Hard to grow, easy to drink, Pinot Noir is a red wine variety with a thin skin that often produces elegant wines with delicate tannins and a wide range of aromas, going from the fruity and floral, to the earthy and sometimes even musky notes.
Pinot Noir is one of the world’s most popular grape varieties, the tenth most widely grown and one of the most often associated with premium wines. Because it ripens early, it is sensitive to disease, and it has a delicate skin, it tends to prefer cool climates that are not too humid, and it also requires careful handling to preserve the delicate bunches. This means that even at the entry-level, Pinot Noir tends to be a little more costly than sturdier, more all-terrain peers.
PINOT NOIR AROUND THE WORLD
The historical home of Pinot Noir is Burgundy, and some of the world’s finest (and most expensive) Pinots come from the different appellations within this French region, especially from the area known as Côte-d’Or. This is the heartland of Burgundy and it is divided in a variety of subregions, among which Côte de Nuits (and its more granular villages) tends to be acknowledged as one of the best for premium Pinot Noir.
While delving into the complex and extensive system of Burgundy’s appellations would be more suitable for a textbook, it is worth pointing out that there is a specific hierarchy that begins with basic Bourgogne Blanc or Rouge (Chardonnay or Pinot Noir respectively), continues with Regional and then Commune appellations, and ends with Premier Crus and Grand Crus at the very top.
Looking for key names to recognise on a label? Add Gevrey-Chambertin, Nuits-Saint-Georges, Beaune and Pommard to the list.
Pinot Noir not only produces beautiful still red wines, it also dazzles in sparkling, such as Crémant de Bourgogne in the case of Burgundy, and of course, for the world-famous Champagne.
When used for bubbles, Pinot Noir becomes a team player, as it is one of the varieties that can be used in the production of Champagne. Often blended with Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier, but sometimes on its own, in what is known as a Blanc de Noirs.
Further north, Alsace is a less-famous but quite appealing region for cool-climate Pinot Noir. Outside of France, it thrives in the North of Italy where it is sometimes known as Pinot Nero, in Switzerland, Austria and in Germany, where regions such as Pfalz and Baden are highly regarded as top places.
In the New World, high-quality Pinot Noir hails from many locations. Since the 1976 Paris Wine Tasting, California has earned an excellent reputation, and within it, regions such as Carneros, Sonoma and Santa Barbara, are regarded as some of the best. However, in recent years, the Southern Hemisphere has upped its game.
In New Zealand, Central Otago consistently achieves the highest praise, although there is plenty of fine Pinot Noir in Marlborough, The first tends to be more complex and ‘Burgundy-style’ and the latter, fruitier yet also very elegant.
Chile, which is blessed with numerous pockets of cool climate, coastal lands, mass-produced Pinot Noir of good and even very good quality is common. But the South American country is not only a source of decent cheap and cheerful Pinot, regions such as Casablanca, Bio-Bio, Leyda and San Antonio are great options for top quality.
As for South Africa, a small production of fine Pinot hails from Walker Bay, and in Australia, Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula are the places to look at.
Light and fruity
Because Pinot Noir is thin-skinned, winemakers must treat it carefully and vinify it in a way that allows for mindful extraction of colour, flavour and tannin. Young Pinot Noirs will often show red-fruit aromas such as cherries and strawberries, and in some cases, very pleasant floral notes (think violets).
Expect light to medium body and smooth, gentle tannins. Even at premium levels, you’ll find young and unoaked Pinot Noirs, and they will be more intense and complex than their lower-tier counterparts.
- Windy Peak Pinot Noir Single Bottle – €17.50, available at wineonline.ie
- Geil Pinot Noir – €18.95, available at Mitchell & Son, Green Man Wines, The Wicklow Wine Co., Baggot Street Wines
- Buissonnier Bourgogne Côte Chalonnaise Pinot Noir – €19, available at Curious Wines, Baggot Street Wines
Mature and earthy Pinot Noir
Unlike many red wine varieties, Pinot Noir is not too loud, and a light-touch approach tends to work better when integrating it with oak and the flavours it confers. It is common for premium Pinot Noir to be matured in oak barrels (often used) for 12 to 24 months.
On the palate, mature Pinot Noirs are wines of refined and complex profiles, and when they’re oaked, they feature a subtle spiciness, a fuller body and enhanced tannins. Expect these wines to develop with age and achieve gamey, earthy notes. Flavour indicators such as ‘forest floor, mushrooms and petrichor’ are often achieved in bottle with time.
- Leyda Pinot Noir Reserva – €14.95, available at O’Briens Wine.
- Tinpot Hut Pinot Noir – €22.95, available at Mitchell & Son, Clontarf Wines, Martin’s Off Licence, Baggot Street Wines
- https://www.thetaste.ie/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/La-Reserve-8-1.png Curley Nuits-Saint-George – €60, available at Deveneys, Martin’s Off Licence, McHughs
Pinot Noir’s fruity and floral disposition makes it a lovely base for rose wines. While more established regions such as Burgundy are more likely to stick to the reds, one can find lovely pink Pinots from Australia, New Zealand and California.
- La Petite Perriere Pinot Noir Rose – €9, available at SuperValu
- Petit Bourgeois Pinot Noir Rosé – €15.95, available at O’Briens Wine
- Sipp Mack Pinot Noir Rosé d’Alsace – €19.95, available at Mitchell & Son
As we mentioned at the beginning of this guide, Pinot Noir also produces incredible sparkling, however, we’ll look at that style in a dedicated spotlight on bubbles.
When thinking about food pairings and Pinot Noir, it’s worth remembering three common characteristics of wines from this variety: soft tannins, medium body and fruity aromas in youth, developing into earthy as it ages. This said, you might want to shy away from dishes that are too overpowering and choose instead recipes with flavours that compliment the wine.
- For light, unoaked, young Pinot Noir – Try grilled trout or salmon (yes, red wine and fish, we went there), roasted chicken or mild cheeses such as Comté or Gruyère (or go big and have fun with fondue!). If you’re looking for something casual and easy, pair your pinot Noir with a slice (or three) of pizza.
- For more complex, young, premium Pinot Noir – You can amplify the wine’s notes with gamey poultry and delicate sauces. Think duck or turkey, or dishes with mushrooms, berries, figs and other ‘forest flavours’. A mushroom risotto can also be a wonderful fit.
- Aged, premium Pinot Noir – For a truly decadent pairing, bring out the truffles or the rich, aged, intense cheeses (perhaps Morbier, Camembert), or accompany with gamey red meat like venison or lamb. If you’re looking to impress, classic dishes such as coq au vin or beef Wellington can also work.
Pinot Noir-loving recipes from our archive
WRITTEN BY GABY GUEDEZ