Pinot Noir is the Noblest of Noble Grapes. It is huffy and tricky to grow but in the right conditions it makes wines that age gracefully. Pinot Noir is known for producing incredible wines that inspire much debate.
It is of unknown origin but is thought to have existed for around 2000 years. There are an enormous number of clones that work differently in different soils and conditions around the world which have been developed as a result of this lengthy history. It shares DNA with Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris and the individually great grapes including Syrah, Viognier, Chardonnay and Gamay have Pinot in their parentage.
Synonyms for Pinot Noir include Pinot Nero in Italy, Spatburgunder in Germany and there are others such as Morillon and Klavner. The earliest recorded mention is of Morillon in 1283 with the name Pinot arriving in 1375. This gradually took over from the middle ages onwards as the principal name due to the high praise it gained labelled this way.
More recent history of Pinot Noir must include the film Sideways which boosted sales massively, especially Stateside. The author only introduced wine to the book and film based on tasting and enjoying it in Santa Barbara, California. Indeed there is a "Sideways Effect" which contributed to widespread planting of the variety despite geographical limitations on its ability to grow well.
The general idea is that the vine likes cool nights and hot days, conditions that can be created to an extent by aspect and slope and obviously climatic influences. Burgundy in France is the most famous region and arguably (without too much of a fight) the home of the finest examples. At any rate, they are the benchmark and due to the influence of critics many places worldwide try to replicate instead of making wines that express their own regionality.
Great example come from: New Zealand - especially Central Otago but also Marlborough and Martinborough. Germany - now the third largest producer after France and the USA. USA- In California, Oregon and Washington. Italy - Here it works best in the cooler North of the country such as Friuli. South America - Probably more so Chile than Argentina but some delicious rose from Uruguay. South Africa - Though often the climate is tricky. Australia- Here it requires the cooler South. Tasmania is probably the best spot but Mornington Peninsula and Yarra Valley also do it well.
There are many potential issues in the vineyard for Pinot Noir. It is early budding so it is susceptible to Spring frosts. It is thin-skinned and can be a victim of sunburn unless the canopy of leaves protect it from the sun. In too warm a vineyard it will ripen too soon for the flavours to fully develop. As a result of its age it can be unstable and susceptible to mildew, rot, and viruses though so far not COVID (as far as we know). It accumulates sugar quickly which unless controlled would lead to too high alcohol even in cooler areas.
One fun example of the instability is that one vine can produce black, white and pink grapes simultaneously! It also does not just make beautiful red wines, there are wonderful roses and it is one of the main grapes (around 40% of total planting) in the Champagne region. Countries like Australia, New Zealand and England, amongst others also make wonderful Sparkling wines with Pinot noir.
Food Matches for Pinot Noir
White meats and Game birds. The older the wine, the more ripe the Game with the earthy flavours of both matching very well. Young Pinot Noir is a good shout for Christmas Dinner. Pork also works well but maybe not with Apple Sauce, leave that to the white wine drinkers. A light touch of smoked paprika with pork and a glass or two of Spatburgunder always sounds like a plan to me.
The gamey aromas and flavours of Pinot Noir are good to go with a variety of mushroom dishes. Kiwi versions are nice and fresh with a very simple cheese and onion stuffed field mushroom. Posh Macaroni Cheese with tangy Comte or Gruyere would be equally good fodder for these wines.
Red Meats such as Beef and Lamb are also superb but sauces are so important for food matching. Beef Wellington is an absolute winner.
Things that swim are not to be ruled out. Tuna Steaks and Mackerel, perhaps with a bit of BBQ smokiness and that same smokiness works with salmon fillets too.
Quite often foods that work with thyme pair rather well with Pinot Noir. It is a fantastic cheese board red, but no need to overthink it or slave at the stove for hours, just open a sharing pack of crisps and chat about the events of the day while enjoying a glass or two from the collection below!