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.