Pinot Noir

This is Thursday when we talk about vitis vinifera or what we know as the group of grape varieties that dominates the wine list when we go out to a restaurant. Today I will provide information on Pinot Noir.

Pinot Noir is what is commonly referred to the ” heartbreak grape” because it is a difficult variety to grow for winemakers. The grapes are thin-skinned so that makes them susceptible to rot and mildew and because they bud early they can be affected by frost. On top of this they also ripen early so they grow best in cooler climates which delay the ripening process. All these conditions make it difficult for the grape to grow just anywhere in the world outside of it’s home base in Burgundy France. Where the weather is too warm the wine can taste jammy.

The soil in Burgundy where it grows best is limestone with deep drainage so the roots have to go deep to get their water. They say the best place to grow grapes is where you cannot grow anything else. If the grape has to work to get it’s nutrients then it is best for the final product because only the best survive for winemaking Where grapes find it easy to grow is what gives us the table grapes we buy at the store. Obviously these are not suitable for winemaking.

Other places where some success has been achieved in producing good Pinot Noir is Oregon and the Carneros , Russian River Valley in California. New Zealand’s Marlborough , Martinborough regions and the Yarra Valley in Australia. In Germany it is known as Spatburgunder.

Because of it’s thin skin it makes for a light coloured wine with low tannins and medium acidity. It ages well in Burgundy but elsewhere in the world it is meant to be drank young unlike it’s other red counterpart , Cabernet Sauvignon.

The vinification techniques for Pinot Noir in Burgundy include prolong maceration of the grapes to extract as much tannin from the grape as possible , and chapitalization which is the addition of sugar to increase the alcohol of the wine.

To explain , prolonged maceration is when the grape wine or must is left with the grape skins during and after fermentation to extract as much colour and phenols from the grape. That is why Burgundian Pinot Noirs appear much more darker than other Pinot Noirs produced elsewhere.

Chapitalization is used in Burgundy when the grape has ripened and it’s sugar content is low , ( remember cool climates and an early ripening grape can produce a low alcohol wine ) so when the vitner adds the sugar during the fermentation process they get a wine higher in alcohol. The amount of sugar a vitner can add is strictly regulated in Burgundy. You can only chapitalize a wine so much.

Pinot Noir ages well in new oak which imparts much character to the wine but a lot of producers use a mix of old and new so that the oak influence doesn’t overpower the wine.

Some common descriptions of aroma when nosing the wine can range from strawberry , black cherry , and raspberry in younger pinot noirs to a more gamey , farmyard , and truffle nose in mature pinot noir burgundies.

A good Pinot Noir is known by it’s silkiness and is the best red wine to go with a fish like salmon or tuna.

An aged Pinot Noir from Burgundy that has some tannin to it due to the prolonged maceration period is a great pairing with such dishes such as venison while a lighter version goes well with pheasant.

An Californian Pinot Noir which is on the raspberry , cherry side goes well with duck and quail or even ham and turkey.

A Pinot Noir from Oregon resembles more to the Burgundian style and they are more a match with game dishes.

This concludes some information on Pinot Noir. Next week we will speak of another grape.

If you have any thoughts or questions feel free to ask.


  1. Wow, i’ve been a server for years, and been to numerous wine seminars, and nothing was this informative.Thanks!

  2. Dietrich…beautiful and there is more to come every Thursday. Thank you for the encouragement.

  3. Love a good Pinot myself……preferring the marlborough….

  4. I’ve been serving/bartending/managing for 40 years. About 10 years ago, one of my wine lists was rated one of the top 100 in the world by mobil 5 diamond. After reading your post, I must have gotten lucky, because I never knew all that you shared. Well done….looking forward to next Thursday! When you get around to pinot grigio/pinot gris I hope you’ll share a little more about Oregon’s Willamette Valley.Peace, mw

  5. Mike…and Pinot Noir. I just took the courses. That must have been some wine list. I’m humbled you gleaned something from the wine post.

  6. Manuel…they are up and coming the New Zealand Pinots.Something to go with the Sauvignon Blanc that is well known and comes from that region. The cooler climate helps.

  7. Just to back up a moment, Steven…so you don't think I'm a boob… I suggested the expose on pinot gris from Willamette Valley, Oregon, not because they're exotic, orgasmic & rare, but for quite the opposite reason. They're affordable, approachable, appropriate at the beginning of the meal, a wine to introduce to those new to the grape and Willamette is producing a world class varietal. Are your unfiltered Meritage's more expensive, flavorful & exotic? YES. Will you '97 Meritage earn the server a bigger tip? Obviously. But if you can bump an upstart up a notch from white Zin, I say DO IT! If you can move the Santa Margarita crowd to something grown in America, I say DO IT!Peace, mw

  8. Mike…Whoa I am sure your Pinot Gris are excellent and great value compared to an expensive Meritage and a great start for someone who is stuck on White Zinfandel. I re read my response to you and I mentioned ” and Pinot Noir ” cause Oregon is known world wide for their Pinot Noirs for a number of years.Unfortunately where I live in Eastern Canada I don’t get a chance to try your Pinot Gris like I do your Pinot Noirs but when I worked out West I did have the chance to try more wines from Oregon and Washington State. It is like our Pinot Gris from Niagara is pretty good too but who has tried it except for someone living in Ontario.It is too bad here in Ontario we have a limited selection in our province controlled Liquor stores. Our selection is basically all from Italy unfortunately and the very few locally.I would love to have a variety to try from like you guys in the States. So much selection. So if I offended you or was misunderstood sorry about that. When I get to Pinot Gris/ Grigio I will make sure Oregon is mentioned.Thanks for letting me know , I appreciate that.

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