Complete Guide to Pinot Noir Wine | Wine 101
Pinot Noir is the most approachable of all red wines because it has low tannins, bright acidity, and fresh red fruit flavors.
Pinot Noir offers lots to enjoy, whether you're just getting into red wine or fancy something lighter. The silky tannins and smooth mouthfeel don't dry out the mouth, yet crisp acidity helps it cut through fats and gamey flavors.
Some connoisseurs rate Pinot Noir as a pure expression of Burgundian and Alsace wine, but varieties from the USA and Argentina are equally pleasing.
This complete guide to Pinot Noir covers everything you need to know about it, including tasting notes, how to serve it, and notable regions.
Characteristics of Pinot Noir
Pinot Noir pours blush red to deep violet, with extended oak aging producing a purple tone. The paler Pinot Noir, the younger it usually is.
Lift the glass to your nose, and it treats you to fresh, vibrant red fruit aromas of red cherry, raspberry, and strawberry.
A twang of incense and cola is distinctive of Argentina and USA varieties, while French Pinot Noir offers purer red fruit notes. The nose is best described as finely perfumed, with not one red fruit aroma dominating.
Take a sip, and Pinot Noir reveals flavors of violet, raspberry, forest floor, and earth. The earthiness is complemented by bright acidity, which flourishes alongside low tannins – this combination gives Pinot Noir unbeatable freshness.
The most distinctive characteristic of Pinot Noir is the acidity-to-tannin ratio, with no other red wine keeping things quite so juicy.
Cool-climate Pinot Noir typically has a 12% to 13.5% ABV, while warm-climate wines are between 14% and 15% ABV.
Pinot Noir Tasting Notes
Pinot Noir is produced in Champagne, Burgundy, Alsace, the Loire Valley, France, the USA, Argentina, and Italy.
You can expect regional differences in tasting notes, although the pure expression of Pinot Noir is inarguably French.
French Pinot Noir has the brightest red fruit notes. You can expect raspberry, strawberry, red cherry, hints of red licorice, and a touch of mushroom and earth. Earthiness is more remarkable with extended aging (over twelve months in oak).
The USA and Argentina produce earthier, richer Pinot Noir with black cherry, pepper, and oak notes. The flavor profile is less vibrant but more jam-like than French wines, which some people prefer.
Whichever region your bottle of Pinot Noir is from, younger wines are fruitier, while aged wines are richer and earthier. If you enjoy the lightness and acidity of classic Pinot Noir, you will do best with one aged less than six months.
How is Pinot Noir Served?
Unlike most red wines, Pinot Noir is best slightly below room temperature. 55-60°F (12-15°C) is the sweet spot. This temperature range works because mild temperatures preserve the wine's acidity and low tannins.
If you let a good Pinot Noir wine go over 65°F (18°C), it is harsher and less vibrant, although it can help cheaper varieties taste heartier.
The best glass for Pinot Noir is a Burgundy wine glass or a wide bowl wine glass – this helps aerate the wine to bring out the acidity.
There is no need to decant Pinot Noir and doing so can disrupt the delicate red fruit flavors, so keep it in the bottle.
The Pinot Noir Grape
The Pinot Noir grape is an ancient grape variety, possibly only two generations removed from the wild vine Vitis silvestrii.
The grape as we know it today originates from Burgundy, France. Historical references pointed to the first century AD when the Romans adopted it from Gallic tribes, but it was probably growing in Burgundy centuries before.
Pinot Noir is the most common grape variety in northern Burgundy alongside Chardonnay, with the south primarily growing Gamay.
Today, France produces more than 80% of the world's Pinot Noir, but Germany, Italy, the USA, Argentina, and New Zealand also produce gorgeous varieties. You can't go wrong with Old World or New World Pinot Noir.
However, there are regional differences in taste profiles. Cool region Pinot Noir is lighter than warm-climate Pinot Noir with more acidity; warm region Pinot Noir is richer and less acidic, albeit with more tannins.
Notable Regions for Pinot Noir
France is Pinot Noir's largest producer, with Champagne, Burgundy, Alsace, and the Loire Valley producing exquisite wines. However, Burgundy produces the most Pinot Noir by far, accounting for around 70% of production.
Burgundian pinot noir is unmatched in depth, with classic notes of red cherry, forest floor, and earthy mushrooms with hints of spice.
Côte de Nuits, Hautes-Côtes de Nuits, Côte de Beaune, and Côte Chalonnaise are the key Burgundian Pinot Noir subregions.
California is one of the most exciting destinations for vibrant Pinot Noir. Mendocino County, Sonoma County, Napa Valley, and Central Coast subregions account for most Pinot Noir produced in California.
Mendocino County is known for its bold, acidic Pinot Noir, while Sonoma County Pinot Noir is earthier and spicier.
My favorite Californian Pinot Noir comes from Napa Valley, where mineral soils produce a tart, zingy wine with bundles of red fruit.
Oregon Pinot Noir has a distinctively light, fruity profile without the zing, making it a fantastic sipping wine. Compared to California wine, it is cleaner and fresher, bursting with fresh fruit and a subtle earthiness.
The Willamette Valley is Oregon's leading red and white wine region, and you will find most Pinot Noir plantations here.
Although Oregonian and Californian Pinot Noir compete, Oregon's interpretation is lighter, making it a better sipping wine.
German Pinot Noir is one of the best-kept secrets of the wine world, despite Germany being the world's third-largest producer of Pinot Noir.
You can find Pinot Noir plantations in the wine growing regions of Mosel, Ahr, Franken, Rheinhessen, and Baden. Germany's cool climate produces wines with cranberry and cherry notes with subtle undertones of earth and spice.
Some of the best Pinot Noir comes from Germany, with Baden the most significant region.
Argentina has emerged as one of the world's finest producers of Pinot Noir. Argentinian Pinot Noir has exciting notes of cola, baking spice, red licorice, and blackcurrant, giving it a distinct jam-like flavor missing in Burgundian wines.
Most Argentinian Pinot Noir is produced in the Mendoza region (mainly the Uco Valley), Patagonia, and the Neuquén Province.
Although only around 1% of global Pinot Noir production is attributable to Argentina, they produce some of the finest wines money can buy.
Pinot Noir Food Pairings
Our favorite Pinot Noir food pairings include pink and new season lamb, venison, and hearty dishes like duck with olives and cassoulet.
Pinot Noir also goes well with game birds and fatty fish like salmon and mackerel, thanks to its bright acidity. The low tannins won't overpower fish or poultry, making Pinot Noir a fantastic option for the dinner table.
We wouldn't pair Pinot Noir with prime rib, ribeye steak, or other fatty beef dishes because it needs to be more robust for beef's fat and texture.
Wild mushrooms and root vegetables also make good pairings with Pinot Noir, whether baked, roasted, fried, sautéed, or stewed.
Pinot Noir also works with soft cheeses like Gruyère, Comté, Emmental, and Gouda, making it a fantastic choice for charcuterie.
3 Awesome Pinot Noir Wines to Try
If you're keen to try some excellent Pinot Noir then the following bottles are well worth your consideration. Starting at less then $15, you've no excuse!
If you have a Costco store nearby, don't miss our guide to Costco Pinot Noir!
1. Under $15 - Sur de los Andes Reserva Pinot Noir 2018
Sur de Los Andes Reserva Pinot Noir is a Patagonian wine with bright cola, strawberry, and red cherry flavors. It is smooth and light-bodied with a crisp palate. Hints of tobacco and oak on the finish give it excellent depth.
2. Under $30 - Morgan Twelve Clones Pinot Noir 2019
Morgan Twelve Clones Pinot Noir is produced in the Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County, California. It's big on red cherry and strawberry, with rich red fruit and a hint of oak, vanilla, and cola. An absolute bargain at under $30!
3. Under $100 - Eden Rift Lansdale Pinot Noir 2018
Eden Rift Lansdale Pinot Noir is from the Cienega Valley, California, whose moderate climate produces a smooth, earthy red with mushroom and smoke notes. This Pinot Noir shuns fruit notes for earth and spice – a treat with venison and duck.
3 Fun Facts About Pinot Noir
1. Pinot Noir comes from the French word pine (pineapple)
The name "Pinot" name comes from the French word "pine," which means pineapple, while "Noir" comes from the French word for "black" – this refers to the grape's small, dark berries, which grow in pineapple-like clusters.
2. Pinot Noir is the 10th most planted grape
Pinot Noir is the tenth most planted wine grape. While it originates from France and is the only red grape grown in Alsace, most Pinot Noir is from Burgundy. The second-largest Pinot Noir producer is the USA, followed by Germany.
3. Where there's Pinot Noir, there's Chardonnay
The Chardonnay grape is related to Pinot Noir – a crossing between Pinot Noir and the near-extinct Gouais Blanc grape. As such, you usually find Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vines together, especially in Burgundy, France, and Mendoza, Argentina.