Grape of the Week: Pinot Noir
By: Jeff S Cameron
Posted: Nov. 08, 2012

Pinot Noir is one of the more ancient of the modern grapes, probably only one or two generations removed from the wild vitis sylvestris, which may help to account for the challenges in cultivation and winemaking with this grape.  The earliest written record we have for this grape is from the 1st century AD when Columella, mentions it in his De Rustica, one the most important and well known Roman agriculturalist and vintners.

It is unknown whether the Romans brought the grape to Burgundy or they found it there.  Difficult to grow, it faltered when the Romans were driven from France and it might have faded into history until the Catholic church took over its care and developed vineyard practices that improved quality and consistency.  Pinot Noir became vital to the church as a major sacramental wine and the church owned most of the vineyards producing the grape in Burgundy.  That continued until the French Revolution led to land re-distribution and the vineyard system of today.

Universally regarded as one of the most difficult grapes to grow, Pinot Noir ripens early and as such is very susceptible to rains and frost.  It is susceptible to most of the known diseases and pests that periodically ravage grapes and it is the very definition of “thin skinned”, reacting drastically to minor changes.  A famous and oft repeated quote by André Tchelistcheff, the California Post-Prohibition winemaker alludes to this with "God made Cabernet Sauvignon whereas the devil made Pinot noir."

Nonetheless Pinot Noir can also be used singly or in combination with other grapes to make some of the very best wines in the world.  It is a key variety in making Champagne, and by law is the only red grape allowed to be grown on the best vineyard sites in Burgundy.  It is a very changeable grape and while reactive to challenges, also picks up the best of the vintner and terroir to create unique tastes depending on the style, region, and year of production. It can range from a simple fruity quaffing wine meant to be drunk as soon as the bottle can be opened to subtle and powerful masterpieces that with age and improve with 10 years or more and are correspondingly expensive.

Name: Pinot Noir
Species: vitis vinifera
Origin: France
Color:  Red wine (black grape)
Other names: Pineau de Bourgoyne, Franc Pineau, Noirien, Salvagnnin, Morillon, Auvernat, Auvernaut noir, Plant Dore, Vert dore, Burgunder blauer, Blauer Spatburgunder, Clavner, Blauer-Klavner, Schwarzer Riesling, Mohrchen, Schwarzer Burgunder, Pinot nera, Blauer Nurnberger, Nagyburgundi
Notable Regions: France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, United States, Chile

Next Grape of the Week: Gewürztraminer >>

Tags: Pinot Noir

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