Champagne’s Dark Hero Now Driving English Sparkling Wine
Pinot Noir is one of the world’s most famous red wine varieties, gaining international acclaim as the grape behind the red wines of Burgundy. It is the success in Burgundy that has led winemakers all over the world to try their hand at Pinot Noir despite its demanding nature.
Burgundians say they don’t make Pinot Noir, they use Pinot Noir to communicate their terroir. Indeed, Pinot Noir around the world offers up plenty of nuance and variety that makes it a brilliant set of wines to journey your way through and discover the places and people behind them.
Its history is one of the oldest of grapes still used in wine making today. It’s thought to have been taken from a selection of wild vines nearly 2000 years ago and became the grape of choice for the monks and monasteries of eastern France and western Germany throughout the Middle Ages.
Its mutations cover many more hectares of vineyard, having spawned Pinots Blanc, Gris, and Meunier, but it’s the original Pinot Noir that still hits the heights of quality in the bottle.
In can be difficult to generalise the flavours of Pinot Noir given its international spread, but sweet red fruitiness of strawberries, red cherries, and raspberries are common.
Oak maturation and bottle age can add notes of forest floor, mushrooms, and leather.
If Pinot Noir is planted in areas that are too hot for it, the fruits lose their freshness and turn jammy.
Also Known As
- Pinot Noir (France, New World)
- Pinot Negro (Spain)
- Blaüburgunder (Austria)
- Burgundac Crni (Serbia, Croatia)
DRINK YOUNG STYLE
The vast majority of Pinot Noir made in the world isn’t intended for much more than early drinking and enjoyment, effectively an acidic, dark rosé.
Fully ripe Pinot Noir grapes from low yielding plants, vinified in whole bunches and then matured in barrel to add tannin. These wines are deeper in colour, tannin, savoury flavours, and benefit from bottle age.
Sun drenched Pinot Noir grapes give wines of huge fruit concentration. Careful harvest dates retain acidity, and some barrel maturation adds tannin. Kiwi Pino Noir is stronger, darker, and more fruit driven than its savoury French cousin.
Pinot Noir is used as part of the blend for Champagnes and those copying the blend around the world. Pinot Noir adds body and longevity to those blends.
A small amount of rosé is produced from the Pinot Noir in Riceys in the Aube region of Champagne, and Pinot Noir also goes to make the rosé from Sancerre.
Generalizing the structure of Pinot Noir is a little bit easier. As mentioned, it can be a very difficult grape to grow. It flowers quite early, so spring frosts are often devastating. This is why most growers select an alternative grape, like Pinot Meunier to plant in the lower fields, and Pinot Noir lives a bit higher up, in the warmer parts of the vineyard.
Is prone to nearly every fungal infection and vine virus under the sun, so those vineyards need to be relatively dry.
This also needs constant monitoring near harvest time. It ripens earlier than many red grapes, but if allowed to stay in the vine too long, the acidity and fresh aromas drop off rapidly.
However, if grown on limestone soils in a dry but cool climate, and you avoid the frosts and fungus, and pick at the right time, you get a relatively acidic wine, full of fresh flavour, low in tannin, and with low to medium levels of alcohol.
French style Pinot Noir is a great companion to meat and umami flavours. You cannot go wrong with some kind of duck and mushroom variation.
Kiwi style Pinot Noir copes with red meat, from the classic lamb all the way to beef. If you like your steaks rare or bloody, then do try some Pinot Noir next time you get a chance. I promise you’ll love it!
FRANCE – BURGUNDY
Pinot Noir highlights exactly what the Burgundians are famous for talking about: terroir. The various climats of Burgundy’s Côtes can show subtle but distinctive differences across the wines. From Gevry Chambertin to Beaune and beyond, there are some exceptional wines to be had…and often some exceptional prices to be paid.
Regardless of what you may think of the obsession with terroir, it has one undeniable advantage. Burgundy is one of the pioneering regions of organic and biodynamic viticulture in France.
Burgundy reds are pretty much always 100% Pinot Noir, except for a little bit of red Macon (in the south down towards Lyon) which can use a little bit of Gamay in there too.
FRANCE – CHAMPAGNE
In the 1980s the council of Champagne allowed the vineyards of the Aube to officially become part of Champagne. Overnight that meant Champagne was the biggest Pinot Noir region in France.
Due to its success in Champagne, its use has been copied by budding sparkling wine regions across the world, including Carneros and Franciacorta.
Interestingly, the base Pinot Noir wine that goes into the blend and is then bottled tends to have a slightly pink hue. The action of the yeast in the bottle that gives traditional method bubbles their distinct bready and biscuit notes, also strips the wines of the colour, meaning the final wine poured out the bottle has no trace of red pigment.
FRANCE – ELSEWHERE
Other cool climate regions of France grow Pinot Noir including Sancerre (and further west down the Loire Valley), Jura, and Savoie.
Plantings are increasing in Languedoc, however they are restricted to the cooler sites around Limoux.
ELSEWHERE IN EUROPE
Pinot Noir in Germany (Spätburgunder) and in Austria (Blauburgunder) is on the rise although price points can be challenging.
It’s grown across Romania, Serbia, and Croatia, it is the blending component for rosé versions of Cava in Spain, and it grows in the cooler areas of Portugal and Italy.
Pinot Noir is grown in the warmer regions of the UK, including Kent and Sussex. Elsewhere it can be substituted for its cooler climate clone Pinot Noir Precocé.
USA Oregon’s reputation as a wine-growing region is based upon the high standard of their Pinot Noir, covering over half the vineyard space in the state.
California’s major Pinot Noir regions are Carneros (sparkling wine), Sonoma County, Russian River Valley and Anderson Valley.
Pinot Noir in New Zealand is becoming a different beast altogether. Grown mostly but not exclusively in Martinborough in the North Island, and Central Otago in the South Island, the massive fruit concentration attained from the high level of sunshine has produced a style all of New Zealand’s own, with no need to try and copy anyone else, even the famous Burgundians.
ELSEWHERE IN THE WORLD
Elsewhere in the world it’s all about finding the cooler spots to grow good Pinot Noir. Chile’s plantings are based in Bio Bio and Itata, South Africa’s top wine comes from right on the Cape, and Australia’s Mornington Peninsula and Tasmania produce fine examples.
Wanderlust’s Pinot Noir selection
If you love Pinot Noir you should also explore….
Light red, good acidic structure and very fruit focused. It may not hit the heights of Burgundy reds, but the better Beaujolais Crus produce some serious top-quality wines.