Pinot noir wines are made from the Pinot noir grape varietal, and although Burgundy wine from France is the most well-known wine of this variety, the grape grows in almost all cooler wine-producing regions of the world. What makes this wine so desirable is that it is extremely versatile; because it is light to medium-bodied and has fruity yet spicy characteristics, it is delightful to drink on its own as a cocktail and it also pairs wonderfully with all sorts of food, including food that would traditionally be paired with lighter white or rose wines.
Pinot Noir: the grape
The grape itself is thought to be only one or two steps removed from its wild-growing ancestor, Vitis sylvestris. An ancient varietal, it was first described in literature in the first century AD. Despite being rather difficult to grow due to its susceptibility to bunch rot, powdery mildew and other fungal infections along with a sensitivity to wind, the grape that grows in pine cone-shaped bunches grows in Austria, Argentina, Australia, Azerbaijan, Canada, Chile, Croatia, the Republic of Georgia, Germany, Italy, Hungary, Kosovo, the Republic of Macedonia, Moldova, Greece, Romania, New Zealand, South Africa, Serbia, Slovenia, Switzerland, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, the United States, Uruguay, Ukraine and Slovakia.
In all of these countries, wine producers have found that in order to produce the best wines, the Pinot noir grape must be tended to often and the plants must produce low yields in order to obtain the best flavours. High-yielding crops will produce a very inferior wine; the labour intensive cultivation of the grape is what makes the wines so good but also makes them rather more expensive that other red wines. One nation that is producing superior Pinot noir wines on a consistent basis is the United States. Wineries in California and Oregon are now leading producers of Pinot noirs, and are equal to the best of France’s famed Burgundies.
Pinot Noir: The wine
Pinot noir exhibits a tremendous range of aromas, bouquets, flavours and characteristics such as texture that even sommeliers and professional wine tasters can get thrown off from time to time. Because the grape is very sensitive to its growing environment, it will take on the taste of its terroir, which leads to its enormous taste variety.
In very general terms, the most predominant characteristics of Pinot noir are a black or red cherry aroma with hints of raspberry and other black berry fruits, and a light to medium body. Traditional French Burgundy tends to present “farmyard” aromas and a fleshiness which goes towards the savoury side rather than the sweet side. However, with modern techniques, winemakers are preferring a cleaner, more fruit-forward product that is a bit cleaner in texture.
The colour of Pinot noir wines has been compared to that of garnet or red-coloured gemstones and tends to be much lighter and jewel-like than other red wines which present darker, more opaque hues. However, again due to the grape’s variability, new styles of Pinot noir wines are coming from New Zealand and California which are deeper in colour and resemble Syrah wines and in some cases have even been compared to the heavier Malbec wines that are produced in South America.
Pinot noir grapes, in many parts of the world’s wine growing regions, are also used in the production of sparkling white wines, sparkling red wines, and rosé wines. This is due to the fact that the juice produced from the Pinot noir grapes is colourless.
Pinot noir wines, since 2004 and 2005, have increased in popularity in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand since the release of the film Sideways, an American movie in which the characters are devoted wine aficionados. Furthermore, tastes in these regions have changed from the “big reds” with high alcoholic content to something a little more restrained and subtle.
Called the “ultimate” wine by many wine critics, Pinot noir wines are very versatile when it comes to food pairings and are even incredibly pleasant to drink on their own as a cocktail; no pairing is needed. However, because of its moderate degrees of tannin combined with is nice, soft, sleek texture, many will say that the “ultimate” Pinot noir experience is one that sees the wine paired with food.
If a person wants to drink the wine without it being matched to food, on its own, it is recommended to chill a room-temperature bottle for about five minutes in order to appreciate the full fruit-forward characteristics.
Classic food pairings for Pinot noir include leaner meats, such as turkey, rabbit, veal, chicken, beef, pork, duck that has been well-drained, or any game bird such as pheasant. Pinot noir will also work well with goat meat, which has been gaining popularity due to its extremely mild, lean flavour.
However, other food pairings that will work nicely because of the slightly spicy touches of Pinot noir will be sausages, smoked meats, and braised or wood-roasted meats. Pinot noir will also match nicely with dishes that contain coriander, mushrooms, truffles, peppercorns, mustards, rosemary, basil, mint, thyme and oregano, traditional masala with cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and mace, sweet vegetables such as bell peppers, autumnal fruit such as figs, plums and blackberries, creamy cheeses and sauces that are butter-based.
Two ideal dishes to pair with Pinot noir according to the list above would be a Moroccan beef and plum slow-cooked tagine or a traditional Aloo Gosht (meat and potato) curry. The combinations based on the above pairings can be endless.
However, what really makes Pinot noir stand out from the crowd is its ability to pair well with seafood. While most gourmets will claim that only white wines should be consumed with fish and shellfish, one of the most delightful epicurean experiences a person can have is indulging in a bucket of steamed mussels and clams, followed by a filet of wild salmon from the west coast of Canada, all accompanied by a great bottle of Pinot noir from California’s Fetzer vineyards.