Pinot Noir is one of the finest red grape varieties of them all and after decades of being in the background it is now starting to make a significant impact on the wine world.
The origins of Pinot Noir are in France, particularly in the vineyards of the Côte d’Or of Burgundy where the region’s finest red wines are produced; wines such as Nuits-St-Georges, Beaune and Gevrey-Chambertin all 100% Pinot Noir. The other very important area in France for Pinot Noir is the Champagne region where, along with Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier, it is an intrinsic component in arguably the world’s most famous wine.
So why then has it taken so long for this wonderful variety to achieve success in other parts of the world?
Pinot Noir is a notoriously difficult grape to grow. It is very particular about the soil it is planted in and climate is critical it is a variety that needs cool conditions. It is susceptible to a host of diseases and the only way to produce good Pinot Noir is to keep yields extremely low. Additionally, even if you manage to successfully produce good grapes this fickle variety is difficult to turn into wine; its thin skin usually gives wine that is relatively light both in colour and body with low tannins that can result in unpredictable ageing. Pinot Noir tends to produce wines that are elegant rather than huge fruit driven styles wines that you have to go and look for rather than blockbusters that leap out at you.
If, however, you are able to find the right vineyard conditions and you have the skill to vinify the wine well then the results can be breathtaking. When young the wine from Pinot Noir tends to be reminiscent of juicy red fruits cherries, raspberries and strawberries. As it ages the wine will often take on fuller, meatier characteristics with earthier, vegetal notes adding depth and complexity. Whatever the age of the wine, Pinot Noir tends to have an excellent structure based on a backbone of firm, elegant acidity. This characteristic makes it a wine ideally suited to partner rich or fatty dishes duck, goose or lamb are an excellent match, the acidity of the wine cutting through the richness of the food.
Outside of France the some of the finest example of Pinot Noir can be found in New Zealand, especially in Central Otago, Marlborough and Martinborough. Here the cooler climate is perfect for the grape and it is New Zealand’s most widely grown red grape and second only to Sauvignon Blanc in overall plantings. Many of the New Zealand Pinot Noirs are superb and when one considers that most of the vines are still relatively young the future for the variety is extremely exciting.
Australia has significant plantings of Pinot Noir especially in the Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula and Geelong regions of Victoria State, Tasmania, the Adelaide Hills area of South Australia and the Great Southern region of Western Australia. Again the key is cool climate.
North America produces some excellent Pinot with California and Oregon leading the way. Here the cooling effect of the Pacific Ocean in areas like California’s Russian River, Carneros and Anderson Valley make for the perfect Pinot Noir conditions.
South America, particularly Chile, can produce fine Pinot Noir. Here the cool climate conditions are often achieved by siting the vineyards at altitude the foothills and valleys of the Andes provide wonderful conditions perfect for the grape.
In Europe, aside from France, Pinot Noir can do well in northern Italy where it is known as the Pinot Nero, and more and more good Pinot is being grown in Germany where it is known as the Spätburgunder. Finally, if you get the chance to taste Pinot from Austria you will not be disappointed. The vineyards of Burgenland, Austria’s most easterly state, can produce brilliant wines, so good that sadly virtually none is exported.