Learn About Pinot Noir Wine: Beginner’s Guide

Popularity is a funny thing. Some things take off at the speed of light and become the must-have trend of the moment (cargo pants, anyone? skinny jeans? Tamagotchis?). All too often these must-have things die a death a season later. 

Hype works in mysterious ways. When there’s too much of it, I start to doubt its veracity — and when everyone is praising a certain product, alarm bells in the back of my cynical head start ringing. What is the difference between a fashion and a trend? How will I know if something is covetable because it’s good, or just because everyone else wants it? In the age of internet shopping, amazon reviews and paid social adverting, can we actually believe anything is real? For sure some things, no. But inversely, some things, very much so. 

Certain things in life are eternally cool – Elvis, Converse and Coca-Cola to name just three. Pinot Noir – there’s a fourth. Pinot Noir is one of the most popular red wines in the world, and deservedly so. Not only does it have a rich history that dates back thousands of years but it’s enjoyed by millions around the globe. Don’t you think it’s time your learnt about Pinot Noir wine and how you can enjoy and invest in it through your wine investment app? Then read on.

What Is Pinot Noir?

Aaaah Pinot. Only somebody who really takes the time to understand Pinot’s potential can coax it into its fullest expression. The complex, medium-bodied red wine is an eternal classic – beloved worldwide for its fruity flavour, enchanting fragrance, and long, smooth finish. Even if you’re not a seasoned wine drinker, chances are you’ve enjoyed a glass of Pinot Noir. 

But what is this grape? And why does it make such an easy-drinking wine?

First of all, let’s get to the roots of its name (no pun intended). Pinot Noir is named after the blacked skinned grapes that it is made from. The single varietal grape is thus named after the French words for “pine” and “black,” – pinot (or pine) referring to the shape of the clusters of grapes on the vine. Noir (or black) is of course referring to the colour.  

With its thin skin, sensitivity to the elements and crowded fruit clusters, it’s a high-maintenance grape that has a tendency to be unpredictable. As such, this finicky varietal can produce some quite expensive wine. Its drinking window is not vast; 5-10 years at best and wine connoisseurs generally agree that Pinot Noir does not usually age well. Needless to say, there are exceptions to this rule – Domaine Romanee Conti being the most obvious. 

So why do we love it so much? If it’s expensive, hard to grow and doesn’t age well, what’s the point? There’s perhaps something I forgot to mention. It’s delicious. Known primarily for its easy-drinking red wines Pinot Noir is the granddaddy of Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc. In fact, so versatile is the grape that it is one of the few grapes that also produces French, Italian and German Grand Crus in every colour, including even the hallowed Champagne.

Where Does Pinot Noir Come From?

There is some dispute over where Pinot Noir came from – some believe it was imported over the Black Sea by the Greeks and Romans, while others believe that Pinot may have originated in Gaul where there is some evidence of Pinot Noir as early as the second century B.C.

Wherever it might have come from, there is no doubt that Pinot Noir’s true home is in Burgundy. French monks are the earliest known cultivators of the grape, with records going back to the 14th century. Since then, the grape has become one of the most popular in the world – notably in cooler climates of northern Italy, Austria, Germany, and even Switzerland. However, despite its notorious fickleness (Pinot Noir is unashamedly difficult to grow), it has also proven itself to work very well in the warm soils of California’s Central Coast (Monterey and Santa Barbara) and Sonoma County (Russian River Valley and the Sonoma Coast), as well as other New World empires including Australia, New Zealand and Chile.

How Is Pinot Noir Made?

Pinot is famously difficult to please. Its tightly packed fruit clusters and tremendously thin skin make it prone to various viticultural hazards including rot and mildew. Because the fruit is so tightly packed, the airflow is limited, so please add uneven ripening to Pinot’s problems. Additionally, the aforementioned thin skin means it is more suited to cool climates, so winemakers over the pond have to install canopy management among other methods to protect the grape from sunburn.

With Pinot Noir’s notorious high maintenance, it is a wonder that anyone grows it at all. And yet, it remains one of the world’s most popular red wine grapes. 

The winemaking process is as with all red wines – i.e. a five-part process that involves harvest, fermentation, racking, filtration and fining. 

  • The operations begins initially with the harvest. Many producers, notably those that practice bio dynamic farming, prefer to hand harvest, because Pinot Noir’s thin skin all too often leads to damaged grapes when harvest by machine. Many consider hand harvesting gentler on valuable vines and grapes, and believe only a trained eye can ensure collection of the best fruit. The danger with machine harveted grapes is that  if they are broken or damaged, they have a far higher propensity to oxidation, browning of aromatics and bacterial growth. Clippers are a far better option too (as opposed to the machine’s knives) as they enable the stem to be part of the fermentation. 
  • Next comes the fermentation. Grapes, stems, juice and seeds all go into a big metal tank for cold soaking. This is where the magic happens. It is in this part of the process that the tannin, flavour and colour all fuse together to make the difference between an average Pinot Noir and an amazing one. Next, yeast is added to start fermentation. The yeast eats the sugar in the grape juice, thus turning the sugar into alcohol. 
  • The third stage of making Pinot Noir is called racking. In short, the term racking refers to moving the liquid from one vbat to another – in the case of Pinot Noir, this is from the original metal vat to a the oak barrels the producer is using for aging. This process is sort of like the wine’s first decanting – racking separates the wine from the skins, seeds, dead yeast cells, and other bits that settle at the bottom of the tank. The transferral of wine to oak barrel allows the wine to aquire the flavours, aromas and textures that the young wine will need to mature. 
  • Filtration is the penultimate stage. This provide the much needed microbial stability of the wine, andgives it a more “polished” taste. This stage is something of a polarising stage – some red wines are not filtered because they are better at absorbing aromas and flavours, although this depends largely on the winemaker’s choice. This leads many winemakers to only filter reds wines when necessary. Look out  for this process on the technical sheets if you can. 
  • Finally we fine. Fining refers to removing unwanted material from wine while still in the cellar. This process will flush out any lingering elements that may cause the wine to look hazy or affect its aroma, colour or bitterness. Egg white is a common fining element, so vegans beware. 

How Does Pinot Noir Taste?

A great Pinot Noir will have complexity, elaborate aromas, refined texture, freshness, silky tannins, and finesse.

It’s worth noting that French Pinot is very different from Californian Pinot, which will differ once again from New Zealand or German. Burgundy and the Cote d’Or are of course the Holy Grail of Pinot Noir, producing wines that are filled with bright acidity, silky tannins and a high ABV (alcohol by volume) that ranges between 12–15%. European Pinots are full of complex flavours that include cherry, raspberry, mushroom and forest floor. New World Pinots, particularly Californians, tend to be more succulent in texture with aromas of blackberries, slate and spice.

Pinot Noir Serving

How to Pair Pinot Noir?

Pinot Noir’s fabled versatility makes it a favourite on almost every table, regardless of what you’re serving. Whether your having an aperitivo, serving red or white meat or even serving fish (yes, I said it, serve Pinot Noir with fish) we guarantee there is a Pinot to match your preference. 

The juicy red fruit flavours, spice and earthy hints, delicate texture, firm but silky tannins, and pleasant acidity pair well with many foods, but we particularly like earthy tastes such as those found in duck and mushrooms. The delicate aromas also work surprisingly well with salmon and tuna. Pinot Noir is also a key ingredient in classic French dishes including coq au vin and beef bourguignon, so if that’s on the menu, don’t be afraid to take it from plate to glass. 

At What Temperature to Serve Pinot Noir?

As a seasoned wine connoisseur, we expect you know that most red wines should be served between 50-57 °F, which is around 12-14 °C (this is known as cellar temperature in the trade). So this is a red wine that is best served cool. However, as temperature affects how you perceive the flavours of wine, serving it at the temperature you prefer best will make or break your evening. Cool it to the appropriate temperature with two hours in the fridge, 15 minutes in the freezer, or five minutes in ice and water. Don’t overcool, or you will lose the subtler aspects of the wine.

Pinot Noir’s beauty is that it is a versatile, easy drinking and, even though it doesn’t have the incredible ageing ability of say Cabernet Sauvingnon, it still provides many excellent investment opportunities (check out our Pinot Noirs on our live market). 

If, after reading all about the fabulousness of Pinot Noir, you still prefer to head west, then please read our piece on Bordeaux wine here.

1 comment

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