Exploring Pinot Noir

This article is a reprint of an article Laura wrote for the Triangle Downtowner.

Pinot Noir can be one of the great pleasures of the wine world. It has been lauded in the movies and on wine lists, and many of the most expensive wines in the world are made from Pinot Noir. There’s a good amount of peer pressure, then, to appreciate the grape. However, for many people, the joys of Pinot Noir can be elusive. While one bottle is rich and full of dark fruit and spices, the next bottle can be full of light red fruit with bright acidity. Every bottle is so different that many find the grape unpredictable, and the diversity of Pinot Noir can be a far cry from the steady consistency of a Malbec or a Cabernet Sauvignon. This wide variety of styles causes people to hesitate to buy a Pinot Noir that they haven’t had before, for fear that it will be completely unlike that bottle they loved two nights before.

Magnien - Gevrey Chambertin - 1er Cru CazetiersIf Pinot Noir can be so dramatically different, why is it so popular with winemakers, and how has it gained such a vocal and loyal following of drinkers? Pinot Noir is famous for its ability to express terroir, or sense of place, derived from the unique set of characteristics such as soil, climate, and geography. Winemakers and Pinot Noir proponents love this addition of mystery – each bottle is expressive of the specific personality of the vineyard where it was grown. And Pinot Noir is grown in many places throughout the world, so there is no shortage of different styles. While this diversity can be daunting at first, there are many delicious bottles of Pinot Noir from all over the world waiting to be explored.

Pinot Noir is now widely grown throughout many New World wine regions. California and its intensely warm temperatures produces some of the richest, most full-bodied representations of Pinot Noir, and can often lead to confusion about Pinot Noir with consumers. Many drinkers who start with California are led to believe that Pinot Noir is always lush, full, and concentrated. Oregon has also had great success with Pinot Noir. Temperatures are cooler than in California, and the style in Oregon is typically more restrained, typically leaning toward more medium-bodied. There is a great variety of Pinot Noir, even within Oregon, so pay attention to the specific region where the wine was grown. The popularity of New Zealand Pinot Noir is also rising. These wines tend to be bright and light, with intense and pure fruit flavors.

Carrick - Unravelled - Pinot Noir - Central OtagoPinot Noir originally hails from France, from the region of Burgundy, which is still the heart of Pinot Noir production today. Burgundy produces an impressive variety of wines made from Pinot Noir, which can be daunting for even a seasoned wine professional. The wines here can range from light and refreshing, to pretty and full of wildflowers, to dense, firm, and dark. They typically are much more restrained than New World Pinot Noirs, and accented by plenty of flavors other than fruit. Germany also produces Pinot Noir, where it is named Spätburgunder. Many regions in Germany are quite cool, and accordingly the country produces predominantly white wines. But there are a handful of high-quality Pinot Noirs coming out of Germany, many of which are on the lighter, more aromatic end of the spectrum.

The next time you find a bottle of Pinot Noir that you love, remember the country or region where it was grown. And when you’re shopping in the future, seek out other Pinot Noirs from the same area, which are more likely to be similar to the bottle that you loved. (Though, as with almost everything in wine, this isn’t a hard and fast rule.) Or, if you’re more adventurous, you can explore the world through Pinot Noir, trying different wines from across the globe. In addition to the regions mentioned above, look out for stellar Pinot Noirs from Northern Italy, Chile, Austria, South Africa, or even Australia!