Episode #5 of the course Wine basics: Top ten wine varietals by Saffron Hickey
Today, our top wine varietal is Pinot Noir (pe-no nwahr). This red wine grape is one of the oldest varietals in the world. It is related to Pinot Grigio, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Menieur. The grape is prone to disease and often inconsistent or unpredictable. Despite growing difficulties and low yields for the winemaker, these qualities make good Pinot Noir sought after and more expensive.
Pinot Noir is lighter in color and body than other reds, with fragrant berry aromas and flavors ranging from cola to truffles. It has low tannin, though a new technique called “whole cluster fermentation” results in increased tannin by fermenting grape bunches whole, stems included.
Pinot Noir is associated with Burgundy but is grown widely in France. Like Chardonnay, it is a major varietal for traditional Champagne blends. The well-balanced style of Burgundy Pinot Noir is emulated in Oregon. California is another significant producer, offering wines with higher alcohol content and spice elements. These traits are also found in New Zealand Pinot Noir. Though Germany is famous for white wines, Pinot Noir is its traditional red grape and goes by the name, Spätburgunder, meaning late-ripening pinot.
Note: The scents and tastes people perceive in wine vary greatly depending on individual palates, production methods, climate, and more.
Sweetness: Pinot Noir is a dry red wine with low tannin and medium acidity.
Appearance: Pale berry red to garnet red, noticeably transparent.
Aromas and flavors: Cranberry, cherry, raspberry, blackberry, mushroom, earth, cola, nutmeg, vanilla, cloves, cinnamon, caramel. Flavors vary depending on climate and soil type. Overripe grapes produce jammy flavors, while aging intensifies notes of mushroom and game.
Body: Light- to medium-bodied.
Aging: Pinot Noir is a delicate wine and can respond unpredictably to aging. A moderate amount of aging in French oak brings out sweeter caramel and baking spice flavors and gives the wine a silky texture. High-end Pinot Noir may mature in the bottle for anything from two to ten-plus years; this leads to a deep garnet or amber color and savory notes.
Pinot Noir’s low-to-medium body, acidity, and tannins make it very adaptable for food pairings. Pair with anything from roast beef sandwiches to braised or roasted game (e.g. quail, pheasant) to tomato-based pasta dishes. Burgundy Pinot Noir is excellent with classic French foods like boeuf bourguignon, coq au vin, or filet mignon. Showcase Pinot Noir’s subtler flavors by pairing with related foods, such as mushroom risotto or desserts with caramel elements.
Pinot Noir varies greatly between vintages, so when reading menus or labels, ensure the information is accurate to that specific vintage. Younger vintages are reliable in freshness and flavor, while older vintages of only the highest quality are desirable. Be aware that Pinot Noir’s higher prices are a consequence of demand first and quality second, so higher prices are not necessarily indicative of excellence.
As Pinot Noir is so sensitive to land and climate, place of origin is particularly significant. French Pinot Noir is light and earthy, while German Spätburgunder is dominated by raspberry and cherry. Oregon leans toward mushroom and cherry, while California Pinot Noir offers cola, caramel, and baking spices. New Zealand is also spice-based with fragrant fruit notes.
Tomorrow, learn about the luscious Merlot!
Deutsches Weininstitut, n.d. Spätburgunder. Bodenheim, Germany: Deutsches Weininstitut.
Douglas, Ellie, 2016. Pinot Noir. London: Decanter.
Puckette, Madeline, 2013. Amazing Pinot Noir Wine Facts. New York, NY: Wine Folly.
Puckette, Madeline, 2014. 5 Facts on Pinot Noir That You Should See. New York, NY: Wine Folly.
Laloganes, John P., 2010. The Essentials of Wine with Food Pairing Techniques. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.
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