When it comes to red wine, nothing can match the elegance and appeal of Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir is an alluring choice, from the way the name rolls off your tongue to the layered aromas and bright flavors of fruit, earth, smoke, and spice.
It's a delicate grape that's difficult to grow, but when handled right, Pinot Noir captures the taste of the place where it was grown, whether it's in Burgundy, France, New Zealand, Oregon, or California. As you explore this international wine, you'll find that Pinot Noir is an intriguing and food-friendly red wine that delights the senses and the mind.
3 facts to know about Pinot Noir
Pinot Noir (PEE-noh Nuh-waar) wines are originally from the Burgundy region in central France. "Burgundy" is a synonym for Pinot Noir.
Pinot Noir grows best in cool climates, which allow its natural acidity and subtle balance of fruit and earthiness to shine.
Pinot Noir is the most food-friendly of all the red wine grapes and pairs with everything from Thanksgiving dinner to pepperoni pizza to grilled salmon to mushroom risotto
Pinot Noir is almost always made into dry red wine (or rosé) without a hint of sweetness, though some have abundant fruit flavors that you could mistake for being sweet. Pinot Noir grapes are picked when they have the ideal balance of acidity and sugar. The grape skins are left in contact with the wine during fermentation, adding color, flavor, and texture.
Pinot Noir grapes have thin skins that are relatively low in tannin. That's why Pinot Noirs, whether from Burgundy, France, or Sonoma's Russian River Valley, feel silky when you drink them.
When you think of the perfect Pinot Noir, the words elegant, bright, and smooth come to mind. Pinot Noir thrives in cooler climates, which gives the wines beautiful acidity that highlights heady flavors and aromas of fruit, flowers, earth, and spice.
Most Pinot Noirs show red fruits like cherries, raspberries, cranberries, and strawberries that can deepen into plums and figs. Pinot Noir's natural perfume ranges from lush rose petals to cloves, licorice and black tea, and earthy hints of mushrooms and forest floor.
Aging in a toasted oak barrel can give Pinot Noir a smoky aroma reminiscent of bacon or hints of vanilla. As the wine ages, youthful fruit flavors become more muted, and the earthy aromas come to the fore.
These characteristics change depending on where the Pinot Noir grapes were grown, thanks to different sunlight, soil, and elevation. Even two vineyards right next to each other can produce markedly different wines. Is it any wonder that rare Burgundies are some of the most sought after and collectible wines in the world?
Key winemaking regions
Even though Pinot Noir is one of the most challenging wine grapes to grow, it inspires people to plant it worldwide. When they succeed, it's a thing of beauty. Look for wines from cool growing areas, including Burgundy, France, Oregon's Willamette Valley, California's Central Coast, Russian River Valley, and Anderson Valley, as well as the Otago in New Zealand.
Pinot Noir's spiritual home is in Burgundy, France, and the surrounding environs. The grape reaches its most stunning expressions here, and these wines are the model for winemakers worldwide.
The sensitive grape intimately expresses the terroir – the soil, weather, and topography – of the place where it's planted. That's why bottles of Burgundy highlight the name of the village where the grapes were grown.
Pinot Noirs from this part of the world are vivid and earthy: think mushrooms, minerals, and forest floor, with subtle red fruit. Any Pinot Noir made in a similar style is called "Burgundian."
Pinot Noir also grows in the Champagne region, where it's blended with Chardonnay to make this iconic sparkling wine. You'll also find Pinot Noirs from the Alsace region, which borders Germany.
The cool microclimates in the Willamette Valley create lean wines with lively acidity and red fruit.
The patriarch of one storied winemaking family in Burgundy spent 30 years studying the US growing regions before deciding that Oregon was ideal for making Pinot Noir in America.
The best Pinot Noirs in California come from cool areas with coast influence. The grapes enjoy sunny days and are blanketed by fog each evening, ripening slowly while retaining their natural acidity.
Look to Central Coast regions, including Santa Lucia Highlands and Sta. Rita Hills, the Russian River Valley, Petaluma Gap and Carneros in Sonoma County, and Anderson Valley to find stunning Pinot Noir.
Other notable regions
Besides Burgundy, Oregon, and California, Pinot Noir is grown worldwide, including across Germany, the Central Otago in New Zealand, and northern Italy, where it's called Pinot Nero.
Explore these Highly Rated Pinot Noirs from around the globe, you’re sure to find some palate pleasers for you and your guests!
Recommended food pairings
Pinot Noir is one of the best red wines for pairing with food. It has more acid than many other red wines, which helps it elevate the flavors of many dishes. And classic Pinot Noirs from cool climates have lower alcohol, so they don't overpower delicate flavors.
Classic pairings for Pinot Noir include Thanksgiving turkey, dark-meat chicken, pork of all kinds, salmon, duck, venison, and lamb. The bright acidity in the wine is a perfect foil for these rich meats. Pinot Noir's earthy and smoky flavors also pair well with mushrooms, black truffles, cured meats like pepperoni, and smoked foods.
Pinot Noir is also a key ingredient in traditional French dishes, including coq au vin, where chicken simmers with bacon and mushrooms and beef bourguignon, a hearty stew with bacon, carrots, and onions.
How to store, serve, & enjoy
Like other red wines, Pinot Noir tastes best when served slightly chilled, at 60° to 65°. Even if you don't have a wine refrigerator, you can get your Pinot to the right temperature by putting the bottle in the fridge for 20 minutes before you plan to serve it.
Best temperature for serving Pinot Noir
The best way to experience Pinot Noir's aromas is by drinking from a wine glass with a large bowl at the bottom and a narrow top that brings the aromas to your nose. The aromas evolve the longer it's in the glass, so take your time.
If you don't finish your bottle of Pinot Noir, put the cork back in and store it in the refrigerator. The air inside the bottle slowly changes the flavor of the wine, so drink it in a day or two.
Once you start exploring our selection of the best Pinot Noirs from around the globe, you’re sure to find one that’s a perfect match for your meal and tastes.