A Beginner’s Guide to Pinot Noir

by Sara Rodrigo
pinot noir

Did you know that 18th August is International Pinot Noir Day? Let’s celebrate by discovering more about the history and origin of Burgundy’s quintessential grape variety, this unique grape’s characteristics, tasting notes and some mouthwatering food pairing suggestions.

The History and Origin of Pinot Noir

The variety has its origin in Burgundy, around the year 100 AD. The first documented mention of the grape, in the same territory, dates back to 1345. Its fame grew thanks to the quality of the wines it produced and, over the years, French monks moved the grape to the Rheingau region, where it has been cultivated since 1470.

One legend says that it arrived in Burgundy via the Haedui, a Celtic tribe from pre-Roman Gaul, after their invasions of Lombardy and other parts of Italy. Another legend says that it was brought by the Romans, although some sources suggest that the Romans already found it in the region.

Over the years, it became the property of the church. The monks used it in their sacraments and improved the variety by tending the vineyards. Around 1789, these vineyards were distributed to Burgundian families during the French Revolution, in a model of independent and managed vineyards, which still exists today.

Characteristics of Pinot Noir

There are several characteristics specific to this classic variety. Firstly, it’s a thin-skinned grape, which makes it more sensitive to temperature and general climate, as well as more susceptible to various diseases. To remain healthy, the vines must be cultivated continuously, which is also a time-consuming process.

pinot noir grapes

Pinot noir is one of the blends in most Champagnes. It is also one of the most appreciated grapes worldwide for single varietal wines. Pinot Noir grows best in colder climates, but it is easily affected by humidity and wind. It’s a very suitable variety for the production of sparkling wines and plays an important role in the creation of the best Cava.

Tasting Notes

Pinot Noir wine has an unusual russet red colour, with a luminous shine that’s unique among all wine grapes. As in almost all cases, the colour changes with age. When it’s young it has a ruby red or violet colour, however, after 8 to 10 years of ageing it obtains an orangey ochre colour.

On the nose, Pinot Noir wine is one of the most aromatic of all grape varieties. Aromas of berries, such as strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, plums and cherries usually predominate. We can also distinguish aromas of leather, violet and liquorice when the wines have aged in oak for several years. Blackcurrants and truffles also figure in its primary aromas.

The red wines produced by the pinot noir grape are low in tannins and are undoubtedly fine. In the mouth, they have a very subtle, fresh taste with fruity nuances. They are also aromatic, round, smooth, elegant and with an acidity that gives them life, without being an aggressive wine on the palate. In terms of texture and flavour, pinot noir is at the lighter end of red wines with an alcohol content of between 12 and 14 percent. For this reason, pinot noir wine is clear and almost transparent.

Burgundy – the Main Production Area

It is Burgundy’s red grape variety par excellence. Great wines are produced there due to the region’s favourable climate and the locals’ winemaking knowledge. The people of Burgundy have been making Pinot Noir wines for at least 1800 years after all! Within the Burgundy region, the best pinots in Europe are produced in a 50 kilometres long and 3 kilometres wide stretch known as the Côte d’Or. The limestone soil of the region is considered one of the best for its cultivation, as it contributes to the acidity and minerality of the wine.


In the Rest of the World

Other areas where pinot noir wine production has developed over the years include the United States, especially Oregon and California, Argentina and South Africa.

Oregon and California are among the best Pinot Noir producers in the world. The one produced in California tends to be fruitier and with sweeter notes, such as raspberry, vanilla or caramel. However, the wines produced in Oregon are typically lighter than Californian wines and have more acidity, with flavours such as blueberry and truffle.

Food Pairing with Pinot Noir

Being a light-bodied red wine, there are a wide variety of exquisite pairings. If you prefer a traditional wine and cheese pairing, pinot noir is perfect with softer, nutty cheeses such as Gruyère. Alternatively, it can be a perfect match for cheeses such as brie and camembert or semi-cured cheeses.

If you plan to open a bottle at dinner, try pairing the wine with lighter foods, such as fish, especially tuna and salmon, or Italian food, especially pasta and risotto. Older wines pair better with meats such as lamb, chicken, duck or venison. Always remember that the wine should not overshadow the food and vice versa.

Finally, we recommended serving it slightly cooler than room temperature. To reach the right temperature, leave the wine at room temperature in the fridge for 2 hours or in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Pinot noir food pairing with salmon

Now all that’s left to do is check out Drinks&Co’s huge selection of pinot noir, order your favourites and continue discovering the world of this marvellous grape, one delicious sip at a time.

Translated by Chelsea Cummings from Sara Rodrigo’s original Spanish article: ¿Cómo identificar los mejores Pinot Noir?.

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