Pinot Noir has long been a favourite tipple amongst wine lovers, and sales of the versatile wine escalated rapidly in the wake of the film Sideways, which follows the escapades of a Pinot-loving wine buff as he travels the vineyards of California. It is also known as one of the oldest varieties of wine grape in the world – the history of the Pinot Noir grape can be traced right back to the first century, with the Romans cultivating Pinot Noir vineyards and naming the grape Helvencia Minor. Today, the Burgundy region of France is home to the world’s oldest and largest Pinot Noir vineyard. The climate here is perfect for the cultivation of Pinot grapes, as they perform exceptionally well in cooler climates such as those of the Cote d’Or.
The Pinot Noir grape travels well and from its origins in Europe can now be found as far afield as Argentina and Chile, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada and Moldova as well as the United States. The grape is now one of the most widely planted in the world, reflecting the popularity of wines produced from Pinot Noir grapes. The first Pinot Noir vineyards were planted in California’s famous Napa Valley wine growing region in the 1930s, and the grape continues to perform well here as well as in some parts of Oregon. The wine produced from Pinot Noir grapes is a rich red colour and its characteristic taste is full bodied without being heavy.
The Pinot Noir grape is used not only in the production of Pinot Noir wine itself but also in the production of Champagne, sparkling and still red wines, still rosé wines and even vin gris white wines. The Pinot Noir grape does not lend itself well to the production of dry table wines, however. The grape is sensitive to light exposure and cropping is important – the vine should always be low yielding. The grape produces very different wines according to the region in which it is grown and is also sensitive to different strains of yeast during the fermentation process. Pinot Noir is a thin skinned grape, which can make it prone to rot and fungal diseases, whilst the vines are prone to problems such as mildew and leaf roll. As such, the grapes can be difficult to grow although this hasn’t hampered Pinot Noir wines’ reputation – they are some of the most popular wines in the world.
Pinot Noir Wines
Pinot wines have a reputation as light, easy drinking, ‘seductive’ wines with Vanity Fair wine writer Joel Reishman gushing that Pinot Noir is : “the most romantic of wines, with so voluptuous a perfume, so sweet an edge, and so powerful a punch that, like falling in love, they make the blood run hot and the soul wax embarrassingly poetic.” Meanwhile, sommelier Madeline Triffon did not mince her words when she called it “Sex in a Glass”.
The Pinot Noir grape produces an extremely varied range of flavours, textures and bouquets but broadly speaking it tends to produce wines that are light bodied to medium bodied, with aromas of black cherry, raspberrry, blackcurrants and red currants. When young, the grape’s colour tends to be much lighter than that of other types of red wine, although some Pinot Noir wines from New Zealand and California are increasingly a darker colour that is comparable with that of Syrah. Trends in production methods, along with a very varied territory, mean that wines made from Pinot Noir can vary dramatically and Pinot wines are constantly evolving. It’s true to say that one can never grow tired of wines made from Pinot Noir grapes!
Pairing Pinot Noir Wines With Food
One wine writer has desribed Pinot Noir as ‘The ultimate food wine’, and it’s certainly true that this is a wine that complements a great number of different types of food. With moderate tannin levels, Pinot Noir works well with red meats and peppery dishes. As the wine tends to be a smooth, easy drinking red wine it also perfectly complements fish and chicken dishes, as well as a variety of cheeses. Salmon dishes and mushroom dishes are enhanced by the earthy flavour of many Pinot Noir wines, and it is also a good partner for many vegetarian dishes. For those who are still developing expertise in pairing food with wine, Pinot Noir is a good wine to begin with as it is difficult to go very far wrong with this versatile wine.