This is what happens when someone who knows nothing about wine writes an article on pinot noir. First, I think I’m writing an article about wine. Then, it turns out pinot noir is a grape. But then, I find pinot noir is both a grape and a wine. So, in an effort to give you everything you need to know about pinot noir we’re going to learn about the grape first, then the wine.
The pinot noir grape is one of the oldest grape varieties known to be cultivated for the purpose of making wine. It was known by the ancient Romans and made famous in the Burgundy region of France. It’s got a reputation as one of the most obstinate grapes a vintner could grow. The grape often refuses to pass consistent flavor and aroma profiles on to its offspring. Many of the afflictions known to grapes are common to pinot noir. Despite thriving in cooler climates, it’s particularly susceptible to spring frosts. And if that’s not enough, pinot noir produces thin skinned grapes that dry out quickly if not picked promptly.
Pinot noir is also notoriously difficult to turn into wine. Take that grape out of France, and it gives no end of trouble. Pinot noir grapes tend to ferment violently. It’s not unusual for the wine to boil out of the container, sending fermentation out of control. Pinot is also fairly prone to losing promising aromas and flavors. Even color retention can be difficult for this varietal.
However there is hope and this is where we start talking about the wine. Remember how I said that the pinot noir grape does best in cooler climates? Enter Oregon’s Willamette valley, British Columbia’s Okanagan region and the island nation of New Zealand. Even California’s Sonoma valley is producing some fairly decent wines. With that in mind, let’s get on to discussing what makes a good pinot noir.
Now with all this trouble, why do people even bother trying to produce pinot noir? Because when this wine works, it works brilliantly. A good pinot noir has a complex nose, often with an aroma of ripe grapes and black cherries. There will often be a hint of spiciness, maybe cinnamon or sassafras. Many tasters will also describe ripe tomato, mushroom and barnyard. This wine is full bodied, not heavy and low in acid and tannins. It’s full in flavor despite its delicacy. When pinot noir is done right, people have described it as being like liquid silk.
Next, I have a few words about choosing pinot noit. If this is the first bottle you’ve tried, go to the liquor store and talk to people. Liquor store employees are usually knowledgeable enough to help guide a person’s first purchase. Pay attention to the wine’s appellation. This will tell you where the grapes come from. And just like any other food product, the better the grape, the better the wine. For now, I’d recommend Oregon, B. C. or New Zealand wines. Stick to wines 2-6 years old as older wines tend to be over the hill. Finally, taste before you buy whenever you can. Many liquor stores offer wines by the glass, so customers don’t have to suffer through a whole bottle of wine they’re going to hate. Wine can be too expensive for that sort of trial and error.
When you get right down to it, experiment as much as is practical. And don’t worry if you get the occasional bottle that doesn’t work for you. Not every wine will. Just ask lots of questions and try new wines whenever you can. As long as you surround yourself with knowledgeable people, you’ll have a long and rewarding relationship with pinot noir.