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The Pinot Noir Grape


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About Pinot Noir

(Synonyms: Auvergne, Auvernat, Auvernas, Berligou, Berligout, Black Burgundy, Blauburgunder, Blauer Arbst, Blauer Spätburgunder, Bourguignon, Burgunder, Cerna Styria, Clevner, Cortaillod, Kék Burgundi, Kisburgundi, Klävner, Klebroth, Moréote, Morillon, Morillon Noir, Mourillon, Noirien, Noirin, Orléanais, Touraine, Orléanais, Pineau Noir, Pino Fran, Pino Ceren, Pinot Cernii, Pinot Liébault, Pinot Nero, Plant Doré, Rulandské Modré, Savignan Noir, Servagnin, Spätburgunder, Vaud, Vert Doré)

Background

Map showing Burgundy

Pinot Noir is a red-wine grape originating in the Burgandy region of France. It is now widely considered one of the dozen and a half or so “Noble wine grapes” of the world, and was so considered even when that list only included three red-wine grapes.

Pinot Noir is a notoriously fickle grape in the vineyard. In its home, it has had many centuries of intense care, presumably leading to the use of clones that are exactly matched to their soils and microclimates; in other regions, that selection and adaptation is still a work in progress. There may well be more clones of Pinot Noir in vineyards than of any other wine grape.

(Clonal selection is a little-discussed but critical part of grape-growing and thus wine-making; there is a good discussion of Pinot Noir clones in this U.C. Davis report on the grape. Pinot Noir notoriously mutates quite readily, which is why its clonal variants differ from one another much more than is the case with most other wine grapes.)

The French passion for classification reaches its apex in Burgundy. In Burgundy, there are five growing areas, divided in total into fully one hundred AOCs (appellations d’origine contrôlée), and, within each, designations from “Grand cru” through “Premier Cru” and “Village” down to “Regional”. (Take notes: there will be a quiz in the morning.) There is no point in re-inventing the wheel, and Hilarie Larson has a fine introduction to the world of Burgundy (including also Chardonnay) at the Wine Folly web site.

Some of the most fantastically expensive and swooned-over wines in the world are Burgundies of Pinot Noir. So what is this fascinating grape like? Well, once you have tasted it, you will not likely ever mistake anything else for it, or vice-versa (whereas, in contrast, there are several eminent Bordeaux reds that can readily be mistaken one for another). Jancis Robinson states that “Perhaps the only characteristics that the Pinot Noirs of the world could be said to share would be a certain sweet fruitiness and, in general, lower levels of tannins and pigments than the other ‘great’ red varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.”

The great claim about Pinot Noir is that it is the premier grape for expressing that elusive quality, terroir. The French Wine Guide defines terroir as “a group of vineyards (or even vines) from the same region, belonging to a specific appellation, and sharing the same type of soil, weather conditions, grapes and wine-making savoir-faire, which contribute to give its specific personality to the wine.” That’s really not very helpful; as the Wikipedia article on the word better puts it, “Terroir can be very loosely translated as ‘a sense of place’, which is embodied in certain characteristic qualities, the sum of the effects that the local environment has had on the production of the product.” That is why Pinots from vineyards scarcely a stone’s throw apart (literally) can differ substantially in almost every respect (yet be equally good—or great, or mediocre—wines. Notice that neither definition refers to the wine maker: it is as if the wines magically make themselves from the grapes; obviously, however, the wine maker is, as one might say, the lens through which the the terroir is perceived in the glass.

(All this is only an extremely superficial introduction to the complexities with which Burgundy lovers must acquaint themselves; even just the Wikipedia article on Burgundy wines is a towering wall of text.)

If we try to get more definite, we can say that cruder Pinots, grown where the climate is really a bit too warm for it, produce relatively simplistic fruit bombs often described as "jammy"; we recall some that tasted like they should be spread on toast. In better circumstances, the resulting wine is light-to-medium in color and body, and pervaded by fruit flavors of the dark-red-berry sort, typically cherry but sometimes raspberry/strawberry. Beyond those basics come the highly variable terroir variations of earthiness, cedar, tobacco, and the usual host of vague words that try to express the subtle and complex red-wine flavors for which there are still really no good words.

Factoid: French wine law allows most Pinot Noir Burgundy to be cut with up to 15% of regional white-wine grapes. In practice, such blending is extremely rare.

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Some Descriptions of Pinot Noir Wines

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Some Pinot Noirs to Try

(About this list.)

Weingut Stadlmann “Classic” Pinot Noir

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Tasting Notes” page.
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks



Hahn Family “SLH” Pinot Noir

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Tasting Notes” page.
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks



Elouan Pinot Noir
(This is their basic Pinot, not their “Reserve”.)

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Tasting Notes” page.
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks



Taken Wine Co. “Complicated” Pinot Noir

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Tasting Notes” page.
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks



Line 39 Pinot Noir

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Tasting Notes” page.
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks

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For a Splurge

Our nomination is the Escarpment “Kupe” Pinot Noir. Note that this is their ”Kupe“ bottling (they have others).

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Tasting Notes” page.
• This wine’s CellarTracker pages.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks

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This page was last modified on Monday, 23 March 2020, at 3:52 pm Pacific Time.