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Exploring the Pinot Noir grape variety

Updated: Apr 13


Walking into a wine shop can sometimes feel daunting. Not only will there be copious bottles of different grape varieties, but there will likely be several of the same variety from different locations across the world. Some will vary in vintage, some will express on the label what variety they are and others won’t. So all of a sudden, popping in to choose a nice bottle of wine to accompany your Sunday lunch can seem incredibly overwhelming.

When looking for a bottle of wine, there are serval things you can look out for that are telltale signs of what a wine is and how it should taste, even before you open it.

Pinot Noir

With the Pinot Noir variety, as a general guide, you can expect light to medium colour, high acidity (watering of the mouth), and primary red fruit flavours such as strawberry, raspberry and red cherries. If aged, you’d expect a light oak flavour, nothing too intense so soft aromas of smoke, clove, vanilla and tertiary flavours (which come from ageing) forest floor and mushroom.

It’s a difficult grape to grow and needs a cool to moderate climate to thrive, with the main countries of origin being: 

  • France - Burgundy

  • USA - California and Oregon

  • Chile - Casablanca Valley 

  • South Africa - Walker’s Bay

  • Australia - Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula

  • New Zealand - Martinborough, Marlborough and Central Otago

  • England - Kent, West Sussex

 

Climate impact on flavour

Some of the countries above typically have a much warmer climate, but because of each region’s positioning, you can expect morning fog, clouds - which block the sun so the vines are protected from heat, and coastal locations with cool Pacific breezes, all of which contribute to being the perfect climate for growing Pinot Noir grapes. 

 

With Burgundy Pinot Noir wines, anything grown in Gevrey-Chabertain, Nuits-Saint-George, Beaune and Pommard typically offers more flavour intensity and complexity than other wines grown within the surrounding area of Burgundy. A contributing factor to this is due to the vineyards’ location on slopes facing south and southeast, meaning they benefit from extra sunlight and well drained soils. This generally enables the production of concentrated and complex wines that are more suitable for ageing.

In the USA, because of its cooler climate, Pinot Noir wines produced in Oregon often have a fresher red fruit flavour with subtle notes of oak, and if aged, they can develop tertiary flavours of earth and mushroom. When you compare this to Californian Pinot Noir wines, you’d expect ripe strawberry and red cherry flavours with often notable flavours from oak such as smoke, cloves and vanilla. The most premium wines can develop tertiary flavours of forest floor and mushroom in the bottle.

Chilean Pinot Noir wines produce red fruit flavours with sometimes herbal notes. In South Africa, because of its strong southern sea breezes, you'd expect vibrant red fruit flavours, and in Australia, the wines can vary from light and fragrant to riper with cooked red fruit flavours, so expect notes of red plum and strawberry with medium tannins.

 

Pinot Noir is classed as the ‘premier’ black grape variety of New Zealand, and because of the cooler climates of Martinborough and Marlborough, very good and outstanding wines are produced.

According to WineGB, Pinot Noir is the most planted grape in England (33%) and is quickly producing some fantastic wines with flavours of wild strawberry, ripe red cherries and even hints of violet.

It’s a variety which is typically used in a single form, except for when it’s blended for sparkling wine where it’s often used alongside Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier.

So hopefully now, when you do go on the hunt for the perfect Pinot Noir, you’ll know a little more about what to look out for, along with what flavours you’d expect depending on which country it’s produced in.


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