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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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