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Categorized | Red Wine

Wine 101-Pinot Noir


  • pinot noir Wine 101 Pinot Noir

About Pinot Noir

Adored by critics, prized by collectors, Pinot Noir is one of most tantalizing yet temperamental varietals in the world. For many wine enthusiasts, this is part of the appeal of Pinot– it doesn’t reveal its charms easily.

Pinot Noir’s virtue also stems from the unique characteristics of the grape. The skins are especially delicate, which accounts for the lighter color and body of finished wine. But, despite the delicacy, the best wines have excellent backbone and length, providing aromatic intensity unlike any other grape.

Pinot Noir’s finicky nature manifests itself both during cultivation and vinification. Vines are sensitive to spring frosts, parasites, and viruses. Pinot Noir is also one of the more challenging grapes to ferment, as the 18 amino acids in the grape often ferment violently. When this occurs, the fermentation often speeds up beyond the winemaker’s control, limiting his ability to craft the wines to his specifications.

But, when all goes right, in a vintage with forgiving weather, and after a cooperative fermentation process, the results can be spectacular. We emphasize "can" because one more factor is critical: the vineyard. The best Pinot Noir vineyards are high in minerals, have excellent drainage, and are farmed to low yields. These top vineyards can be found in Burgundy’s Cote d’Or, in the villages of Gevrey Chambertin, Chambolle Musigny, Vosne Romanee, and Nuits St. Georges.

Finally, the buyer of Burgundies must pay close attention to the vintage, since these delicate grapes are respond poorly to both heat and cold. While under-ripeness has been the historical problem in Burgundy, uncharacteristically hot years can also produce excessively tannic and alcoholic wines. Within the last decade, the standout vintages are 2002 and especially 2005.

Pinot Noir from New World locales like California, Oregon, and New Zealand show greater range than the classic red fruit and earth notes of Burgundy, ranging from soft, super-ripe, and chocolaty-sweet flavors in some California bottlings to red fruit, floral and mineral-rich flavors in top examples from Oregon and New Zealand.

Considering California first, while many Burgundy fanatics dismiss California Pinot Noir, arguing that these wines are overly ripe and lush, the state also produces plenty of more subtle, Old World leaning wines. For an example of a richer California Pinot, look to Williams-Selyem; but for more restrained examples, consider wines from Arcadian Winery or Calera Wine Company.

Moving north, Oregon’s mild climate on the Pacific side of the Cascade Range allows the fruit to ripen gently, helping craft nuanced, harmonious wines that can be consumed immediately but also promise to reward cellaring. 2004 was an outstanding vintage for the Willamette Valley. We recommend wines from Adelsheim, Chehalem, and Ponzi.

New Zealand, the final region worth noting for Pinot Noir, combines a temperate climate with a lengthy growing season. These conditions allow for the production of hefty wines with ripe, harmonious acidity and rich dark fruit aromas and flavors. Consider wines from Escarpment and Felton Road.


Recommended Growing Regions: Burgundy (France); Carneros, Santa Barbara, Sonoma (California), Oregon, New Zealand
Flavor Profile: Bright red fruit flavors with substantial minerality and earthiness
Food Pairings: Roast chicken, salmon, game birds
Other Notes: Since Pinot Noir is an especially finicky grape, pay careful attention to the specific vintage

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