Compared to many other black grapes, Pinot Noir is lightly pigmented and the wines it produces can be deceptively pale. But when it’s great, as Robert Parker, the US wine critic, says: ‘Pinot Noir produces the most complex, hedonistic and remarkably thrilling red wine in the world.’
The downside is that Pinot Noir can be a bit more expensive than other wines, as it is notoriously difficult to grow successfully. It is susceptible to many diseases, in particular, Grey Rot. Furthermore, quality can be adversely affected by high yields.
The grape mutates easily and several of the resulting varieties have been very successful. In fact, one, Wrotham Pinot was discovered in England. Gamay Beaujolais is another famous clone of Pinot Noir.
Countries of Production
Pinot Noir is best known for the wines of Burgundy in the eastern central part of France. The vineyards in this region slope to the southeast, resulting in lengthy sun exposure without too much afternoon heat. These climatic conditions, along with the well-drained soil, ensure that the grape thrives.
Elsewhere in France, it is planted in Sancerre and Alsace, where it makes good rosé. However, it has also become popular worldwide with the US producing good Pinot Noir, particularly in Oregon and California. The best of these come from the Pommard and Wadensvil clones.
Interestingly, Pinot Noir is increasingly planted in the UK, mostly for use in sparkling wine blends. An English winery, Chapel Down, recently won a bronze accolade for their Pinot Noir at an international wine competition.
In Germany and Austria it is known as Spätburgunder. However, it does not ripen well and tends to produce very light wines.
New Zealand Pinot Noir has become popular of late having won many international accolades. The moderate climate and long growing season, particularly in the Marlborough region results in a complex wine with great depth.
Pinot Noir is very sensitive to production methods and terroir and these factors can have a huge bearing on the bouquet and taste of the end product. These extreme variations can make life difficult for wine tasters. Generally though, the wine is light to medium bodied with black cherry, raspberry or currant flavours, often with an edge of ripe tomato or mushroom.
Traditional red burgundy is said to have a barnyard essence and can age well, developing a floral bouquet.
Although the biggest clue to identifying Pinot Noir tends to be its paleness in the glass, new wines coming through from New Zealand and California are more intense in hue.
Matching with Food
Being a light-bodied red, Pinot Noir has a real propensity for meaty fish dishes, such as Salmon and Swordfish. Of course, most classic French dishes were made for Pinot Noir. Traditionally, the ‘vin’ in Coq Au Vin is Pinot Noir. Just don’t spend too much on the wine for cooking, as the complexity of the wine will be wasted on the dish.
Starter — Poached Salmon
Main — Coq Au Vin
Dessert — Cheeseboard of Bleu D’Auvergne and Gruyere
Essentially, the trick with matching Pinot Noir to food is, keep it simple and stay away from heavy spicing that can mask the wine’s complexity.
Did you know?
Pinot Noir is a crucial component in Champagne blends.
The Pinot Noir grape variety was the first fruit to have its genome sequenced.