Pinot Noir is different from many other varietals in that it is especially difficult to grow, it’s sensitive to soil types, weather, moisture, and sun, and it bruises easily, which often requires hand harvesting. The thin skin of Pinot makes it fragile and tricky for winemakers to handle and work with, which explains its “high maintenance” reputation. What this translates to for the consumer is that it is difficult to make good quality Pinot Noir, and it is even more challenging to make good quality Pinot Noir that is also affordable. Although considered an extreme challenge, winemakers tend to be motivated rather than hindered by the finicky nature of the pinot noir grapes.
Why Grow Pinot Noir?
Many people ask, if the wine is so difficult to make, then why make it? The answer is because when it is done properly, you are left with one of the worlds most outstanding, delightful red, Rose, or sparkling wines. Pinot Noir is an ancient grape whose use dates back to the first century AD in Burgundy, and is said to be only one or two generations removed from the wild. When dealing with a wine grape with a history that has lasted this long and produces something so delectable, the end result is worth the time and frustration the winemakers face.
Complications with Pinot Noir
With thin skin, susceptibility to disease, genetic instability, fermentation challenges, and finicky terroir expressiveness, Pinot Noir is sensitive to nearly every aspect of wine making. If one or more of these problems occur in the wine making process, the result can be a thin, lackluster wine. The thin skin of the grape leads to the wine having less color and tannins than Pinot Noirs sister varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel. Compared to Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir is much less hardy of a grape, must stay on the vine for a longer period of time, and requires low yields to prevent issues.
Pinot Noir’s Best Growing Regions
The best expressions of the grape are produced in dry, cool climates with stony, chalky, well-drained soil. The Burgundy region of France is considered the world’s greatest Pinot Noir producer, however Oregon, New Zealand, and California make exceptional Pinots as well.
In California the grape is slightly higher in alcohol than in France and produces a darker, fleshier, riper, more medium-bodied and concentrated wine. The finest Pinots in California are produced in Sonoma, specifically the Russian River Valley appellation, and along the Central Coast. The growing regions along the Central Coast include: Sta.Rita Hills, Santa Maria Valley, and Santa Barbara.
In the Champagne region of France where Pinot Noir grows, it is often used as a blending grape. Here it blends with Pinot Meunier and, or Chardonnay to make a blend called Blanc de Noir. Pinot Meunier is a clonal mutation sharing the same DNA as Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, but is less celebrated than its renowned counterparts Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Pinot Noir Characteristics
As mentioned earlier, Pinot Noir’s thin skin results in a lighter colored and bodied wine, which is why the red wine is often a garnet ruby red, and has a light to medium body. Pinot Noir offers aromas and flavors of red fruit including strawberry, raspberry, and cherry, with embellishments of spice, leather, and tobacco. The red wine has low tannins, higher acidity, and an overall complexity to it.
Sometimes Pinot Noir is blended with other varieties such as Syrah to make stronger wines or ones with different characteristics, but if this is done, the wine is not considered a 100 percent pure Pinot Noir.
Pinot Noir Food Pairings
Pinot Noir is one of the wines most well paired with food. The versatility of this wine allows it to pair with cheeses, meats, and meaty fish options. Roasted chicken, lamb, veal, duck, mushroom based dishes, tuna, and salmon are all matches with the wine. Asian food is a particularly suitable genre of food since you can mix meats and seafood that pair well with Pinot Noir.
If you love Pinot Noir be sure to check out our Pinot Noir Wine of the Month Club that features 2 small production, award-winning Pinot Noirs each month.