Tannin: Low to medium
Age: Most are best when young, while top quality wines develop great complexity with age.
Aka: Also known as Spätburgunder in Germany and as Pinot Nero in Italy.
Pinot Noir (PEE-noh NWAHR) is perhaps the most enigmatic of all grape varieties. To many, it is the most sensual red wine in the world, while to others it is elusive and much over-hyped. In truth, it can frequently frustrate, but can occasionally be sublime.
Although grown throughout the world, it prefers cooler climates and finds its greatest expression in its home in Burgundy in France. Here Pinot Noir produces some of the finest (and most expensive) wines in the world and has been doing so for centuries. The terroir in Burgundy is unique and has been carefully managed and studied for over a thousand years. The best Burgundy wines are the benchmark for Pinot Noirs worldwide and the reason why so many winemakers have tried to emulate them.
Growing and vinifying Pinot Noir is not for the faint hearted. It is a very demanding vine to grow and does best on limestone soils. Because it is early ripening, it requires a cool climate to allow the grapes to mature slowly before reaching perfect ripeness. During the wine making process it needs constant attention and frequent interventions are necessary to ensure the desired result.
There can be wide variations in the flavor profile of Pinot Noir depending on where it is grown. Part of the reason for this is that it is a very old grape variety and, as such, is prone to mutation. Consequently, there are a great number of Pinot Noir clones even within an individual wine region. Each of these clones will display unique characteristics and produce wines that may be subtly or substantially different from other clones.
While the wines Pinot Noir produces vary considerably, it can be said that they are generally medium bodied (can be light or even full) with low to medium tannin and high acidity. Their delicate red fruit and savoury aromas can be very complex. Red fruit flavors of cherry, strawberry, raspberry and plum dominate, with additional complex flavors emerging as they age and mature, which can include fig, truffle, spice, wood smoke and violets, as well as forest floor and animal notes of mushroom and leather.
If the grapes are under-ripe, vegetal flavors are prevalent and if over-ripe (a risk in warmer climates) acidity will be too low and the wines will appear flat and jammy. Climatic conditions are therefore very important and the winemaker also has a critical role to play in the quality of the finished product.
Many of the best Pinot Noirs are aged in oak, but care is needed as new oak can easily overwhelm the wines’ more delicate flavors. With age, the finest wines develop wonderfully intense and complex flavors that make them some of the most sought after wines in the world. They can even evolve in the glass, releasing wave after wave of sensory stimulation.
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