Pinot Noir is THE red grape variety of Burgundy just as Cabernet Sauvignon is indelibly linked to Bordeaux. Sometimes called “the heartbreak grape”, Pinot Noir can be incredibly sensitive and difficult to grow due to its thin skins and its susceptibility to rot. It needs a cool climate to bring out the pure, elegant aromas and to stop it becoming overripe and jammy and it requires delicate handling by the winemaker. However, all efforts are largely repaid by Pinot Noir’s amazing ability to reflect the soils in which it is grown making it the perfect grape for Burgundy’s patchwork quilt of different crus and terroirs in the Côte d’Or.
Pinot Noir has fewer phenols, than richer grapes such as Cabernet, which explains the often-lighter colour and softer tannin structure of the wines. Fresh acidity and red berry notes are typical. The top wines produced from Pinot Noir have a uniquely complex range of aromas ranging from red berries, cherries, wild strawberries, floral notes, aromatic herbs, undergrowth, tea and mushrooms. If Cabernet is about power, Pinot Noir is about finesse.
Pinot Noir is an ancient grape variety and is therefore prone to mutation. This not only creates different clones but also completely new grape varieties. Like Pinot Blanc, for example or pink-skinned Pinot Gris - both derived from Pinot Noir. A grower has the choice of dozens of clones when planting a new vineyard. During the 1950s big-berried clones giving large yields were popular, such as the “Pinot Droit” of Burgundy. These made very fruity wines but lacked structure. The “Dijon” clones have small berries and are grown for top-quality wines all over the world, particularly in California.
There is more to Pinot Noir than still wine since it is also a very important part of the Champagne blend of grapes and other great sparkling wines produced throughout the world. If Burgundy is the cradle of Pinot Noir and its wines are still seen as a stylistic paradigm, impressive Pinot Noirs are now being produced in cool climates throughout the world: in Switzerland, Italy and Germany in Europe and to great success in the Otago and Marlborough regions of New Zealand, the Rio Negro in Argentine’s Patagonia, on the Sonoma Coast in California and in Oregon.
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