are known for their full, fruity flavors.
Pinot Noir is known as Spätburgunder in Germany, and it is produced in warmer locations such as Baden and the Pfalz. German Pinot Noir wines are known for having strong flavors of black fruit and spices and being rich and full-bodied.
And then there’s Champagne, the king of sparkling wines, an icon that embodies the most subtle and nervous interpretation that Pinot can take. It can be vinified in white, with no skin contact, or in rosé Champagne, with the must remaining in contact with the skins for only a few hours to make the base wine. It only needs to be dyed and scented before being used to make white base wine. But we don’t want to go any further, if you are interested in the transformation of Pinot Noir into sparkling wine, here is the Champagne page, where you will find all the information, photos, and curiosities about the king of wines.
Pinot Noir food pairings
Just like Barolo, Pinot Noir is perfect for pairing with mushrooms, porcini mushrooms, lamb kebabs, gnocchi with Bolognese, hamburgers, baked lasagna, truffle risotto, pasta Amatriciana. If you want to discover a thousand and more recipes suitable for Pinot Noir, take a look at our guide to pair Pinot Noir with food.