The name Pinot Noir is taken from two French words, which translate to English as “pine” and “black.” This is in reference to the fruit’s tight, cone-shaped clusters and deep purple hue. The name refers to both the grape as well as the wine produced from it. With their relatively thin skins, these grapes can be a bit tricky, but still a very rewarding wine-producing fruit.
The actual origin of the varietal is a subject of much debate. One popular theory holds that the Pinot Noir is the hybrid offspring of a cross between Gewürztraminer and Pinot Meunier. That explanation would account for certain characteristics of the Pinot Noir. Specifically, it is thought that the Meunier gives the grapes their fragrant berry aroma while the Gewürztraminer provides their smooth, silky, and extravagant flavour.
Growing Regions of the Pinot Noir
Pinot Noir has been traditionally cultivated in the Burgundy region of France. In the opinion of many wine connoisseurs, a respectable Pinot Noir could not be grown anywhere else. However, modern agricultural ingenuity has challenged that opinion in recent years. Winemakers in California, Oregon, and even as far as New Zealand have seen growers successfully produce robust crops of these wonderful grapes with many other areas following their example.
Oregon is a particularly well-suited region for growing Pinot Noir grapes given its close similarity in climatic characteristics with Burgundy. The ocean fogs of California also lend well to growing them, given their preference for cool climates. The Russian River Valley, Sonoma, Santa Maria, Carneros, and the mountain region south of San Francisco are all California locations where some of the world’s best Pinot Noir have been produced. Australian growers in various regions of Victoria and in the Tasmania have also cultivated them with particular success.
Cultivating Pinot Noir Grapes
It takes a great deal of proper planning and skill to produce the perfect Pinot. Climate and soil conditions are essential for proper cultivation of Pinot Noir. The vines are very much prone to mutation (which results in varietals, like Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris). The grapes are prone to ripen somewhat early. This is why they generally don’t produce well in warmer climates. To complicate matters, regions with autumn weather that is too cool can rot the grapes on the vine, resulting in pale or even tainted wines. The vines are very fragile and apt to diseases such as leaf roll, fanleaf and downy mildew. Quite often, the grapes make it untouched into the fermenting tanks. The sparing use of new oak in the aging process, helps to accentuate the fruity flavours of the wine.
Pinot Noir is an expensive and laborious undertaking, but the effort in a superior glass of the finished product makes it clear that the tiny (and nearly nonexistent) margin of error results in an alluring and altogether rewarding experience for the drinker.
Most Pinot Noir wines taste best aged anywhere between two and eight years. There is much variation in flavour owing to the sheer number of variables that exist within the production of the wine. These variables account for a broad range of not just flavours, but also impressions and textures as well, making it easy to fool even the most educated palates. No degree of wine education can account for all the variables present in Pinot Noir, making it a wonderful variety of all wine tasting adventurists.
In most general terms, the majority of Pinot Noir possess a light to medium body and an aroma reminiscent of black cherries, plums, or raspberries. Some varieties are lighter than others, but do not be too quick to judge based on looks alone. A lighter wine does not necessarily equal a less robust flavour. In many cases, it is much to the contrary. Lighter can actually equal bolder.
Pinot Noir is rarely blended and is nearly always produced as a single varietal. The character of the Pinot Noir regresses dramatically when mixed with other grape varieties; however, certain sparkling wines and champagnes can draw out some of its better qualities.