Pinot Noir. Red grape – red, white, and rose wine

In the realm of viticulture, Pinot Noir stands as a rare enigma, capable of gracing your glass with either red or white wine, and even the delicate hues of rosé.

While Burgundy Burgundy is its ancestral home, a place where the very essence of Pinot Noir is interwoven with the tapestry of the region’s winemaking heritage, I shall commence this narrative not in Burgundy but in Champagne. There’s a certain charm in commencing any discourse with Champagne, a libation that carries an air of celebration. Furthermore, Champagne marks the birthplace where the red grape Pinot Noir underwent its inaugural transformation into white wine.

Pinot Noir occupies a prominent role among the triumvirate of grape varieties permitted in Champagne production. Here, I refer specifically to Champagne and not the broader category of sparkling wines. As a gentle reminder, the term “Champagne” is reserved exclusively for wines crafted in the Champagne region of France through a specific method. The three main grape varieties sanctioned for Champagne production are Chardonnay (white) and the red duo of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Winemakers wield these grapes in various combinations, with the most prevalent being a blend of all three. Alternatively, a Champagne can be exclusively crafted from Chardonnay, denoted as Blanc de blanc, or from one or both Pinot varieties, labeled as Blanc de noir.

In this oenophilic triumvirate, Pinot Meunier assumes a subsidiary role, exhibiting a more commonplace flavor profile than its illustrious cousin, Pinot Noir. Over time, Pinot Meunier has gradually yielded ground to the latter. Therefore, savoring a flute of Champagne marked as Blanc de noir, exemplified by esteemed houses like Bollinger, signifies an encounter with the pure essence of Pinot Noir or a nuanced amalgamation with Pinot Meunier.

The preference for Pinot Noir among Champagne’s vintners echoes the rationale behind choosing Chardonnay. The distinct flavor profile of Champagne is meticulously crafted through lees stirring after the second fermentation. To accentuate this characteristic taste, the original flavor of the base still wine must be subtle. Additionally, the base wine should boast relatively low alcohol content, given the boost in alcohol during the second fermentation, and possess elevated acidity. Situated as the northernmost wine region in France, and arguably the world for world-class wines, Champagne finds in Pinot Noir an ideal grape variety. This grape imparts a light-bodied structure, high acidity, and delicate notes of red cherry, strawberry, and raspberry, thus forming the foundation for an exceptional base wine.

The intriguing transformation of red Pinot Noir into white wine has its roots in Champagne. Before the 17th century, convention dictated that white wine should be made exclusively from white grapes and red wine from red grapes. In a moment of creative rebellion, Dom Perignon, a Benedictine monk, challenged this convention. Dom Perignon, whose association with the origins of Champagne sparkling wine is often celebrated, resided in the Champagne region. The Prestige cuvée, Tête-de-cuvée, of the illustrious Champagne House Moët & Chandon pays homage to Dom Perignon. While he didn’t invent Champagne as a sparkling wine, his contributions were pivotal in its development. Notably, he initiated the production of white wine from Pinot Noir, marking a transformative chapter in the history of winemaking.

The enigma of producing white wine from red grapes lies in the nuanced structure of the grape berry. Every facet of a wine’s character emanates from the grape, and different components of the grape berry impart distinct elements to the taste of the wine. From a winemaker’s perspective, the grape berry is dissected into three essential parts: skin, seeds, and pulp. The pulp yields juice, constituting water, sugar, and fruity aromas. Seeds contribute tannins, while the skin imparts both tannins and pigments. Interestingly, in most red grape varieties, the red color originates solely from the skin, not the juice, leading winemakers to categorize them as red grapes with white juice. Even those varieties producing wines with deep red hues, such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, fall into this category. While there are rare exceptions like Petit Bouschet and Saperavi with red juice, they are local and infrequently utilized.

The amalgamation of these diverse grape components into wine involves distinctive methodologies, with one primarily tailored for white wine and the other for red.

In the fundamental method for white wine production, grapes are harvested, crushed, and the juice is promptly extracted. Yeasts are introduced to the juice, devoid of skins and seeds, initiating fermentation where sugars are converted into alcohol. The outcome is a translucent white wine lacking both tannins and color.

On the contrary, the process for crafting red wine diverges: grapes are harvested, crushed, and undergo fermentation. During this process, the juice remains in contact with seeds and crushed skins, allowing tannins and pigments to continuously leach into the wine. Only after fermentation is complete is the liquid separated from seeds and skins, resulting in a hued red wine enriched with tannins.

When red grape processing excludes skin contact, essentially adopting the white wine production technique, the outcome is a white wine. Devoid of tannins and color, this method, championed by Dom Perignon, is the essence of the Champagne we find in our glasses.

The artistry of creating rosé wine lies in the winemaker’s ability to extract just a trace of pigments from the grape skin. The fermentation process initiates following the blueprint of red wine production, with the presence of skins. However, this stage lasts only a brief span, ranging from a couple of hours to 48, depending on the desired vibrancy and grape variety. Subsequently, the winemaker delicately presses the must and proceeds with fermentation, adhering to the methodology employed for white wine production. This represents the conventional technique for crafting still rosé, the sole method sanctioned within the European Union. Such wines exhibit a subtle color and a hint of tannins. Conversely, when fashioning sparkling rosé, an alternative approach is frequently adopted. In this method, a minute quantity of red wine is introduced to white wine solely for the infusion of color. This meticulous process ensures the absence of any discernible tannins in the final product.

Let’s delve into the distinctive characteristics of Pinot Noir and the countries and regions that beckon aficionados of this exquisite grape.

To begin, it’s essential to recognize that each grape variety thrives in specific climates, yielding fruits that contribute to the finest wine flavors. Broadly, these varieties can be categorized into two groups: those flourishing in warm climates and those thriving in cool climates. Pinot Noir falls into the latter category, requiring a cooler climate for optimal growth. With an early ripening cycle, relatively high acidity, and delicate skin, Pinot Noir, when cultivated in a suitable environment, expresses itself in wines adorned with intricate aromas of red fruits such as strawberry, raspberry, and red cherry, complemented by hints of spices and earthy notes. Characterized by low tannins and a typically light color, Pinot Noir tends to lose its acidity and freshness, unveiling a predominant jam-like taste when grown in warmer climates.

Therefore, when selecting your Pinot, meticulous attention to its origin is paramount.

It’s noteworthy that Pinot Noir is a varietal prone to mutation, giving rise to numerous clones worldwide. Consequently, the taste of the wine is influenced not only by the climate, terroir, and the expertise of the winemaker but also by the specific clone chosen by the vintner.

Burgundy stands as the birthplace and ultimate sanctuary where Pinot Noir thrives like nowhere else in the world.

This region boasts an enthralling wine narrative, adorned with an extensive and meticulously documented history of winemaking. From the Celts planting the first grapevines in the first century B.C. to the transformative period in 910 when the Benedictines took ownership of numerous vineyards on the Burgundy hills, the trajectory of Burgundy’s winemaking prowess was set. These Benedictines, who significantly shaped Champagne’s winemaking heritage alongside the iconic Dom Perignon, left an indelible mark on the world of wine, and their contribution to winemaking in France, in general, is immeasurable.

The Cistercians later joined the winemaking landscape, establishing the famed vineyard Clos de Vougeot, which continues to produce some of Burgundy’s finest wines, earning the prestigious Grand Cru designation.

Chardonnay) and Pinot Noir, intricately intertwined with the essence of Burgundy, found their origin and zenith in this captivating region, propelling it to vinous glory. Today, these two grape varieties reign supreme in Burgundy, with Pinot Noir occupying 30% of the region’s vineyards.

The rulers of Burgundy, particularly during the 14th and 15th centuries under the dominion of the Dukes of Burgundy, played a pivotal role in shaping the winemaking landscape. In the early stages of this period, Gamay, a less demanding grape compared to Pinot Noir, dominated the red grape landscape. However, in 1395, Duke Philip the Bold issued a decree elevating Pinot Noir as the exclusive red grape permitted for planting. Gamay, deemed unsuitable for human consumption, was banished to Beaujolais, where it now stands as the principal grape variety of the region. This decree marked a crucial turning point, solidifying Pinot Noir’s ascendancy in Burgundy’s vineyards and laying the foundation for its unrivaled legacy.

Formally nestled within Burgundy, the Beaujolais region has carved its identity to the extent that many wine connoisseurs advocate treating it as a distinct wine territory. I wholeheartedly endorse this perspective; the divergent characteristics of these regions render any attempt to amalgamate them futile.

In contemporary viticulture, traces of Gamay persist in Burgundy, primarily confined to the Maconnais region, renowned for its emphasis on Chardonnay, and in two other minor Appellations Contrôlées (AC), where it gracefully intermingles with Pinot Noir. Barring these exceptions, the hallmark of red Burgundy unmistakably remains Pinot Noir.

Duke Philip the Bold, in his wine-centric wisdom, enacted more than the substitution of Gamay with Pinot Noir. Recognizing the adverse impact of manure as a fertilizer on grape quality, he astutely prohibited its use. His foresight proved accurate, as such fertilization practices tend to elevate crop yield at the expense of wine quality.

Curiously, a parallel blunder occurred in Burgundy during the 1900s, coinciding with the widespread availability of chemical fertilizers. Thankfully, the vintners swiftly corrected course, and by the 1980s, the distinctive taste of Burgundy wines was restored to its rightful character.

A glimpse at the wine map of Burgundy reveals a north-to-south stretch, intricately divided into four distinctive sub-regions – Chablis, Côte d’Or (comprising Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune), Côte Chalonnaise and Mâconnais.

Pinot Noir finds its viticultural home in the heart of two pivotal regions. Côte d’Or stands out as the producer of the finest (and often the most expensive) Pinot Noir. A staggering 90% of the vineyards in Côte de Nuits are dedicated to cultivating Pinot Noir. The classical Burgundian Pinot Noir originating from Côte de Nuits is characterized by its full-bodied profile, medium to high (yet always soft) tannins, and an enchanting red berry bouquet. With the passage of time, nuances of vegetables, game, and terroir emerge, making Pinot Noir a challenging yet rewarding varietal for aging. The unique climatic conditions essential for crafting a full-bodied wine with elevated acidity, a crucial element for successful aging, are seldom found outside this region. Consequently, while many global regions excel in producing youthful Pinot Noir, only Burgundy attains true success in the art of Pinot aging. For those accustomed to the vibrant taste of young Pinot (as exemplified by New Zealand wines), the nuanced flavors of aged Pinot may seem unfamiliar, yet it is an exploration worth undertaking. Aged Pinot Noir offers a distinct and delightful oenological experience.

Côte de Beaune, while following a similar winemaking approach, produces wines of slightly lighter stature.

Côte Chalonnaise emerges as a more accessible and simplified rendition of Côte d’Or, offering wines that are both lighter and more budget-friendly.

In 1855, a pivotal moment unfolded in the history of Burgundy’s vineyards with the introduction of a comprehensive classification. This classification system bestowed the prestigious Grand Cru title upon the finest wines, representing a mere 1% of all wines in the region. Following closely are Premier Cru wines, constituting 11%, and the subsequent tier encompasses Villages wines (23%), comprising 23% of the total. It’s noteworthy to mention that due to the distinctive winemaking structure in Burgundy, the actual quality of certain Village wines can surpass that of Premier Cru. Grand Cru wines, while exceptional, often come with a hefty price tag.

Exploring the key villages in the Côte de Nuits illuminates Burgundy’s vinous landscape. Notable villages include Gevrey Chambertin AC (home to Chambertin AC, Chambertin Clos de Bèze AC), Vougeot AC (housing los de Vougeot AC), Vosne-Romanee AC (boasting Romanée-Conti AC, La Tâche AC and La Romanée AC), and Nuits-Saint-Georges AC. These names serve as beacons when seeking captivating Burgundy wines.

Burgundy stands out as the most intricately fragmented wine region in France. The vineyards, often minuscule in size, may have multiple owners producing wines independently. This unique scenario owes its existence to Napoleon, who, post the French Revolution, redefined inheritance laws, ensuring equal shares among family members. Consequently, vineyards were divided and sold, leading to the proliferation of wine négociants. These négociants played a crucial role by sourcing barreled wine from small proprietors, blending, aging, bottling, and distributing it. Even today, around 60% of Burgundy wines are sold by négociants. Hence, when selecting a bottle of Burgundy wine (excluding Grand or Premier Cru), consider the négociant’s name (typically found on the label) and their reputation. Esteemed négociants such as Bouchard Pere et Fils, Joseph Drouhin, Faiveley, and Louis Jadot have long-standing positive reputations, while names like Bichot, Boisset, Chamson, and Pierre Andre have gained recognition in recent years.

While Burgundy remains the classic hub for Pinot Noir, France unveils other captivating expressions of this grape. The initial section of this article delves into the significant role played by Pinot Noir in Champagne production.

Alsace, despite its cool climate, exclusively embraces Pinot Noir as its red grape. This variety contributes to the creation of vibrant, fruity rosés, as well as both still and sparkling wines. The sparkling renditions, notably the renowned Crémant d’Alsace, showcase the versatility of Pinot Noir in this region. The red Pinot Noir from Alsace typically embodies a medium-bodied profile, exuding freshness characterized by well-balanced acidity. Its aromatic palette bursts with the vivacity of red fruits, including raspberry, strawberry, and red cherry.

Shifting the spotlight to the western reaches of the Loire Valley, Sancerre, emerges as a noteworthy region. Although Sancerre is renowned for its exceptional Sauvignon Blanc, 20% of its vineyards are dedicated to Pinot Noir. Sancerre Rouge, crafted from Pinot Noir, mirrors the characteristics found in Alsace versions—light, fresh, and gracefully gentle, accompanied by a vivid red berry essence. This Sancerre Pinot Noir, influenced by its proximity to Burgundy, adds a delightful dimension to the diversity of French Pinot Noir expressions.

The Pinot Noir narrative extends beyond the borders of France, with New Zealand carving its mark as a significant player in global production, ranking second only to Burgundy. Its unique cool maritime climate, tailor-made for Pinot Noir, defines the diverse styles emerging from different regions. Noteworthy among these are Wairarapa, Marlborough and Central Otago.

Situated on the North Island, Wairarapa shares a narrow strait with Marlborough on the South Island. Both regions boast a typical maritime climate, yielding Pinot Noir styles often reminiscent of those found in Burgundy. Martinborough in Wairarapa particularly stands out, gaining considerable acclaim for its exceptional Pinot Noir in recent years. In contrast, Central Otago, the lone wine-producing region in New Zealand with a continental climate, produces full-bodied Pinot Noirs (ranging from 13.5% to 14%) marked by concentrated red fruit aromas.

New Zealand’s Pinot Noir repertoire also extends to sparkling wines, crafted using the traditional method and featuring Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, or a harmonious blend of both. Additionally, the country showcases its versatility with a plethora of delightful rosés, each a testament to the Pinot Noir grape’s adaptability and the nation’s winemaking prowess.

Australia, renowned for its warm climate, might not appear inherently suited to the delicate Pinot grape. Yet, upon closer inspection, Australia’s viticultural landscape reveals pockets of cool climates, ushering in a Pinot revolution that commenced in the 1970s with the introduction of new Pinot Noir clones from Burgundy.

Distinguishing itself in this narrative are four key regions: Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula, Tasmania and Adelaide Hills. Yarra Valley, celebrated for its Pinot exemplars, showcases a velvety texture and an Old World allure, characterized by fresh acidity, earthy undertones, and a melange of cherry and spice. The region has also carved a niche for itself in classic sparkling wines, drawing on the prowess of Pinot; even the venerable Champagne House, Moet et Chandon, has its domain in Yarra Valley.

Moving to Mornington Peninsula, the prevalence of small wineries infuses diversity into the Pinot tapestry, albeit often at a higher price point. Tasmania, with a climate akin to New Zealand’s renowned Marlborough and Martinborough regions, presents a unique narrative. The inherent climatic variability imparts a distinctive character to each vintage. The cooler climate positions Pinot as a stellar candidate for sparkling wine, urging connoisseurs to explore Tasmania’s sparkling Pinot offerings.

In Adelaide Hills, Pinot takes on a more straightforward persona compared to its counterparts in Tasmania and Yarra Valley. While not as gentle, these wines boast a robust taste profile at a more accessible price point, adding a touch of approachability to Australia’s Pinot panorama.

In the vast tapestry of American wine, USA Oregon stands out as a Pinot Noir haven. Wineries here often strive to emulate the esteemed Burgundy style, yet the capricious climate, marked by occasional scorching summers and drenching autumns, introduces a delightful unpredictability to the wine’s quality across vintages. Notable Pinot purveyors include Archery Summit, BeauxFrerez, WIllaKenzie, Cristom, Ponzi, Brick House, Ken Wright, and Domain Drouhin.

California , a powerhouse in wine production, contributes significantly to the Pinot Noir scene. However, the overall warm Californian climate tends to yield jammy and less nuanced expressions of this delicate grape. To uncover the true essence of Californian Pinot, exploration of cooler regions is key. Foremost among these is Sonoma county, where the Russia River Creek and Carveros areas specialize in crafting Pinot Noir..

In South America, Chile has also embraced the cultivation of this finicky grape, particularly in the southern regions of Itata and Bio-Bio. Each locale imparts its unique stamp on the wine, offering diversity to those seeking a Pinot adventure.

In the kaleidoscope of Pinot Noir options, finding the one that resonates with your palate at any given moment becomes a delightful journey. Cheers to savoring the myriad expressions of this exceptional grape!

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