Archive for category Wine types

What Type of Wine is Pinot Noir?

What type of wine is Pinot Noir? It is both the name of a wine grape and the name of a red wine. These wines are world famous and grown world-wide. And, it is a notoriously difficult grape to grow and wine to make.

The Grape Pinot Noir

Of all commercial wine grapes, Pinot Noir is the most susceptible to common wine grape diseases and maladies including frost, mold, and rot. Pinot Noir has a relatively thin skin making the berries vulnerable. This thin skin also affects the wine making process.

The Pinot Noir grape vines are just as finicky as the grapes. They tend to be thin and are prone to mildew, mold, viruses and are susceptible to a variety of grape vine pests.

Due to the sensitivity of the Pinot Noir vine and grape, there are perhaps a thousand clone varieties worldwide. Compared to Cabernet Sauvignon, which only has about a dozen clone varieties, Pinot Noir is one of the most diverse wine grapes in the world.

The Places of Pinot Noir

Keep in mind that although most New World wine labels will list the grapes in the wine, many Old World wine labels only list the place. The most famous Old World place for Pinot Noir is the Burgundy region of France (in French: Bourgogne [boohr-go-ny]). But you’ll also find Pinot Noir wines from Italy (where it’s called Pinot Nero [pee-no neh-(l)ro]) and Germany (where it’s called Spätburgunder [spayt-boo(r)-g(oo)n-deh(r)].

In the New World, you can find many Pinot Noir wines from the USA, Chile, and New Zealand. Less common, Australia, Argentina, and South Africa produce fine Pinot Noir wines as well. The Willamette Valley in Oregon produces world-class Pinot Noir wines. Its relatively cool climate and rolling hills mimic the terrior [the-hrwahr] (soil, geography, climate, etc.) of Burgundy allowing the finicky Pinot Noir grape to fully mature and a cool region for the wine to properly ferment and age.

Perhaps because Pinot Noir is a notoriously difficult wine to make, prices of the wine are sometimes quite high; especially from famous regions like Burgundy, France or Willamette Valley, Oregon. Look for value-priced Pinot Noir wines from New Zealand and Chile. They make some great wines without the “great” (high) prices!

The Wine Pinot Noir

As mentioned, the Pinot Noir grape has a relatively thin skin. Since the color in red wine comes from the skins of the grape (the juice is lightly colored to almost clear), it can be difficult to achieve and keep the expected red color through the wine making process. Wine makers usually intensify the color by drawing off some of the juice after the grapes are crushed in order to increase the ratio of wine skins to juice during a process called maceration (soaking the juice with the skins, seeds, and stems). Wine makers must also pay close attention during fermentation and aging to avoid a loss of color before (and after) bottling.

Single varietal Pinot Noir wines (those not blended with other grape varietals) have several classic attributes:

  • A light red color
  • Aromas and flavors of cherry or strawberry
  • Often earthy aromas such as mushrooms or what is often called “barnyard” (in other words, it may stink!)
  • Acidity that is well balanced by fruit flavors and light tannins in the best Pinot Noir wines.  

Like all wines, the aromas and flavors of Pinot Noir can vary significantly from vineyard to vineyard, wine maker to wine maker, and vintage to vintage.

Pinot Noir and Food

Because Pinot Noir wines have lighter body with complex aromas and flavors, they best compliment foods that won’t overwhelm the wine. Grilled or broiled salmon, prime rib, lamb and duck are all great meat choices. Any mushroom dish works really well. But go lightly on the spices which may mask the delicate flavors of Pinot Noir.

Although Pinot Noir grapes are difficult to grow and the wine making process finicky, several regions of the world produce amazing Pinot Noir wines that are great with food or just with friends and conversation. Some also age well; ask a knowledgeable wine steward before purchasing one for that purpose.

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Mmmm: Fortified Wines!

I’m not talking about “Thunderbird” or other cheap wines to which distilled alcohol has been added for a quick buzz. We’ll leave those to college frat parties.

I’m talking about elegant and prized wines often enjoyed as an aperitif or with dessert. Fortified wines are created with special processes whereby the winemaker adds neutral brandy to the wine. Neutral brandy (also called grape spirits) is distilled wine which has not been aged in toasted barrels.

Some regions of the world are famous for this process such as Portugal (Port) and Spain (Sherry and Madeira). The extra alcohol (and sugar for sweet wines) also mean these wines can last for a very long time in the bottle. They were favored by our Founding Fathers because they could survive the long ocean voyage without damage.

If the winemaker adds the neutral brandy during alcohol fermentation, the brandy kills the yeast and stops fermentation leaving residual sugar resulting in a sweet wine. Port and some Sherry wines use this approach.

If the winemaker adds the neutral brandy after fermentation is complete, it results in a dry fortified wine. Dry Sherry and Madeira wines use this method.

Because of the brandy, fortified wines have higher alcohol content, usually around 18-20% by volume. Because of this, they are served in smaller portions than regular wines (usually about 2-3 ounces versus 5-6 ounces for regular wines). Many regions have even developed traditional glassware for their fortified wines which emphsize the character while keeping portions reasonable.

Strong fortified wines usually go best with foods with strong flavors. Sweet desserts, dried fruits, roasted nuts, and “stinky” cheeses (Bleu cheese, Gorgonzola, etc.) are often associated with these wines whether they’re sweet or dry.

Try out different combinations to see which types of foods you like best with fortified wines.

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