[Credit: Pinot Noir at Crowley by jamesfischer]


Pinot Noir is a variety of red wine grape, though it can be used in rosé wines, Champagne and even blended into some white wines as well. It is considered to produce some of the finest wines available.


While Pinot Noir is planted in most of the world’s wine-growing regions for use in both sparkling and still wines, the best regions to grow the Pinot Noir grape are those with a cooler, dryer climate.


Pinot Noir is quite susceptible to mutation and many of these mutations are used to make popular wines. For instance, South African wineries have found that blending these with the Cinsaut grape can produce a distinctive variety of Pinotage.


Pinot Noir tends to be of a light or medium body, with the aroma conjuring scents of currant or blackberry. Certain growing conditions may impart a notable wood-like (earthy) flavor to the wine. The color is often much lighter than other red wines due to the smaller amount of pigment in the thin grape skin.  


The History of Pinot Noir


Pinot Noir was named after the noble Pinot family who date back to the Roman era. Pinot Noir grapes were being cultivated in the Burgundy region of France when the Romans invaded Gaul in the first century A.D.


Pinot Noir’s American history dates back to the 1930s on the coast of California and the Napa Valley (see also Napa Merlot). Until the 1980s, the main use of Pinot Noir wines was for making sparkling wines, and in a quest to produce a better Pinot Noir wine, winemakers moved further north to Oregon. This is where the Pinot Noir grape has been said to have found its home away from home, and it is now the most widely planted grape in Oregon.


Best Regions for Pinot Noir Grapes


 [Credit: Burgundy, France by Megan Mallen]


Undoubtedly, the Burgundy region of France is the most consistent and most prized area for growing Pinot Noir grapes. It is comprised of a two-mile wide and thirty-mile long stretch of hills, known as the Côte d’Or (Slope of Gold). Outside of Burgundy, a few other regions offer quality Pinot Noir, including the Willamette Valley in Oregon, and California's Santa Rita Hills and Santa Barbara.


The Willamette Valley in Oregon boasts superior growing conditions and a cooler climate which are important factors in Pinot Noir production. During the last ice age, great flooding occurred in this valley.  When the waters receded, rich volcanic silt was deposited along the valley floor, producing some of the most agriculturally-sound land in the world. The valley receives a large amount of sunlight and has an excellent drainage system.  Pinot Noir wines from this region are considered to be the best in the Americas.


Pinot Production


Pinot Noir wine begins life as a small, thin-skinned grape. Being very fickle to grow, the grape only thrives in optimal growing conditions; a cooler climate with plenty of sunlight and good drainage.


Pinot Noir in Popular Culture


One big reason for a sudden spike in Pinot Noir’s more recent popularity is the film “Sideways.” The film follows two middle-aged friends embarking on a week long wine tour in California. Pinot Noir is heavily featured as the preferred wine and due to the success of the film at the box office, and numerous awards shows, Pinot Noir sales shot through the roof.


How to Pair


Pinot Noir wine is well suited with poultry, ham, lamb and pork. It’s light body and earthy flavor lends itself well to a wide variety of dishes and can totally break the “red wine with red meat / white wine with white meat” rules. The earthy notes of Pinot Noir pair well with a wide range of sauces too, including pestos, sherry cream sauces, and spicy tomato. For more information on details on how and why Pinot Noir pairs so well with so many things, check out this post on Pair Wine With Food.


Pinot Getting Personal


As an Oregon resident, I can attest to the quality and availability of Pinot Noirs here in the Willamette Valley. Oregon boasts some of the best I’ve ever had, including Pinots made by White Rose Estate and Vista Hills.


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