5 Interesting Facts About Pinot Noir
How much do you know about Pinot Noir? The Pinot Noir grape and wine have become increasingly popular over the past two decades, gracing tables from the White House to Buckingham Palace. But what makes Pinot Noir so iconic? Here are five interesting facts about this timeless and esteemed grape that you might not know.
Pinot Noir is believed to be one of the first cultivated grapes in history.
We know that humans have worked with grapevines for millennia. But have you ever wondered what ancient wines might have tasted like?
Well, Pinot Noir may have been on the tasting menu as far back in history as Ancient Rome (around 2000 years ago). Pliny and Columella, two Roman writers (and important figures in history), documented Roman wine culture in the first century CE. These authors were some of the earliest to describe ancient wine grape varieties, including a grape that is thought to be an ancestor of Pinot Noir.
Columella wrote in detail about viticultural practices, including vineyard layout, planting density (how many vines to plant in an area of land), and even the best soil types for growing quality wine grapes.
Pliny, also known as Pliny the Elder, was a naturalist who authored a book on natural history for Emperor Titus. One volume of this book was dedicated to the grapevine. Similar to Columella, Pliny described optimal viticultural practices, including the use of pergolas, and the role of terroir to produce premium wine. Today, Pliny is most famous, perhaps, for the Latin expression “In vino veritas” – in wine there is truth.
The name ‘Pinot’ refers to the pinecone shape of the grape’s clusters.
Many grape varieties take their name based on some physical feature of the vine or grape such as the shape of the leaves, how the leaves look (shiny? hairy?), or the characteristics of the grapes and grape clusters. In the case of Pinot Noir, the grape clusters look like deep purple, almost eggplant-colored pinecones. Thus, the name ‘Pinot Noir’ which roughly translates to black (or dark) pine.
Pinot Noir’s pine cone shaped clusters also feature very tightly packed berries which makes the clusters more susceptible to any damage as it can so quickly spread throughout the cluster. If a bird decides to peck at the cluster or if there’s rain, then fungal rot sets in, destroying the bunch. This makes working with Pinot Noir vines challenging, demanding hands-on viticultural practices.
Pinot Noir is used to make Champagne.
Bubbles! We all need a little more celebration in our lives and sparkling wine means someone is celebrating something, somewhere. And if you’ve popped a Champagne cork recently, chances are that you’ve poured Pinot Noir into your glass.
Traditional French Champagne blends together three different grape varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Munier. Chardonnay adds acidity and green fruit while Pinot Noir adds structure, body, and aromatics. Pinot Munier, typically the smallest component in the blend, contributes fruit and floral notes.
Close to 90% of Champagnes use a blend of primarily red/black grapes (Pinot Noir or Pinot Munier or both) with a smaller % of white (Chardonnay) in the blend.
If you are asking ‘why are most Champagnes white, if they are made with red grapes’ the answer is in how the grapes are pressed for Champagne!
In Champagne, the winemaker will gently and carefully press the juice from Pinot Noir grapes, leaving the red skins (and most of the color and tannin) behind. Therefore, the juice itself stays clear, resulting in pale straw, lemon, or gold colored Champagne. The exception is with Rosé Champagne, which gets it’s pink coloring from allowing more time in contact with the red grape skins.
Blanc de Noir Champagne is made from 100% Pinot Noir.
Champagne labels can be difficult to decipher. Two sparkling wine label phrases worth knowing about are Blanc de Blanc (White of White) and Blanc de Noir (White of Red). These literally translate to mean that you have a white wine made from white grapes, or a white wine made from red grapes, respectively.
Blanc de Blanc will be a sparkling wine or Champagne that was made from Chardonnay grapes only.
Blanc de Noir will be a sparkling wine or Champagne that was made with Pinot Noir grapes (sometimes the wine can be made with Pinot Munier, but this is rare). What’s the difference between a regular blended Champagne that includes both red and white grapes, and a Blanc de Noir? The Blanc de Noir will have more weight and structure than your everyday bubbler, and be ever so slightly darker in hue.
In summary, Blanc de Blanc and Blanc de Noir carry meaning as traditional sparkling wine terms. You’ll see these on labels of sparkling wine made in France, but also on labels from sparkling wine producers around the world making traditional Champagne-style wines.
Outside of Champagne, Pinot Noir is not commonly blended with other varieties.
Many grapes benefit from being blended with other grapes or have long traditions of being blended with other specific and complimentary grapes. Take for instance Bordeaux wines which knits together Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc, among other varieties, to craft some of the most renowned wines in the world.
But some grapes stand on their own, shining in their varietal typicity. Pinot Noir is one such grape.
Pinot Noir folds in fresh red fruit – red cherry, strawberry, and plum – and rich floral notes, along with baking spices from oak. These aromas and flavors will evolve into an intoxicating combination of forest floor, mushroom, and potpourri over time. The grape’s aromatic intensity and ability to develop complexity in the bottle (in addition to the high cost and challenges involved in growing and making Pinot Noir) mean that Pinot Noir is seldom blended with other grapes.
However, like most things, there are exceptions.
Pinot Noir should be a light ruby color or in some cases a plum color but still with some translucence and clarity. You should be able to clearly see the stem of your wine glass when peering down from above. However, one challenge for winemakers working with Pinot Noir can be that some consumers equate a darker colored wine with higher quality. Knowing this, some producers blend in a little something to make the wine darker, such as a dash of Syrah.
As long as the final wine meets minimum labeling requirements, the producer isn’t obligated to disclose if the wine was blended, but a careful look at your glass can offer an unmistakable visual cue.
Are you looking to open a classic bottle of wine for your next special occasion? Pinot Noir offers enough complexity, elegance, and food friendliness to suit any occasion.
Discover your next great bottle by heading over to our wine store where we offer some fantastic Pinot Noirs from boutique wineries, or consider joining our Pinot Noir Club.