Pinot Noir Wine

Pinot Noir (3000 word comprehensive report)

Wine Glasses and Stemware

The purpose of this report is to explore the different elements of Pinot Noir wine. This will be accomplished through the use of the following sections:

  1. Definition of Pinot Noir wine

  2. History of Pinot Noir wine

  3. The Best Regions to Grow the Pinot Noir grape

  4. Famous Vineyards

  5. Producing the Wine

  6. Glassware and Tasting

  7. Online Shopping

  8. Pinot Noir in Popular Culture

Defining the Wine

Pinot Noir (pronounced pee-noh-n’whar) is a red wine grape, though it can be used in rose wines, Champagne, and even some white wines; it is considered to produce some of the finest wines available. Pinot Noir is planted in most of the world’s vineyards and wine-growing regions for use in both sparkling and still wines.

Pinot Noir grown for dry wines has a notorious low-yield value, and is often very difficult to fully cultivate; Pinot Noir grown for use in Champagne and other sparkling wines often has a much greater yield. The reason for this grape being so arduous to grow is simple: the Pinot Noir grape has a very thin skin. This makes it especially prone to fungal infections and rot. As well, the Pinot Noir vines can easily become overrun with downy mildew in warmer climates. Therefore, the best regions to grow the Pinot Noir grape are those with a cooler, dryer climate.

Pinot Noir is also quite susceptible to mutation, and many of these mutations are used to make popular wines. These include Pinot Meunier, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Blanc. By 1990, France was cultivating about forty-six different mutations of Pinot Noir. South Africa has even managed to splice it with the Cinsaut grape to produce a distinctive variety of Pinotage.

Pinot Noir tends to be of a light or medium body, with the aroma conjuring scents of currant or blackberry; certain growing conditions may impart a notable wood-like flavor to the wine. The color is often much lighter than other red wines due to the smaller amount of pigment in the thin grape skin. Pinot Noir wine is well suited with poultry, ham, lamb or pork. Due to the growing requirements of Pinot Noir it is usually produced in much smaller quantities than other red wines.

History of Pinot Noir wine

The Pinot Noir grape is one of the earliest varieties of grape to be cultivated with the purpose of making wine. As early as the first century AD, ancient Romans were producing wine using the Pinot Noir grape. After invading Gaul (France), the Romans noticed that the Gallic tribes were drinking a wine stored in wooden casks and bred from wild native Pinot Noir grapes, and were surprised by the unique flavours. It is said that Roman emperors coveted this wine for more than 300 years.

When the barbarian horde swept through France centuries later, wine making was still a priority. Production was handed down to the peasants, who worked for wealthy landowners.

But the single most important reason that Pinot Noir survives to this day has to do with Catholic monks. Pinot Noir was the wine of choice for use in their sacraments, and the approval of the Church was more than enough to garner mass appeal. By the sixth century AD, Burgundy was divided into multiple vineyards, which were all owned by regional churches.

With the French Revolution in 1789, the vineyards of Burgundy were seized from the Church and redistributed to the surviving family members of the region. This formed multiple tiny vineyards that were all independently run.

Since that time, Pinot Noir has been famously cultivated in the Burgundy region of France, one of the only places in the world where Pinot Noir has a constant yield.

Best Regions To Grow Pinot Noir Grapes

Undoubtedly, the Burgundy (Bourgogne) region of France is the most consistent and most prized area for growing Pinot Noir grapes. It is comprised of a two-mile wide and thirty-mile long stretch of hills, known as the Côte d’Or (Slope of Gold). Factors that make this region one of the best in the world for Pinot Noir production are many. The vineyards are situated on a gentle, east-sloping hill, which provides prolonged solar exposure. The soil has a high chalk count, which offers exceptional drainage; well drained soil has a higher average temperature.

Outside of Burgundy, few other regions offer quality Pinot Noir; the Willamette Valley in Oregon, and Martinborough, Waipara, and Central Otago in New Zealand are recognized as exceptions.

The Willamette Valley in Oregon boasts superior growing conditions and a cooler climate; all important factors in Pinot Noir production. During the last ice age, great flooding occurred in this valley. When the waters receded, rich volcanic silt was deposited along the valley floor, producing some of the most agriculturally-sound land in the world. The valley receives a large amount of sunlight and has an excellent drainage system. Pinot Noir wines from this region are considered to be the best in the Americas.

In New Zealand, the Martinborough, Waipara, and Central Otago regions all provide similar topography and climates. The Central Otago region especially has received world-wide attention for its stunning Pinot Noir wines. It has benefited by having one of New Zealand’s rare continental climate zones, allowing for an optimum growing season. Many experts believe that the Pinot Noir produced from this region will begin to give the best of Burgundy its first true competition. Because of its size, Central Otago will never become a large wine growing region, but the capacity to make world-class wines exists, and the focus is on quality over quantity.

Other regions around the world are beginning to show promise as Pinot Noir growers of note. These include: the Okanogan valley (Canada), Germany, Italy (Pinot Nero), Switzerland, Austria, South Africa, Serbia, China, Chile, and Australia.

Famous Vineyards

Every single vineyard from the Burgundy region could be listed here, but it would prove monotonous and droll. In as such, only the most famous of them all, the vineyard which seems to exemplify the pristine qualities of Pinot Noir the most will be discussed: Domaine de la Romanée-Conti.
Domaine de la Romanée-Conti is considered to be one of the finest vineyards in the world. The Pinot Noir produced within its confines consistently rates at the top amongst wine connoisseurs globally. Imparting a unique and sensual taste with every sip, those lucky enough to acquire any bottle of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Pinot Noir never forget it. Be warned, though… the least expensive bottles can cost upwards of $150, with prices reaching phenomenal heights for earlier vintages.

Outside of Burgundy, there are a number of standout vineyards which produce high-quality Pinot Noir, of which the Willamette Valley Vineyard in Oregon, and the Mount Edward winery and vineyard of New Zealand are counted.

The Willamette Valley Vineyard is the known as one of the premiere vineyards in Oregon, and their Pinot Noir has been lauded worldwide. With soil similar to that found in the Burgundy region and an enviable natural drainage system, the grapes grown at WVV produce a Pinot Noir wine with an emphasis on pure fruit characters, depth and richness.

The Mount Edward winery and vineyard in the Central Otago region of New Zealand is also blessed with similar growing conditions as Burgundy. Alan Brady, owner of this highly specialized winery, was a pioneer of winemaking in New Zealand, and his quest for the perfect Pinot Noir has led to some superb quality vintages, produced only in limited amounts. Mount Edward Pinot Noir is made from select grapes, and Brady conveys his years of experience into every batch. The result is a Pinot Noir with subtle undertones of fruit and earth; a very pleasant experience.

Producing the Wine

It is important to note that every vineyard and winery in the world has a different method of producing their wines. Below is a general overview of a general process for making Pinot Noir. You can also view the process of wine making at http://www.howtomakewine.ca

Pinot Noir wine begins life as a small, thin-skinned grape. Being very fickle to grow, the grape only thrives in optimal growing conditions; a cooler climate with plenty of sunlight and good drainage. Adequate insect protection and a proper water supply will ensure that the grape vine will produce quality fruit. The sweetness of the grape depends on how long it is left on the vine, with the general rule being longer equals sweeter. Grapes are usually harvested between February and April, but that may change due to weather conditions.

A quick start to the wine-making process will result in a better wine, so the next stage is to swiftly transport the harvested grapes to a crusher. The crusher crushes the grapes and releases juices, while at the same time separating stems and skins. With Pinot Noir, the juice is kept in contact with the skin, allowing tannins to color the clear liquid.

Now the juice is allowed to ferment. The process of fermentation begins by pouring the liquid into a vat and adding wine-making yeast to it. The yeast consumes the natural sugars in the wine, and alcohol is produced as a by-product; carbon dioxide gas and heat are also produced, so the vat must have some form of ventilation. When all the sugar is converted to alcohol, the yeast cells die off.

Pinot Noir wine requires a lesser contact time with the grape skins then a more full-bodied wine, such as merlot, so it is important to monitor the color. When the desired body is met, the wine is then put into a second vessel, usually oak or stainless steel, for another period of fermentation; oak barrels impart spicy and additional tannin components to the Pinot Noir.

The wine is then allowed to age in a wine cellar or similar cool, dry place. At a predetermined amount of time, usually every three to four months, the wine goes through a racking process, in which the clear wine is separated from sediments. During its first year, Pinot Noir is aerated during the racking process to help soften tannins; during the second year, this is not the case.

After a period of twenty to twenty-four months aging time, egg whites are mixed with the wine to absorb excess tannin. The Pinot Noir is then racked one final time before bottling can commence.

For Pinot Noir grapes used in Champagne and other sparkling wines, the process begins with the crushing. The grapes are very gently crushed, and the juice is gathered before the grape skins can begin to color the liquid. The Pinot Noir grape juice is then used to make still wine, into which the fizz is added.

The most important part of making the Champagne is to select a bottle that will be able to withstand the extra pressure of a sparkling wine. Once the bottle is ready, the still wine poured into it. Next, yeast and a sugar solution are added, and the bottle is capped. As the yeast ferments the added sugar, more alcohol and carbon dioxide are produced. With no ventilation system, the carbon dioxide is eventually dissolved into the wine.

Now the wine ages, and with appropriate measures of turning and tapping, it will eventually end up facing neck down. The dead yeast cells will collect in the neck and be ready for exhumation. By dipping the neck in freezing brine, a frozen chunk of wine containing the dead yeast cells and other sediment will be created. By uncapping the wine, the plug is easily removed.

Lastly, the top of the bottle is filled with a sweet wine, corked, wired and then wrapped in foil. The Champagne or sparkling wine is now ready.

Glassware and Tasting

Glassware:

Choosing a proper glass to drink Pinot Noir out of is an important step in truly enjoying the wine.

First and foremost, pay attention to the materials that the wine glass is made from. Make sure the glass is pale and clear, for this allows an uninterrupted view of the wine color. Try to avoid pewter, colored, or frosted glass.

Next, carefully choose an adequately-sized glass. For Pinot Noir, the glass should be of sufficient size to allow an ample of amount of liquid into it, but still have plenty of room for a gentle swirl. This calls for a wine glass with a large bowl.

Be sure to choose a glass with a stem. By holding the glass by its stem or base, fingerprints are not transferred to the bowl, which continues to allow a clear view of the wine.

Lastly, find a glass that tapers inwards at the top. Not only does this help to avoid spillage, it concentrates the aromas into a flume which is easier to waft.

Tasting:

Firstly, inspect the Pinot Noir; it is best to view against a light colored background. The color of the wine will hint at its age; a darker Pinot Noir indicates youthfulness, while a fading Pinot Noir alludes to age.

Next, give the wine a gentle swirl in the glass. Swirling allows for more wine to come in contact with the air, which releases subtle aromas. At this point, take a strong whiff near the top of the wine glass. The scent of young wines will be strong and fruity, while mature Pinot Noir will release secondary aromas of earth or wood.

Last comes the actually tasting. A sip of wine should be taken into the mouth and held there; do not swallow right away. The aromas from the wine will permeate through the upper airway and through the nasal area. It is with these aromas that wine is truly tasted. Breathe in and out through the nose, or slurp some air in from the mouth to release more aromas.

The wine will change as it is held in the mouth. First impressions are referred to as the fore palate, followed by the mid and end palate. Each stage will convey subtle flavors and scents.

The last step in tasting Pinot Noir is to swallow a small amount. This conveys still more flavors to the palate and will leave a lingering taste in the mouth, which is referred to as the length; different wines will have different lengths, with the general rule stating that a longer length means a higher quality Pinot Noir.

Lastly, spit out the remainder of the wine. This is especially important at wine-tasting functions to avoid inebriation.

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Pinot Noir in Popular Culture

Over the last few years, Pinot Noir has heavily benefited from the increasing trend of lighter, less alcoholic wines. Connoisseurs are rediscovering the joys of Pinot Noir, and it has never been more available.

But the biggest reason for the sudden popularity of Pinot Noir wine is the film “Sideways.” The film follows two middle-aged friends embarking on a week long wine tour in California. Pinot Noir is heavily featured as the preferred wine, and due to the success of the film at the box office and numerous awards shows, Pinot Noir sales shot through the roof. In the year ending January 15th, 2005, every category of Pinot Noir statistics showed dramatic improvements, some as much as twenty-five percent higher than the previous year. For example:

Domestic Pinot Noir (US) – up eighteen percent*
Imported Pinot Noir – up 10.8 percent*

Pinot Noir volume gained massive ground, shooting up twenty-two percent, as well as up twenty-five percent in value.*

The sale of Californian Pinot Noir, where “Sideways” took place, numbers are even higher.


*numbers courtesy of ACNielsen

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