Wine Basics--Pinot Noir
Pinot noir grapes
Pinot noir is one of the most popular wines in the world, but it is also one of the most difficult to grow. The origins of the grape are unknown, but the varietal is genetically unstable, meaning it tends to mutate rapidly. While this has led to interesting offshoots in their own right (pinot gris and pinot blanc to name a few), it can also be confounding to vintners who struggle to maintain consistency in the wine they produce. Further confounding the search for a great pinot noir is its chameleon quality, enabling it to change significantly once allowed to breathe or over time in the bottle. These difficulties in production combined with the high demand make pinot noir one of the more expensive wines in the cellar. However, when pinot noir is grown and bottled with skill, its silky texture and wonderful fruit notes make it one of the most enjoyable wines available.
Clime and Regions
Pinot noir grapes demand a long, cool growing season, and are extraordinarily finicky—time from ripening to rotting is very short and they plant tends to be ridiculously susceptible to every disease and plague that nature can conceive. Following with the grapes’ sensitivity, the taste of a particular vintage of pinot noir tends to be highly reflective of its terroir (the characteristics bestowed on wine by geographical region; traits that encompass soil, weather, and farming techniques), especially the soil clime in which the vines are grown.
The grape is largely associated with the Burgundy region of France, though it is now grown around the world, with some of the most well received regions being California, Oregon, and New Zealand.
Typical glass for serving pinot noir
Pinot Noir Glasses
Pinot noir tends to be medium bodied and smooth and silky in the mouth, with hints of black cherry and currant—usually the younger the wine, the more fruit forward it is. Sometimes the wine has spice to it, or even a slight vegetative quality. The tendency of pinot noir to have subtle but rich, rewarding flavors makes it an excellent food wine, espeically when paired with chicken, pork, and fish.
The wine should be served in a burgundy/pinot noir glass--a large, bowl-shaped glass; the bowl allows the bouquet to unfold to the fullest while the shape of the rim directs the wine to the areas of the tongue that best taste the fruit without causing the acidity to overwhelm the palate. (I higly recommend Reidel when investing in wine glassware).
French pinots are often more earthy (sometimes called “barnyard”) than new world versions, and can develop well over time, peaking at 15 to 20 years. As they age, they can develop a deep complexity of floral, chocolate, smoke, and violet hints.
New world pinots tend to be bigger and fruitier than their French counterparts. California pinots are often lighter and can be very fruity, with strong hints of berries and ripe grapes. New Zealand pinots also tend to have strong hints of fruit, but tend to be much more acidic than Californian versions. New world pinots tend to not have the longevity of the Burgundian wines and peak at 5 to 8 years after bottling.