Pinot Noir: origin, characteristics and pairings

by Redazione Fine Taste

For those who love wine, Pinot Noir has a special meaning. As soon as an enthusiast hears Pinot Noir, his mind immediately flies to the legendary wines of Burgundy; difficult to match the finesse, elegance, balance and amazement of Burgundian wines.

Thanks to this legendary aura, Pinot Noir is also one of the best-known red wines. It is made from black grapes that thrive in a narrow spectrum of cooler climates. It is also notoriously difficult to grow due to its delicacy and the considerable care required to obtain a result befitting its fame. If done well, it produces great wines of remarkable elegance, complexity and longevity.

Let's see in detail what its characteristics are

What is Pinot Noir?

Pinot Noir is a black wine vine of the Vitis vinifera species that comes from France. It is one of the oldest grapes in France, cultivated more than a century ago by Cistercian monks in the Burgundy region. Without a shadow of a doubt it is certainly the most famous vineyard in Burgundy. Due to its popularity and difficulty in growing, it is also one of the most expensive wines on the market.

Where does Pinot Noir come from?

While the origins of this ancient grape are not fully known, Burgundy has long been the spiritual home of Pinot Noir. Some of the best single-varietal wines in the world are produced in this area. Thanks to the fame and rising prices of Burgundy wines, many winemakers around the world have sought to emulate the success of the French region. This led to Pinot Noir plantings in other parts of Europe and the New World. It is no coincidence that today Pinot Noir is considered an "international" variety.

However, Pinot Noir expresses itself best in colder climates, as its acidity, delicacy and finesse tend to weaken significantly in warmer climates. Today the countries that produce the best Pinot Noir are France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, New Zealand, Australia, the United States and Chile.

What is meant by Pinot Noir?

Pinot Noir is the name of a grape and the single-varietal wine produced from that grape. The name comes from the French words "Pine" and "Black", a reference to the pine cone shape of its bunches on the vine and the color of the grapes.

What does Pinot Noir taste like?

Giving a generic definition is always very reductive, given the specificity of this great wine.

In general we can say that, typically, Pinot Noir is dry, medium-light in body, with bright acidity, silky tannins and alcohol that varies between 12-15%. It has complex flavors ranging from cherry, raspberry, mushroom and leather to vanilla and spice when aged in French oak barrels. The taste of Pinot Noir wine varies based on the climate and the style of the producer. Cooler climates produce more delicate and lighter Pinot Noir. Warmer climates produce riper, full-bodied Pinot Noir with higher alcohol.

How much alcohol does a bottle of Pinot Noir have?

The alcohol in Pinot Noir depends on the area in which it is grown. Climate influences maturation, which influences alcohol levels. Pinot Noir from cooler regions such as France and Germany often has 12-13.5% alcohol by volume but can range from 13.5-15% when grown in warmer climates such as California and Australia. Cold and warm vintages also play a role in the final alcohol of the wine.

How should I serve Pinot Noir?

Pinot Noir has an ideal serving temperature of 16-18°. The serving temperature is very important, especially for Pinot Noir. A temperature that is too low would not adequately bring out all the wonderful olfactory nuances of this superb wine. The same goes if the temperature is too high!

Food pairings with Pinot Noir: what works and what doesn't?

Given the characteristics of finesse and elegance, the best gastronomic pairings for Pinot Noir are lighter red meats such as duck and lamb, or white meats such as turkey, pork and chicken.

Many will turn up their noses but Pinot Noir also pairs beautifully with fish with a stronger flavor such as, for example, salmon or cod. Mushrooms and truffles are also excellent pairings for this wine, especially if used for the preparation of pasta and risotto.

Pairings that don't work with Pinot Noir are fatty, richly flavored foods. They can overwhelm the delicacy of the wine and ruin all its poetry!

Pinot Noir in Italy

And how are we Italians in the production of Pinot Noir? What level of quality does this type of wine achieve?

In general, the two most suitable Italian areas for the production of Pinot Noir are Alto Adige and the Oltrepò Pavese area.

In particular, the Oltrepò Pavese boasts the largest Pinot Noir vineyard in Italy, thanks to its ideal soil and climate conditions for the vine. The Pinot Noir from these lands are wines of great depth and quality.

Unfortunately, in terms of communication, this area does not yet have the prominent position it certainly deserves in the Italian and international wine scene. Experts talk about the "sleeping giant", precisely to underline the great potential of this area and the artisan cellars that are part of it.

We at Fine Taste strongly believe in this future prospect and are great supporters of the Pinot Noir produced in this area.

For an overview of this wine or for a quality tasting, consult the sheets dedicated to our selected artisan producers:

Ca' di Frara winery

Calatroni winery

Count Vistarino

Mazzolino estate