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Sip & Savor: Time to Fall for Pinot Noir, the Grape

Sep 04, 2015 10:56AM ● By Cate Reynolds
Pinot Noir may be the toughest grape to grow, but the effort is often well worth the constant care and investment. It is a fickle grape that demands optimum growing conditions, opting for warm days consistently supported by cool evenings. Pinot Noir grapes are also used in the production of Champagne (usually along with Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier), and is also popular in rosé wines. Pinot Noir is often described as being a “difficult” grape to grow, to deal with in the winery, and to find truly great examples of, but fans are passionate about this variety, as sensually expressed by the dialogue between Miles and Maya in the popular 2004 movie Sideways.

Pinot Noir is one of the oldest grape varieties to be cultivated for the purpose of making wine. Ancient Romans knew this grape as Helvenacia Minor and vinified it as early as the first century AD. The reputation that gets Pinot Noir so much attention, however, is owed to the wines of Burgundy (Bourgogne), France. Although the earliest recorded mention of Pinot Noir was in 1375, the vine was cultivated here for hundreds of years prior. For most of wine history, this two-mile-wide, thirty-mile-long stretch of hills, called the Côte d’Or (“Slope of Gold”), is the only region to achieve consistent success from the Pinot Noir vine. Therefore, Pinot Noir’s home is France’s Burgundy region and is its most famous Noble grape. Known and loved as “Red Burgundy” in much of the world, Pinot Noir can be among the most elegant wines coming out of France. It is also planted in Germany, Austria, Argentina, Australia, Canada, Chile, Italy, New Zealand, South Africa, the United States, and many other countries. The United States has increasingly become a major Pinot Noir producer, with some of the best regarded coming from the Willamette Valley in Oregon and California’s Sonoma County with its Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast appellations.

Due to the stringent growing requirements for Pinot Noir, it is produced in much smaller quantities than other popular red wines. Traditionally, you will also pay a little more for Pinot Noir, as the “supply and demand” theories kick in. Also, keep in mind that the aging potential is not as dominant in this varietal because the grape’s tannin structure is on the lighter side, compared to an age-worthy Cabernet Sauvignon.

Pinot Noir the Wine

Pinot Noir is a dry, red wine that typically exhibits fruit-forward character with strawberry, cherry, raspberry, and blackberry fruit dominating the palate presence. Notable earth-driven layers are also quite common in a glass of Pinot, with herbal, mushroom, leather, and game-like qualities being fairly familiar. Warm spice notes also make their way into the Pinot Noir palate profile, often in the form of cinnamon, clove, and smoky, tobacco nuances.

Enjoying a red wine palate profile in a big white wine style, the lighter-bodied, rich fruit character components of many Pinots give it a step up in the glasses of both red wine and white wine drinkers. Pinot Noir is well-suited to pair with a wide variety of ethnic dishes, classic cuisines, and traditional foodie favorites, thanks in large part to its consistent acidity, subtle, silky tannins, and lighter-bodied style. Perfect Pinot pairings include pork and poultry, beef and bacon, cheese and chocolate, fish, lamb, mushrooms, fresh herbs, and wild game. Pinot Noir plays well with creamy sauces, spicy seasonings, and is considered by many to be one of the world’s most versatile food wines. As we move into the fall and inch toward the holidays, many consider Pinot Noir to be one of the best wines for pairing with traditional holiday dishes. —Chris Lawson of Fishpaws Marketplace