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Home | Red Grape MP | Pinot Noir- The Fickle Phenomenon

Pinot Noir- The Fickle Phenomenon

For centuries, this red varietal has developed in its spiritual home of Burgundy, France. With origins traced back to 100 AD and helped by the monasteries in the 7th century onward, Pinot Noir quickly became the favorite grape in the French region. Now the grape has spread across the globe as vintners try to duplicate the elegance and complexity that made the Burgundian wines famous.

Where is Pinot Noir Grown?

Well, viticulturalists try to grow the grape in almost every conceivable part of the world. The trick is to find that unique balance of climatic, geographic, and geological conditions for the grape to thrive. Pinot Noir is quite particular in regards to where it will take root, necessitating a cool climate, specific soil types and low yields just as preliminary requirements. With a susceptibility to wind, frost, and a host of fungal diseases, Pinot Noir demands plenty of attention in the vineyard. But when vintners find a plot to accommodate these requests, the grapes bestow the possibility of making some of the world's greatest wines.

France - As mentioned above, the region of Burgundy in Eastern France has been the foundation for Pinto Noir's rise to superstardom. Yet, to highlight what a picky grape it is, of the 110 miles that Burgundy covers, only 40 or so are where Pinot Noir shows its true character. From the hills just south of Dijon, the regions of Cote de Nuits and Cote de Beaune are where to find those wines which can age up to 30 years. Known as the “Golden Slope”, these two regions produce what many consider the standard for Pinot Noir.

Burgundy Producers to look for: Domaine Armaund Rousseau, Domaine de Lambrays, Domaine Comte Georges de Vogue, Domaine Dujac, Domaine Georges Roumier, Domaine Bernard Dugat-Py, Louis Jadot, Domaine Albert Morot, and Domaine du Comte Armand.

The United States- There are a few regions within the U.S. which pass the initial screening and now are recognized around the world for world class wines. In the Pacific Northwest, Oregon's Willamette Valley has become synonymous with American Pinot Noir. Over 12,000 acres are planted in the cool, wet climate of the region and have given the area's vintners a signature grape. The best Pinot Noirs from Willamette Valley are the closest rivals to Burgundian offerings, able to evolve over a couple of decades. Other U.S. regions that have produced exceptional examples are concentrated in California. Sonoma's Russian River Valley, Napa Valley's Carneros, Central California's Santa Lucia Highlands, Edna Valley, and Santa Rita Hills are all great places to find Pinot Noir.

American Producers to look for: In Willamette Valley- Ken Wright Cellars, Argyle Winery, Domaine Drouhin, Archery Summit, WillaKenzie Estate, and Penner Ash. In California- Chalone, Presidio, Arcadian Winery, Belle Glos, Byron, Au Bon Climat, and Wolff Vineyards.

New Zealand- Through the 1960s and 1970s, Kiwi vintners struggled with the cultivation of Pinot Noir due to a limited supply of vines and their inferior quality. But as the importation of class vines increased, the grape took a foothold and is now the most widely planted red varietal in the country.  At the southern tip of the North Island, vineyards in the Wellington and Wairarapa regions boast outstanding Pinot Noirs. On the South Island plantings are abundant and the regions of Canteburry, Waipara, Central Otago, and Marlborough display their “New World” styles.

New Zealand Producers to look for: Cloudy Bay, Martinborough Vineyard, Dry River, Palliser Estate, Nuedorf Vineyards, Ata Rangi, Wither Hills Vineyards, Pegasus Bay, Felton road, Gibbston Valley Wines, and Rippon Vineyard.

Around the Globe: In Germany, where the grape is called Spatburgunder, the regions of Baden, Palatinate, and Ahr have recently made wines that rarely make it out of the country due to their popularity.  In Canada, the Niagara Peninsula in Ontario and the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia have shown promise.

Pinot Noir Styles

Presenting such a challenge for viticulturalists and winemakers, one would question the reason to even try and cultivate the grape. If the wine wasn't so good, Pinot Noir would probably be as silent as the monks who continued its propagation in the Middle Ages.

Pinot Noir has a wide range of styles, complexity driven by a portfolio of different aromas, mouth feels and color.  Pinot Noirs from Burgundy are medium bodied, usually aged in oak, and have a rich sense of earthiness and minerality complimenting the traditional cherry and raspberry aromas.  The top wines in Burgundy will display such a complexity of aromas and a silky texture after careful cellaring that they fetch sky-high prices.  In the United States Willamette Valley Pinots are generally medium body, lighter in color, and bright with strawberry, raspberry and cherry aromas.  Tannins are barely noticable and smooth, and the oak influence is subtle.  In California, the tend is toward allowing the must (juice) to remain in contact with the skins for a longer period of time, producing a deeper color in the finished wine.  Alcohol content is higher, and the wines can begin to approach full bodied.

The variety in styles makes it important to carefully consider the "shelf talkers" and views of your local wine shop owner to identify a wine that typifies the style you enjoy.

Wine Profile
















Alcohol: Medium, most Pinot Noir from Burgundy and Willamette Valley are in the 12.5% - 13.5% range. California Pinot Noir frequently is 14% +.


Acidity: Medium to low


Tannins: Medium to low



Wide range but for the best Burgundy's expect to pay $40 and up.  Oregon and California Pinot Noir is available in the $20 - $30 range with a few less than that, however the best from California can fetch prices over $50.


To help understand your wine profile read Your Wine Profile.

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·  Willamette Valley
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