The “Pinot Noir” name is derived from the French words for “pine” and “black” alluding to the grape’s tightly clustered dark purple pine-cone shaped clusters of fruit. Due to Pinot Noir’s susceptibility to mutation, it maintains somewhat of an extended family—it’s widely used relatives such as Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Meunier have become well-known varieties on their own accord. The cultivation of Pinot Noir (or Pinot, as it is often coined) dates back over 2000 years and today it is grown around the world. Pinot Noir is regarded as producing some of the most alluring and seductive red wines—and sparkling wines—in the world. André Tchelistcheff (d. 1994) is largely recognized as one of the modern fathers of California wine. He is famously quoted for declaring that “God made Cabernet Sauvignon whereas the devil made Pinot Noir.” His quote references the difficulties to grow good quality Pinot without a price—it takes painstaking efforts to produce it well. Pinot Noir’s thin skin makes it highly susceptible to just about every possible disease infliction known to grapes. In addition, Pinot produces fairly low yields (particularly for making quality wines), which ultimately affects the selling price. With such challenging issues and overall limited production, good quality Pinots, when found, tend to be fairly expensive.
Since Pinot maintains relatively thin skins and larger berries, they tend to contribute lighter color intensity than other red-wine grapes. The aromas and flavors can alternate between garden (earth, dust, peat moss, and mushroom) and dried red fruits (cherry, raspberry, cranberry, and black cherry), coffee shop (espresso, butterscotch, vanilla, clove, nutmeg, and anise), and subtle tobacco.
Pinot Noir tends to be of light to medium body (depending upon hang-time and yield of the grapes), with low to medium levels of tannin, and medium to high acidity.
Pinot Noir thrives mostly in the cooler growing areas and is chiefly associated with France’s Champagne region—as well as Burgundy’s subregion of the Côte d’Or (coat-d-OR). New World locations include Oregon (Willamette Valley), California (Sonoma, Carneros, Russian River, Sonoma Coast, Sta. Rita Hills, and Santa Lucia Highlands), and New Zealand (Marlborough, Martinborough, and Central Otago).