Pinot Noir Perfection
By W. Peter Hoyne
The expansive number of Pinot Noirs available on store shelves is an indication of our enduring love affair with this often refined, fruit forward and finesse driven grape. There have been few instances or articles written about a grouping of renowned producers from around the world that have been judged on the merits and authenticity of their Pinot Noir. We researched the elite producers and then reached out to those who merited global recognition as World-Class Pinot Noirs.
Pinot Noir’s ancestral home resides in the Burgundy region of France dating back to the first century AD. Although Pinot Noir achieved popularity among the Romans, it was the Cistercian monks that are credited with cultivating the authentic expression of this varietal in the hillsides of the Côte d'Or (Slope of Gold) region, near the city of Dijon. The monks maintained detailed records of their work in the vineyards and were responsible for creating the first harvest records. They were resolute in maintaining the highest quality of wine for sacramental purposes. What originated was site-specific viticulture in Burgundy. During the French Revolution of 1789, church properties were confiscated and dispersed among local families leading to independently run vineyards.
While Pinot Noir’s native home and identity is the Côte d’Or region of Burgundy, France there are plantings in most wine growing regions of the world. Notably they are produced in Australia, New Zealand, Northern Italy, Oregon, and California.
Pinot Noir is a finicky grape varietal of tightly packed clusters that are thin skinned, early ripening and prone to diseases and pests. It thrives in calcareous, loamy soils and within certain cool geographic regions of the world. Perhaps this is why most winemakers admit to being fascinated by this grape and wanting to conquer their own unique style.
To define a World-Class Pinot Noir, you need to examine certain criteria and truly understand what the French refer to as “terroir.” This terminology is exclusive to the French and difficult to translate, combining soil conditions, micro-climates, exposure to sunlight, altitude, and the regional identity where the vines are grown. Terroir also incorporates the human factor of winemaking and local traditions. It is a “sense of place” that embodies a notion of authenticity and genuineness. The term “cru” refers to a superb vineyard site that has achieved greatness through the expression of its wines. Together, they encompass the holy grail of a wine.
Pinot Noir’s flavor profile can reveal fresh orchard fruits, cassis, wild strawberries, and savory notes with underpinnings of forest floor, mushroom, grilled meats, and fresh herbs. Since Pinot Noir is a transparent grape, it can easily reflect the expression of the soil where it is grown. Typically, medium crimson to deep ruby in color, this varietal is low in tannins but retains a higher acid profile making it the ideal companion for most cuisines. It is used in Champagne and sparkling wines to add a dynamic structure to the blend. For the above reasons, Pinot Noir remains the choice and challenge of winemakers throughout the world.
Styles can vary greatly with Pinot Noir depending on the country, region, and vineyard where it is cultivated. Understanding this grape may be arduous and more complex than you are willing to learn. We have consolidated this piece into an overview of Pinot Noir’s contrasting styles from different countries and sometimes regions without it being intimidating or overwhelming. Our goal is for our readers to embrace this grape varietal in all its splendor and elegance with a willingness to explore the many personalities of Pinot Noir from around the world.