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
Pinot Noir wine
History of Pinot Noir wine
The Best Regions to
Grow the Pinot Noir grape
Glassware and Tasting
Pinot Noir in Popular Culture
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
Let's Buy some Pinot Noir :)
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
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