Pinot noir, the wine everyone loves. Even Goldilocks would say it’s just right. But why is pinot noir so popular and likeable? We even base our BOXT Profile Four wine on the taste profile of a delicious pinot, but what does that mean, and why (as we like to say) is it always the crowd pleaser at the party?
People love pinot because it tastes great on its own and with nearly every food. It’s an easy going, lighter bodied red, that is also complex, interesting and has subtle characteristics that surprise us every time. Most popular reds like merlot, malbec, cabernet sauvignon and syrah are bolder and fuller bodied than pinot noir. Nothing wrong with that, we all love a big red, but part of what makes pinot so lovable is this contrast of lightness with such an intricate palate that’s anything but simple.
Before we go any further, let’s talk about the elephant in the room: how to pronounce pinot noir. Because one of the things we’re most interested in is making fine wine simple, and taking the guesswork, hassle and stress out of the equation. And it’s stressful being on a date or with a group of friends and wanting to order a glass, but not knowing how to pronounce it. We’ve all been there and we want to help.
So. Pinot. Pronounced pea-no. Silent “t”. Most of us have this one down. It’s the rest of the name that gets us tongue tied.
Noir. No ire? New war? Nu waugh? How do the French even make that sound?
This one is all over the map for people, since if you’re not a native French speaker, it’s always going to sound wrong, but we go with the most simple version, nuh-wah. Some pronounce the “r”, but we prefer to make the last three letters sound like wah. So all together now. Pea-no, nuh-wah.
Now you’re ready to order it anywhere. Out loud. No pointing at the wine list involved.
The pinot noir grape has been around since AD 100 and is one of the hardest grapes to grow. It’s fussy and delicate, sensitive to changes in weather, soil, heat and humidity. It is susceptible to disease and fungus and at the same time does best in damper climates with chalky soil, which means it needs a lot of attention and only grows well in a few places in the world.
1. France. Considered the birthplace of pinot noir. The Catholic Church gained ownership of the pinot vineyards during the Barbarian invasions, but during the French Rievolution, the vineyards were seized back from the Church and distributed to families in Burgundy, which began the family-owned vineyard tradition we still see around the world today. Pinot noir is now grown primarily in Champagne, with Burgundy a close second and Alsace and Sancerre playing a role as well.
2. United States: California and Oregon. The Oregon coastal climate is perfect for the fussy pinot grape, with its temperate, cool, damp weather, and the wines produced here can be comparable to those from Burgundy. While a little warmer, the California coast in Sonoma County is famous for its pinots, as is the Russian River Valley, and you’ll even see pinot noir vineyards in Monterey County and as far south as Santa Barbara.
3. Germany. Who knew? Well, mostly wine insiders, because even though it’s the third largest producer of pinot noir in the world, (Germany devotes 29,000 acres of vineyards to pinot noir, compared to 62,500 in the US and 80,000 in France) most of their pinots are never exported. Possibly because they call it Spatburgunder, which sounds like we’ve just stepped in something foul. German pinots are fruit forward with notes of plum and red fruits, and have more acidity and less tannins than their French counterparts.
4. Moldova. If we didn’t know about Germany’s great pinots, we almost certainly didn’t know about Moldova, but it produces award-winning wines. Its winemaking history goes back 3,000 years and it sits at the same latitude as Bordeaux with a similar climate to Burgundy. So they really can’t go wrong. And they don’t.
5. Italy. It grows at least 21 grape varietals, producing more wine than any other country in the world, with sangiovese as its most planted vine. But Italy gives some of its northern vineyard land to the beloved pinot nero, (as they call it), where the cooler climate is just right. The terrior here produces a wine with similar fruit tastes to French pinots, but the earthy notes from Northern Italy speak to smoke, tobacco, white pepper and cloves.
Other countries produce great pinots as well, including Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland and Chile.
MORE THINGS TO LOVE ABOUT PINOT NOIR
1. Terrior (the environmental conditions, especially soil makeup and climate) is incredibly important to the outcome of a pinot noir wine. All grapes are influenced by the terrior, but pinot noir even more so because of its delicate nature.
2. Pinot noir grapes are used for Champagne and rosé and are one of only three grapes allowed to be used to make Champagne. The other two are Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier.
3. This grape is so named because its cluster is smaller and tighter than other varietals and looks something like a pinecone. Hence, pinot (French for pine) and noir (French for black) because the grapes are so dark they appear black.
4. French pinot noirs tend to have more earthy and floral tones, which come from Burgundy’s terroir.
5. The way pinot noir is pressed and fermented has a great deal to do with its final taste. If a winemaker ferments with the whole cluster to increase tannins, their wine will likely be bitter if drunk when young, but makes for a wine that ages beautifully.
6. A pinot from Burgundy, France is known for its stemmy and earthy tones like mushrooms and soil along with notes of tart cherry, hibiscus and rose, while one from California will be bigger and more full of ripe cherries, raspberries and vanilla.
7. A California pinot, when aged in French oak barrels, will take on subtle flavors of spice and earthiness.
HOW TO PAIR YOUR NEW FAVORITE WINE
One of the reasons for pinot noir’s popularity is its versatility. While still being interesting and complex, pinot noirs pair with just about any food. We’ve created a full pairing menu for our Profile Four (which will work with just about any pinot from California), and below are some general notes to guide you in the perfect match for your pinot.
- The high acidity and aromatic nature of pinot noir pairs well with bread, cheese and herbs – think pizza with fresh basil or rosemary or an herbed soft cheese with a fresh baguette.
- The earthy richness of a hearty mushroom stew or a portobello burger will bring out the fruit notes in a pinot.
- Pinot loves gamey meat like rabbit and duck. The acidity cuts through the fat and when you use spices and herbs, you’ll bring out the more subtle flavors of this wine.
- We often think that red wine doesn’t go with fish, and it usually doesn’t, because the sea taste and the tannin taste combined is like toothpaste and orange juice. But with pinot noir, you can pair it with a fresh river fish (no sea aftertaste here) like trout or salmon and you can serve it however you like, even smoked. Keep to the same rule and you can enjoy pinot noir with several sushi and sashimi dishes.
- All wines love cheese, and pinot noir especially loves these:
- French comtè
- Swiss gruyere
- Drunken goat
We know sometimes you’re out in the world and want to order a glass or bottle of wine. Well, we love our bottle friends and these are three great pinots that we like to drink. (Yes, it’s true, we drink other wines besides our own. Lots of them.)
“A fruit-forward pinot with lots of bright strawberry and cherry aromas and flavors. It’s full-bodied and layered with ripe, integrated tannins and lots of fruit at the finish.” -James Suckling
“Lots of spice, earthy forest floor, cherries and red currant notes.” -Jeb Dunnuck
“This wine is earthy in stewed plum and clove, with a lasting richness…which finishes in a spicy note of cardamom and mint.” -Virginie Boone
We’re always up for a taste test and we encourage you to have some fun and try these wines along with our Profile Four. Take notes, see what you taste, write down what you like and what you don’t like. We are all about giving you permission to like exactly what you like, so that you can enjoy whatever wine you’re drinking, every single time.
We love feedback so drop us an email at email@example.com or tag us on social @drinkboxt with your comments, questions or tasting notes!
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