About Pinot Noir?
Pronounced pee-no-nwah - the name comes from the French words for 'pine' and 'black' - the word 'pine' reflecting the tight cluster of dark grapes that resemble a pine cone.
Pinot Noir wine is the subject of much discussion and argument in the world of wine. For lovers of bombastic, fruit-filled Cabernet, Pinot Noir can taste somewhat thin and weak. But those who love Pinot Noir wines love them unreservedly. For its most loyal devotees Pinot Noir, at its best, cannot be surpassed, especially those produced in its spiritual home of Burgundy.
Pinot Noir can produce wine of exceptional elegance, fit for Kings and Queens. But the fruit itself is extremely delicate and requires skilled handling. In fact it is called the 'heartbreak' grape because it is notoriously hard to grow. But get it right and its flavours are haunting, brilliant and thrilling.
The difficulty in growing, harvesting and processing Pinot Noir is often reflected in the cost: one of the world’s most expensive wines is made from Pinot Noir. It comes from the hallowed Domaine de la Romanée Conti in Burgundy, considered by many to be the world’s most prestigious wine region. Along with Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir is used to make some of the finest Champagnes in the world.
The grape commands respect for its ability to reflect its terroir. It is an outrageously thin-skinned grape that is very hard to grow, and is susceptible to a raft of vineyard diseases. Grown around the world, it prefers cooler climates for optimum growth. Pinot Noir is a more delicate wine than other red wine varietals, but no less complex. As a cool-climate grape, the wine it produces is light compared to Cabernet or Shiraz, but it is by no means a lightweight. Region makes a significant difference with Pinot Noir. Typically, Pinot Noir displays notes of cherries, wild strawberries, raspberries and vanilla. Earth, forest floor, truffles and spice, and gamey, meaty notes are often present. Elegance, finesse and silkiness are highly sought-after Pinot Noir characters. Soft, gentle tannins give Pinot Noir its unique silky mouth-feel. All Pinot Noir will gain some complexity and interest over at least a couple of years, but only the best examples have the potential to age well over the long-term.
Pairing with food
The best Pinot Noir is light and dry, and it is one of the most versatile reds when matching with food. It pairs most famously with duck. Roast chicken or pasta dishes also match well.
Interestingly it compliments oily, fatty fish like salmon or mackerel. The more tannic styles pair well with richer foods, such as game fowl or beef bourguignon, a dish from Burgundy in France, naturally. A cheese platter should include a creamy Brie, a blue with a little tang, and goats cheese with a bit of bite.
Notable regions for Pinot Noir
New Zealand - as little as 15 years ago, many doubted that new-world Pinot could rival the best from France. However cool-climate examples from Central Otago, Martinborough and Marlborough are doing just that. Today Pinot Noir is second only to Sauvignon Blanc in New Zealand’s production volume.
Central Otago - Gibbston Valley examples show sweet, soft, upfront fruitiness with flavours of raspberry, strawberries and fresh herbs and spicy notes. The warmer Bannockburn and Lowburn areas produce fuller, more tannic wines with cherries and dark fruit.
Marlborough - Marlborough produces fruitier yet subtle wine whereas signature Central Otago Pinot Noir is viscous, full-bodied and very muscular. Marlborough Pinot Noir features dark fruit aromas with a sweet fruit entry on the palate. Fine tannins enhance the flavours.
Martinborough - Martinborough examples show soft, dark cherry, plum and spice with a tight, firm structure and earthy characteristics. Exceptional New Zealand Pinot Noir can age well. However, in most instances, New Zealanders prefer to drink their Pinot while the delicate fruit flavours are still to the fore.
Tasmania, Australia - Australia’s cool-climate vineyards have made good Pinot Noir far more accessible in terms of taste and cost. Tasmania has uprooted a few green apple trees to make way for growing new Pinot Noir fruit. These wines from the island compare favourably with their equivalents from Burgundy, perhaps more so than any other Australian region. At its best Tasmanian Pinot Noir wine shows dark berries, cherry, spice and truffles, while remaining silky and elegant.
Victoria, Australia - Victorian Pinot Noirs are varied and regions influence the wines they produce. The Mornington Peninsula is known for fuller, more muscular wines that are full of fruit. Geelong boasts some of Australia’s leading boutique producers. Geelong wines are more savoury, with lots of power, while retaining the characteristic silkiness expected of Pinot Noir. The Yarra Valley produces soft, elegant, feminine Pinot Noirs with light fruit and herbal notes.
International - France: Burgundy. USA: Oregon, California. Italy: South Tyrol. South Africa: Walker Bay. Chile.