This Guide to Pinot Noir taste and characteristics is part of our grape variety series. Learn about flavors, origins and food pairings for grape varieties, such as Pinot Noir, grown all over the world.
What is Pinot Noir Wine?
Commonly referred to as the “noble grape” or “red burgundy,” Pinot Noir is a blue-tinged grape variety that’s classified under the vitis vinifera species of grape vine. This fussy grape makes a popular red wine and originates from Burgundy, France.
While Burgundy continues to pump out some of the finest wines Pinot Noir’s in the world, high-quality Pinot Noir is grown and made today in many cooler climates around the world.
In fact, a recent world-wide tasting has showed the certain wine regions within New Zealand are producing some of the best value Pinot’s in the world.
“the any occasion wine…”
To me, and in this guide, Pinot Noir is the any occasion wine. It’s light enough that it can be enjoyed throughout the summer months and can be paired with almost any fish. Pinot Noir is also diverse enough in flavor that it works well with most meats and sharp cheeses.
While demand for this light red wine has increased dramatically, the grape itself tends to be finicky and relatively difficult to grow. As such, prices for the wine have increased in recent years.
Pinot Noir Look & Feel
In the glass, Pinot Noir is typically translucent in color and light to medium in body. A traditionally dry wine, it emits obvious hints of bright red fruit on the palate and through its aromas. Yet these flavors are not particularly rich and tannin elements are subtle. The lighter, velvety feel combined with a low tannic content and medium-high acid makes Pinot Noir particularly easy to drink.
Related: Discover a beautiful and affordable Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley, California
Typically, younger Pinot Noir’s taste less complex and red fruit notes tend to be the most prominent. As Pinot Noir’s age, their complexity is enhanced, revealing more earthy and smokey mineral notes.
What Does Pinot Noir Taste Like?
Common Flavors and Aromas
- Fruit: Red – (Cherry, Plum, Raspberry, Strawberry, Cranberry, Guava, Currant, Pomegranate)
- Earth & Mineral Descriptors: (Subtle shale, chalk, clay)
- Additional Complexities: Light Oak, Smoke, Spice, Earth, Mushroom
- Sugar: Dry
- Tannins: Low-Medium
- Acid: Medium-High
- Alcohol: Varied
- Finish: Smooth, floral
- Soil: Chalk, Gravel, Clay, Stone
- Climate: Cool / Dry
- Notable Regions: Burgundy, France | Sonoma, California
Pinot Noir Food Pairing Ideas
Despite Pinot Noir being rooted in France, it pairs particularly well with most Italian dishes. However, as an elegant, light yet diverse wine, it can also be paired with a multitude of both ethic and home grown dishes. Recently, I’ve been experimenting with heavier fatty, oily fish, like salmon and sardines. You’ll find that the subtle red fruit flavor predominant in the wine, along with crisp acidic touches won’t take away from the flavor in this kind of fish – it actually accentuates it nicely.
Conversely, you can bring out some of the red berry, cranberry and tomato flavors present in Red Burgundy wines by utilizing tomato-based pasta dishes.
Pinot Noir can also be ideal to pair with game and light cheese as well.
Looking for an awesome Pinot Noir food pairing recipe? Try out this gourmet mushroom and garlic risotto recipe alongside roasted chicken.
Not in the mood for chicken? Try out these beer battered Shrimp tacos with chipotle-lime crema.
Recommended Pinot Noir Food Pairings:
- Sushi (Tempura and heavier fish preferably)
- Steak (Lean)
- Poultry (Grilled)
- Pork (Grilled)
- Duck (with spicier and heavier bodied Pinot’s)
Recommended Pinot Noir Cheese Pairings:
- Aged Cheddar
Background on the Pinot Noir Grape Variety
A red, fickle grape, originating and made famous in Burgundy, France; Pinot Noir is now grown in many countries around the world. In fact, Burgundy almost exclusively grows Pinot Noir as its sole red wine grape variety. Needless to say, they’ve gotten pretty good at it over the years!
Pinot Noir vines require soil that is both aerated and drains well for optimal growth. These vines are typically rooted in soil with high concentrations of gravel, chalk and or clay. Climate wise, the vine needs warm (but not hot) sun-filled days and crisp cool evenings with minimal weather variation before harvesting.
The grape itself has a thin skin (hence low tannins), which unfortunately makes it easily susceptible to disease and rot. All things considered, winemakers must watch their crops closely. Even the most experienced Pinot Noir winemakers can have trouble growing this varietal, though some terroirs make for easier cultivation than others.
What does “Pinot Noir” Actually Mean?
A French designation, the word “Pinot” translates to “Pine,” as a reference to the way the grapes cluster together on the vine, similar to a pine cone. “Noir,” also French, translates to black, referring to the color of the dark, thin-skinned grape.
How Long Has Pinot Noir Wine Been in Production?
We can trace the drinking of Pinot Noir wines back to sometime during the first century – when the ancient Romans recorded drinking it not long after they captured much of the Gaul region – which is now France.
There is no definitive evidence as to when exactly the grape was first fermented and enjoyed, though needless to say it’s been around for a long while.
Popular Low-Cost Pinot Noir Brands
- Mark West
- Ropiteau Pinot Noir
- D’Autrefois Pinot Noir
What winemaker crafts your favorite Pinot Noir? Tell us about it in comment section below!
Featured image credit courtesy Heinens.com.