Pinot Noir

"…God made Cabernet Sauvignon, whereas the devil made Pinot Noir." -winemaker André Tchelistcheff

It is possible that you have had more Pinot than you know. In the US and New Zealand, two countries known for their fine Pinots, the wines are labeled with the name of the grape, and so are easily identified for what they are. However, many people do not realize that Pinot Noir is a component of Champagne (along with Chardonnay and Petit Meunier). A Champagne made from 100% Pinot Noir is called a “Blanc de Noirs” (white from black). A French red Burgundy is Pinot Noir (except when it is a Gamay Beaujolais), be it a villages, Premier Cru or Grand Cru bottling. Blauburgunder from Austria is Pinot Noir, Spatburgunder is German Pinot Noir, and Pinot Nero is what they call it in Italy.

The inevitable Sideways quote actually calls it out quite well: "It’s a hard grape to grow. As you know. Right? It’s, uh, it’s thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early. It’s, you know, it’s not a survivor like Cabernet, which can just grow anywhere and thrive even when it’s neglected. No, Pinot needs constant care and attention. You know? And, in fact, it can only grow in these really specific, little tucked-away corners of the world. And only the most patient and nurturing of growers can do it, really. Only somebody who really takes the time to understand Pinot’s potential can then coax it into its fullest expression." -Miles

It is legendarily difficult to do well, and there are only a few winemaking regions known for crafting a fine version of the wine. Those regions include France (Burgundy and Champagne), parts of the US, New Zealand, and increasingly, Austria and Germany.

"Pinot Noir has me in its velvet grip. Pinot Noir is sex in the back seat of dad’s station wagon, or on the front of your boyfriend’s ’65 Corvette. It’s the best sex you’ve ever had. Pinot Noir is the James Dean of wine; it’s the wine women who love too much can’t drink." -wine writer Michele Anna Jordan

Of all red wines, Pinot Noir is arguably the sexiest. When described, words like “supple”, “silky”, and “velvet smooth” crop up again and again. Even that very American description of it being a “fruit bomb” brings to mind the more common expression “sex bomb“. Perhaps that last example was a stretch, but the point is that many of the notes in your typical Pinot Noir are pretty sexy: cherries, plums, damp earth, sweat and worn leather.

But location, and therefore terroir, is the ultimate predictor of what style and shape this red wine takes.

There are those American fruit bombs which hail primarily from Oregon, parts of California, and Washington. With their concentration from the heat and use of new oak, they are just loaded to bursting with full-on jammy notes and a background of smoke. However, there are tucked away vineyards that revel in cooler climates, such as the North Coast, Mendocino and Petaluma Gap in California. One might argue that the wines hailing from these areas have more in common with their Old World ancestors- such as those from France, which are most often described as specifically having notes of cherries as well as fine spices and even a dash of pepper, wrapped in an elegant package. Pinots from Austria lean towards less overt fruit, but do show some notes of raspberries and the like, and they also roll in notes of forest floor (think pine and a wonderful earthiness). Other notes used to describe Pinot Noirs from around the world include strawberries, black currants, figs, prunes, violets, chocolate, cigars, truffles and smoke.

With Pinot, what you put in is exactly what you'll get in return.