Pinot noir is the grape responsible for some of the most well-regarded wines in the world. The name comes from the French words for “pine” and “black,” both in reference to the tightly clustered dark purple pine cone shaped bunches of fruit. Pinot Noir wines are among the world’s most highly regarded and popular. Joel Fleischman of Vanity Fair describes Pinot noir as “the most romantic of wines, with so voluptuous a perfume, so sweet an edge, and so powerful a punch that, like falling in love, they make the blood run hot and the soul wax embarrassingly poetic.” Master Sommelier Madeline Triffon has referred to it as “sex in a glass.”
Pinot noir is a relatively difficult variety to grow, typically thriving only in cool, often fog prone regions. Burgundy’s Cte d’Or is famous for its Pinot noir, where it has been grown for centuries. However, the varietal is now also planted in the United Sates (most notably Oregon and California), Canada, Argentina, Chile, Germany, Moldova, New Zealand, South Africa, and Switzerland.
The broad range of flavors and textures found in Pinot noir can be difficult to classify. In broad terms, the wine tends to be of light to medium body with an aroma hinting of raspberry, current, or black cherry. Although Burgundy’s Cote d’Or traditionally produced wines with fleshy, ‘farmyard’ aromas, recently lighter, fruitier Pinots have become more popular.
Pinot Noir, as a comparatively light wine, has enjoyed increased popularity in the United States, Austrialia, New Zealand, and Asia since 2004 in the wake of a recent trend towards less heavy and alcoholic wines. It also saw a boost in popularity after the release of the 2004 film Sideways. In the film, the main character Miles describes pinot in rapturous terms: “It’s a hard grape to grow … it’s thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early … it’s not a survivor like Cabernet, which can just grow anywhere and thrive even when it’s neglected. No, pinot needs constant care and attention … it can only grow in these really specific, little, tucked-away corners of the world. And only the most patient and nurturing of growers can do it, really. Only somebody who really takes the time to understand pinot’s potential can then coax it into its fullest expression. Then, oh, its flavors, they’re just the most haunting and brilliant and thrilling and subtle and ancient on the planet.”