Pinot Noir (“black Pinot”) is the primary grape of red Burgundy wines from France. Producers from that region have long set the standard for wines made from this temperamental grape, which is extremely sensitive to climate, soil and temperature.
But with warm days and cool nights, the Willamette Valley of Oregon, certain parts of New Zealand, and the Carneros and Russian River Valley areas of California are turning out better and better wines to challenge the dominance of Burgundy.
It is the grape’s thin skin and sensitivity to weather that limits its geography. Slight temperature changes, poorly timed or too-hard rainfall, and other conditions may ruin the grape crop and limit the amount of quality wine in any year.
Pinot Noir (the wine) is opulent and velvety smooth, but there are distinctions. The French produce many lean and restrained versions, while American and New Zealand types are usually more full of fruit. Rich flavors and aromas of raspberry, strawberry, cherry, spice, earth and smoke entice the drinker.
Pinot Noir often has a light garnet or ruby color, or perhaps strawberry red. It is relatively high in alcohol (13% to 15%), medium to high in acidity and low in tannins. It is a great accompaniment to smoked or broiled salmon, pork dishes, lamb and some heavier meats. It complements roast turkey and some savory chicken dishes as well. The wine’s acidity cuts through the fats and oils of these meats and cleanses the palate, readying the mouth for the next bite.
Interestingly, Pinot Noir—a red grape—is also the primary grape used in the production of Champagne. If a Champagne is made solely from red grapes—frequently all Pinot Noir—it is called blanc de noirs (“white wine from black grapes”). This kind of Champagne or sparkling wine is usually a bit heavier, richer and more golden in color compared to blanc de blancs (“white wine from white grapes”), which may be made exclusively from Chardonnay or a blend of red and white grapes.