If you’re a Pinot Noir enthusiast, you know how difficult and rewarding the hunt can be for great values and delicious wines. Here are some tips to help you in your search for great Pinot Noir, starting with an introduction to the peculiarities of the grape, followed by a list of my favorite Pinot Noir regions.
Pinot Noir ranks among the oldest and most historically prized varieties. It’s also one of the most difficult to grow – Pinot’s thin skin and capricious ripening patterns make it susceptible to frost, heat, drought, pests, fungus, and disease. These challenges, along with increasing demand, contribute to the relatively high price of Pinot Noir for consumers.
In addition to difficulties with cultivation, Pinot’s thin skin leads to wines with a light body, pale color, and delicate tannic structure. These aspects give Pinot an unusual versatility for wine pairing and an almost ethereal appeal that many wine lovers find irresistible.
In an effort to make Pinot Noir more affordable, many wineries blend it with wine from less expensive grapes. In the United States, national standards allow wineries to sell wine labeled as Pinot Noir blended with up to 25% of other grapes. These wines seldom indicate their blend on the label but often feature darker color, fuller body, and more tannin. There are excellent wines produced by blending Pinot Noir with other grapes, but if you want a wine that is 100% Pinot Noir, look for that indication on the bottle or in the technical notes. In Europe, on the other hand, wines labeled “Pinot Noir” are almost always required to be 100% varietal.
Burgundy is often referred to as the “home of Pinot Noir,” where it has been cultivated for generations. There are too many great sub-regions to cover in depth, but one approach to finding good value is to look for appellations (designations of origin) in the Côte de Beaune rather than the Côte de Nuit, where prices are often higher. Three of my favorite appellations in the Côte de Beaune for Pinot Noir are below. Reds from these areas will be Pinot Noir even if not indicated on the label.
Volnay: renowned for smooth, delicate wines
Pommard: known for intense, relatively robust Pinot
Santenay: the southernmost area in the Côte de Beaune produces relatively deeply colored, complex wines
Australia and New Zealand
The lands down under produce amazing Pinot Noir in some of their cooler climate areas.
Central Otago, New Zealand: Pinot from this stunningly beautiful, cool region are earthy, spicy and pair well with grilled food.
Yarra Valley, Australia: a coastal region near the city of Melbourne produces complex Pinot with notes of berry, mint, and eucalyptus
The Wild Beauty of Central Otago in New Zealand
The United States
The US has established itself as one of the top producers of Pinot Noir and boasts a wide variety of regions well-suited to the grape. Here are a few of the best:
Willamette Valley, OR: relatively cool and humid, this area in Oregon produces wines with aromas of forest floor and tart red fruit.
Sonoma Coast, CA: One of the largest wine areas in Sonoma County, the Sonoma Coast is home to some of America’s most prestigious Pinot Noir producers. Sonoma Coast wines tend to be medium-bodied and fruity, yet dry.
Russian River Valley, CA: this part of Sonoma County benefits from the cooling influence of fog from San Pablo Bay, which provides a great climate for delicate Pinot Noir.
Santa Lucia Highlands, CA: a rocky, hilly area along the Pacific coast south of San Francisco known for relatively rich, full-bodied Pinot.
Santa Rita Hills, CA: normally written as “Sta. Rita Hills,” this area is the southernmost California area on this list, but it has a cool climate because of the currents in the nearby Pacific. These wines are aromatic and delicate and make a great accompaniment to seafood, especially salmon.
Now that you’re armed with some knowledge and a list of great wine regions, you can take your Pinot Noir buying to a new level. Enjoy!