Pinot noir (French: [pino nwaʁ]) is a red wine grape variety of the species Vitis vinifera. The name may also refer to wines created predominantly from pinot noir grapes. The name is derived from the French words for pine and black. The word pine alludes to the grape variety having tightly clustered, pine cone-shaped bunches of fruit.
Pinot noir grapes are grown around the world, mostly in the cooler climates, and the grape is chiefly associated with the Burgundy region of France. Pinot noir is now used to make red wines around the world, as well as Champagne, and such sparkling white wines as the Italian Franciacorta, and English sparkling wines. Regions that have gained a reputation for red pinot noir wines include: the Willamette Valley of Oregon, the Carneros, Central Coast and Russian River AVAs of California, the Elgin and Walker Bay wine regions of South Africa, Mornington Peninsula, Adelaide Hills, Great Southern, Tasmania and Yarra Valley in Australia and the Central Otago, Martinborough and Marlborough wine regions of New Zealand. Pinot noir is the most-planted varietal (38%) used in sparkling wine production in Champagne and other wine regions.
Pinot noir is a difficult variety to cultivate and transform into wine. The grape's tendency to produce tightly packed clusters makes it susceptible to several viticultural hazards involving rot that require diligent canopy management. The thin skins and low levels of phenolic compounds lends pinot to producing mostly lightly colored, medium-bodied and low-tannin wines that can often go through phases of uneven and unpredictable aging. When young, wines made from pinot noir tend to have red fruit aromas of cherries, raspberries and strawberries. As the wine ages, pinot has the potential to develop more vegetal and "barnyard" aromas that can contribute to the complexity of the wine.
Pinot noir's home is France's Burgundy region, particularly in Côte-d'Or. It is also planted in Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, northern parts of Croatia, Czech Republic, the Republic of Georgia, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Hungary, Kosovo, the Republic of Macedonia, Moldova, New Zealand, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Switzerland, Ukraine, United States and Uruguay. The United States has increasingly become a major Pinot noir producer, with some of the best regarded coming from the Willamette Valley in Oregon and California's Sonoma County with its Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast appellations. Lesser known appellations can be found in Mendocino County's Anderson Valley, as well as the Central Coast's Santa Lucia Highlands appellation, the Santa Maria Valley and Sta. Rita Hills American Viticulture Area in Santa Barbara County. In New Zealand, it is principally grown in Martinborough, Marlborough, Waipara and Central Otago.
The leaves of pinot noir are generally smaller than those of Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah. The pinot vine is typically less vigorous than either of these varieties. The grape cluster is small and conico-cylindrical; shaped like a pine cone. Some viticultural historians believe this shape similarity may have given rise to the name. In the vineyard Pinot noir is sensitive to wind and frost, cropping levels (it must be low yielding for production of quality wines), soil types and pruning techniques. In the winery it is sensitive to fermentation methods, yeast strains and is highly reflective of its terroir with different regions producing very different wines. Its thin skin makes it susceptible to bunch rot and similar fungal diseases. The vines themselves are susceptible to powdery mildew, especially in Burgundy infection by leaf roll and fanleaf viruses causes significant vine health problems. These complications have given the grape a reputation for being difficult to grow: Jancis Robinson calls pinot a "minx of a vine" and André Tchelistcheff declared that "God made Cabernet Sauvignon whereas the devil made Pinot Noir." It is much less tolerant of harsh vineyard conditions than the likes of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot or Grenache.
However, Pinot noir wines are among the most popular in the world. 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 calls Pinot "sex in a glass".
The tremendously broad range of bouquets, flavors, textures and impressions that Pinot noir can produce sometimes confuses tasters. In the broadest terms, the wine tends to be of light to medium body with an aroma reminiscent of black and/or red cherry, raspberry and to a lesser extent currant and many other fine small red and black berry fruits. Traditional red Burgundy is famous for its savory fleshiness and "farmyard" aromas (these latter sometimes associated with thiol and other reductive characters), but changing fashions, modern winemaking techniques, and new easier-to-grow clones have favored a lighter, more fruit-prominent, cleaner style.
The wine's color when young is often compared to that of garnet, frequently being much lighter than that of other red wines. This is entirely natural and not a winemaking fault as Pinot noir has a lower skin anthocyanin (coloring matter) content than most other classical red / black varieties. Callistephin, the 3-O-glucoside of pelargonidin, an orange colored anthocyanidin, is also found in the berry skins of pinot noir grapes.
However, an emerging, increasingly evident, style from California and New Zealand highlights a more powerful, fruit forward and darker wine that can tend toward Syrah (or even new world Malbec) in depth, extract, and alcoholic content.
Pinot noir is also used in the production of Champagne (usually along with Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier) and is planted in most of the world's wine-growing regions for use in both still and sparkling wines. Pinot noir grown for dry table wines is generally low-yielding and of lesser vigour than many other varieties, whereas when grown for use in sparkling wines (e.g. Champagne) it is generally cropped at significantly higher yields.
In addition to being used for the production of sparkling and still red wine, Pinot noir is also sometimes used for rosé still wines, Beaujolais Nouveau-styled wines, and even vin gris white wines. Its juice is uncolored.
History, mutants and clones
Pinot noir is almost certainly a very ancient variety that may be only one or two generations removed from wild, Vitis sylvestris, vines. Its origins are nevertheless unclear: In De re rustica, Columella describes a grape variety similar to pinot noir in Burgundy during the 1st century CE; however, vines have grown wild as far north as Belgium in the days before phylloxera, and it is possible that pinot represents a direct domestication of (hermaphrodite-flowered) Vitis sylvestris.
Ferdinand Regner argued that Pinot noir is a cross between Pinot Meunier (Schwarzriesling) and Traminer, but this claim has since been refuted. In fact Pinot Meunier has been shown to be a chimerical mutation (in the epidermal cells) which makes the shoot tips and leaves prominently hairy-white and the vine a little smaller and early ripening. Thus Pinot Meunier is a chimera with two tissue layers of different genetic makeup, both of which contain a mutation making them non-identical to, and mutations of, pinot noir (as well as of any of the other color forms of pinot). As such, Pinot Meunier cannot be a parent of pinot noir, and, indeed, it seems likely that chimerical mutations which can generate pinot gris from other pinot (principally blanc or noir) may in turn be the genetic pathway for the emergence of Pinot Meunier.
Pinot gris is a pinot color sport (and can arise by mutation of Pinot noir or Pinot blanc), presumably representing a somatic mutation in either the VvMYBA1 or VvMYBA2 genes that control grape berry color. Pinot blanc is a further mutation and can either naturally arise from or give rise to pinot gris or pinot noir; the mutation–reversion path is multi-directional therefore. The general DNA profiles of both pinot gris and blanc are identical to pinot noir; and other Pinots, Pinot moure and Pinot teinturier, are also genetically similarly close. Almost any given Pinot (of whatever berry color) can occur as a complete mutation or as a chimera of almost any other pinot As such, suggestions that Pinot noir is the fundamental and original form of the Pinots are both misleading and highly tendentious. Indeed, if anything, Pinot blanc may be the original human-selected form of Pinot, although given the genetic variability of this longstanding genetic line, thinking of Pinot as a familial cluster of grapes sharing a fundamental and common genetic core is almost certainly nearest the truth. It is this core around which the sub-varietally identifying color variations (blanc, rouge, noir, gris, rose, violet, tenteurier, moure, etc.) occur, along with the more striking chimeric morphological mutation that is Pinot Meunier, and the interesting further mutations of this variety as Pinot Meunier gris and as the non-hairy mutation which the Germans classify as 'Samtrot' (effectively 'Pinot red velvet').
A white berried sport of Pinot noir was propagated in 1936 by Henri Gouges of Burgundy, and there is now 2.5ha planted of this grape which Clive Coates calls Pinot Gouges, and others call Pinot Musigny. There is however no published evidence, nor any obvious reason, to believe that this is other than a (possibly quite fine) form of Pinot blanc, having simply arisen as a selected natural mutation of the original Pinot noir in the Gouges' vineyard.
In the UK, the name 'Wrotham Pinot' is a permitted synonym for Pinot Meunier and stems from a vine that one of the pioneers of UK viticulture, Edward Hyams, discovered in Wrotham (pronounced 'root-am' or 'root-em') in Kent in the late 1940s. It was in all probability the variety known as 'Miller's Burgundy' which had been widely grown on walls and in gardens in Great Britain for many years. Archibald Barron writing in his book, Vines and Vine Culture, the standard Victorian work on grape growing in the UK, states that the 'Millers Burgundy' also was: found by [the famous horticulturalist] Sir Joseph Banks in the remains of an ancient vineyard at Tortworth, Gloucestershire – a county well known for its medieval vineyards. Hyams took the vine to Raymond Barrington Brock, who ran what was to become the Oxted Viticultural Research Station, and he trialed it alongside the many other varieties he grew. Brock said that when compared to supplies of Meunier from France, Wrotham Pinot: had a higher natural sugar content and ripened two weeks earlier. Hyams, ever the journalist in search of a good story, claimed that this vine had been left behind by the Romans although he provided absolutely no evidence for this. Brock sold cuttings of 'Wrotham Pinot' and the variety became quite popular in early English "revival" vineyards in the late twentieth century, although it is unlikely that many vines from the cuttings supplied by Brock survive in any present UK vineyards. Indeed, despite the fact that today virtually all plantings of Meunier in the UK stem from French and German nurseries, the name Wrotham Pinot is still a legally acceptable synonym for this variety, although little, if ever, used by UK growers.
Pinot noir can be particularly prone to mutation (suggesting it has active transposable elements), and thanks to its long history in cultivation there are hundreds of different clones in vineyards and vine collections worldwide. More than 50 are officially recognized in France compared to only 25 of the much more widely planted Cabernet Sauvignon. The French Etablissement National Technique pour l'Amelioration de la Viticulture (ENTAV) has set up a program to select the best clones of Pinot. This program has succeeded in increasing the number of quality clones available to growers. In the new world, particularly in Oregon, wines of extraordinary quality continue to be made from the (ex-University of California at Davis) Pommard (principally UCD4) and Wadensvil (UCD 1A and / or 2A) clones.
Gamay Beaujolais is a Californian misnomer for a UCD clone series of upright-growing ('Pinot droit') Pinot noir. Planted mostly in California it also became established in New Zealand. In New Zealand, its disposition to poor fruit set in cool flowering conditions can be problematic. It has been claimed that the 'Gamay Beaujolais' Pinot noir was brought to California by Paul Masson. But it was collected in France by Harold Olmo for UCD in the 1950s and was one of the first pinot noir vines this institution offered as a high health clonal line from about 1962 onward. However, it was misleadingly identified at UCD as a 'Gamay Beaujolais' type (of Pinot noir). In general, these upright growing 'Pinot droit' clones are highly productive (in suitable, hot-to-warm, flowering conditions) and in California and New Zealand they give robust, burly, wines favored by those who like muscle rather than charm and velvety finesse in their Pinot noir wines. In Burgundy, the use of (highly productive) Pinot droit clones is reportedly still widespread in inferior, Village appellation, or even non-appellation, vineyards and Pinot droit is consequently regarded, arguably with very good reason, as a (genetic) sub-form significantly inferior to classical, decumbent, 'Pinot fine' or 'Pinot tordu', clonal lines of Pinot.
Frühburgunder (Pinot Noir Précoce) is an early-ripening form of Pinot noir. Across the Pinot family, ripening in typical climates can be dispersed by as much as four, and even six, weeks between the very earliest (including Précoce) clones and the very latest ripening. Virus infection and excessive cropping significantly add to the delaying of Pinot noir ripening.
In the Middle Ages, the nobility and church of northeast France grew some form of Pinot in favored plots, while peasants grew a large amount of the much more productive, but otherwise distinctly inferior, Gouais blanc. Cross-pollination may have resulted from such close proximity, with the genetic distance between the two parents imparting hybrid vigor leading to the viticultural selection of a diverse range of offspring from this cross (which may, nevertheless, have also resulted from deliberate human intervention). In any case, however it occurred, offspring of the Pinot–Gouais cross include: Chardonnay, Aligoté, Auxerrois, Gamay, Melon and eleven others. Pinot noir was not necessarily the Pinot involved here; any member of the Pinot family appears genetically capable of being the Pinot parent to these ex-Gouais crosses.
Pinot noir is produced in several wine-growing areas of Australia, notably in the Southern Highlands in New South Wales, Yarra Valley, Geelong, the Bellarine Peninsula, Beechworth, South Gippsland, Sunbury, Macedon Ranges and Mornington Peninsula in Victoria, Adelaide Hills in South Australia, Great Southern Wine Region in Western Australia, all Tasmania, and the Canberra District in the Australian Capital Territory.
In Austria, Pinot noir is usually called Blauburgunder (literally Blue Burgundy) and produced in Burgenland and Lower Austria. Austrian Pinot noir wines are dry red wines similar in character to the red wines of Burgundy, mostly aged in French barriques. Some of the best Austrian Pinots come from Neusiedlersee and Blaufraenkischland (Burgenland), and Thermenregion (Lower Austria).
Pinot noir has been grown in Ontario for some time in the Niagara Peninsula and especially the Niagara-on-the-Lake and Short Hills Bench wine regions, as well as in Prince Edward County and on the north shore of Lake Ontario. It has also been grown recently in the Okanagan; here it is grown predominantly on the Naramata bench and in the northern Okanagan, Lower Mainland, and Vancouver Island wine regions of British Columbia. It is also grown in the Annapolis Valley region of Nova Scotia and the Lanaudière and Brome-Missisquoi regions of Quebec.
Pinot noir is produced at the Leyda Valley, one of the minor wine district of the Aconcagua wine region of Chile.
Pinot noir is increasingly being planted in the U.K. and is now the second most widely planted variety (305-ha in 2012), almost all of it for sparkling wine.
Pinot noir has made France's Burgundy appellation famous, and vice versa. Wine historians, including John Winthrop Haeger and Roger Dion, believe that the association between Pinot and Burgundy was the explicit strategy of Burgundy's Valois dukes. Roger Dion, in his thesis regarding Philip the Bold's role in promoting the spread of Pinot noir, holds that the reputation of Beaune wines as "the finest in the world" was a propaganda triumph of Burgundy's Valois dukes. In any event, the worldwide archetype for pinot noir is that grown in Burgundy, where it has been cultivated since AD 100.
Burgundy's Pinot noir produces wines which can age well in good years, developing complex fruit and forest floor flavours as they age, often reaching peak 15 or 20 years after the vintage. Many of the wines are produced in small quantities. Today, the Côte d'Or escarpment of Burgundy has about 4,500 hectares (11,000 acres) of Pinot noir. Most of the region's finest wines are produced from this area. The Côte Chalonnaise and Mâconnais regions in southern Burgundy have another 4,000 hectares (9,900 acres).
In Jura département, across the river valley from Burgundy, the wines made from Pinot noir are lighter.
In Champagne it is used in blending with Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. It can also appear unblended, in which case it may be labeled blanc de noirs. The Champagne appellation has more Pinot planted than any other area of France.
In Alsace it is generally used to make , similar in character to red Burgundy and Beaujolais wines but usually consumed chilled. Prominent examples are Rouge de Barr and Rouge d'Ottrott. Pinot noir is the only red wine produced in Alsace.
Among countries planted with Pinot Noir, Germany ranks third behind France and the United States. In Germany it is called Spätburgunder (lit. "Late Burgundian"), and is now the most widely planted red grape. Historically much German wine produced from Pinot noir was pale, often rosé like the red wines of Alsace; over-cropping and bunch-rot were major contributing factors to this. However, recently, despite the northerly climate, darker, richer reds have been produced, often barrel (barrique) aged, in regions such as Baden, Palatinate (Pfalz) and Ahr. These are rarely exported and are often expensive in Germany for the better examples. As "Rhenish", German Pinot noir is mentioned several times in Shakespearean plays as a highly prized wine.
There is also a smaller-berried, early ripening, lower yield variety called Frühburgunder (Pinot Noir Précoce, lit. "Early Burgundian") which is grown in Rheinhessen and Ahr area and can produce good wines. In the last 20 years, efforts have been made to develop and husband good quality high health clones of Frühburgunder selected from Württemberg vineyards.
In Italy, where Pinot noir is known as Pinot nero, it has traditionally been cultivated in South Tyrol, the Collio Goriziano, Franciacorta, Oltrepò Pavese, Veneto, Friuli and Trentino. It is also planted in Tuscany.
In South Tyrol the variety is first noted 1838 as "Bourgoigne noir" in a grape wine buy list of the "k.u.k. Landwirtschafts-Gesellschaft von Tirol und Vorarlberg, Niederlassung Bozen" and later called "Blauburgunder" like in Austria. The first analytical descriptions are from Edmund Mach (founder of Ist. Agr. San Michele a.A.) in the year 1894: Friedrich Boscarolli - Rametz/Meran - Rametzer Burgunder 1890, Chorherrenstift Neustift - Blauburgunder 1890, R.v.Bressendorf - Vernaun/Meran - Burgunder 1890, C. Frank - Rebhof Gries Bozen - Burgunder 1889, Fr. Tschurtschenthaler - Bozen - Burgunder 1890 & 1891, Fr. Tschurtschenthaler - Bozen - Kreuzbichler 1889 & 1891 & 1887.
Large amounts of Pinot were planted in central Moldova during the 19th century, but much was lost to the ravages of phylloxera; Soviet control of Moldova from 1940 to 1991 also reduced the productivity of vineyards.
Pinot noir is New Zealand's largest red wine variety, and second largest variety overall behind Sauvingnon blanc. In 2014, Pinot noir vines covered 5,569 hectares (13,760 acres) and produced 36,500 tonnes of grapes.
Pinot noir is a grape variety whose "importance" in New Zealand is extremely high. However, initial results were not promising for several reasons, including high levels of leaf roll virus in older plantings, and, during the 1960s and 1970s, the limited number and indifferent quality of Pinot noir clones available for planting. However, since this time importation of high quality clones and much-improved viticulture and winemaking has seen Pinot noir, from Martinborough in the north to Central Otago in the south, become a major factor in New Zealand’s reputation as a wine producer.
In Slovenia, the Pinot noir is produced especially in the Slovenian Littoral, particularly in the Goriška Brda sub-region. In smaller amounts, the Pinot noir is also produced in Slovenian Styria. The wine is usually called Modri Pinot (Blue Pinot) or also Modri Burgundec (Blue Burgundy).
With the growth of the South African wine industry into newer areas, Pinot noir is now also to be found in cool climate Walker Bay and Elgin, the two oldest Pinot regions in the country.
Not often found, Pinot noir has been produced in small amounts in Lleida province, Catalonia, under the appellation "Costers del Segre" DO. There is also a small vineyard of Pinot noir within DO Montsant which has the wine produced in Celler de Capçanes although as Pinot noir is not a permitted grape varietal within the DO, it is released under the broader DO Catalunya.
Pinot noir is a popular grape variety all over Switzerland. In German-speaking regions of Switzerland it is often called Blauburgunder. Pinot noir wines are produced in Neuchâtel, Schaffhausen, Zürich, St. Gallen and Bündner Herrschaft. In Valais, Pinot noir is also blended with Gamay to produce the well known Dôle.
By volume most Pinot noir in America is grown in California, with Oregon second in production. Other growing regions are the states of Washington, Michigan, and New York.
California wine regions known for producing Pinot noir are:
- Sonoma Coast AVA
- Russian River Valley AVA
- Central Coast AVA
- Sta. Rita Hills
- Monterey County / Santa Lucia Highlands
- Santa Cruz Mountains AVA
- Carneros District of Napa and Sonoma
- Anderson Valley
- Livermore Valley
- San Luis Obispo County / Arroyo Grande Valley, Edna Valley
Oregon wine regions known for producing Pinot noir:
- Willamette Valley AVA
- Dundee Hills AVA
- Eola-Amity Hills AVA
- Yamhill-Carlton District AVA
- McMinnville AVA
- Chehalem Mountains AVA
- Ribbon Ridge AVA
Richard Sommers of HillCrest Vineyard in the Umpqua Valley of Oregon is the father of Oregon Pinot noir. An early graduate of UC Davis, Sommers moved north after graduation with the idea of planting Pinot noir in the Coastal valleys of Oregon. He brought cuttings to the state in 1959 and made his first commercial planting at HillCrest Vineyard in Roseburg Oregon in 1961. For this he was honored by the Oregon State House of Representatives (HR 4A). In 2011 the State of Oregon honored him for this achievement and also for producing the first commercial bottling in the state in 1967. It was announced by the state of Oregon in the summer of 2012 that an historical marker would be placed at the winery in the summer of 2013.
Sommers, who graduated from UC Davis in the early 1950s, brought Pinot Noir cuttings to Oregon's Umpqua Valley in 1959 and planted them at HillCrest Vineyard in 1961. These first Pinot noir cuttings came from Louis Martinis Sr.'s Stanley Ranch located in the Carneros region of Napa Valley. The first commercial vintage from these grapes was the noted 1967 Pinot noir although test bottlings were made as early as 1963. In the 1970s several other growers followed suit. In 1979, David Lett took his wines to a competition in Paris, known in English as the Wine Olympics, and they placed third among Pinots. In a 1980 rematch arranged by French wine magnate , the Eyrie vintage improved to second place. The competition established Oregon as a world-class Pinot noir-producing region.
The Willamette Valley of Oregon is at the same latitude as the Burgundy region of France, and has a similar climate in which the finicky Pinot noir grapes thrive. In 1987, Drouhin purchased land in the Willamette Valley, and in 1989 built Domaine Drouhin Oregon, a state-of-the-art, gravity-fed winery. Throughout the 1980s, the Oregon wine industry blossomed.
Being lighter in style, Pinot noir has benefited from a trend toward more restrained, less alcoholic wines around 12% alcohol by volume.
During 2004 and the beginning of 2005, Pinot noir became considerably more popular among consumers in the US, Australia, New Zealand and Asia as a result of the film Sideways, and its deleterious effect on Merlot sales. Throughout the film, the main character speaks fondly of Pinot Noir while denigrating Merlot. Following the film's U.S. release in October 2004, Merlot sales dropped 2% while Pinot Noir sales increased 16% in the Western United States. A similar trend occurred in British wine outlets. A 2009 study by Sonoma State University found that Sideways slowed the growth in Merlot sales volume and caused its price to fall, but the film's main effect on the wine industry was a rise in the sales volume and price of Pinot Noir and in overall wine consumption. A 2014 study by Vineyard Financial Associates estimated that Sideways cost Merlot farmers over US$400m in lost revenue in the decade after its release.
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