Pinot Noir Varieties

7 July 2011
Author: Jeannie Cho Lee

The home of Pinot Noir is the Côte d’Or region of Burgundy. Whereas other classic varieties have found successful interpretations of its fruit in other regions, Burgundy’s inimitable expression of Pinot Noir has few competitors. Within the Côte d’Or, most of the Grand Cru vineyards for Pinot Noir are located in the northern Côte de Nuits region. Here, the expression ‘iron fist cloaked in velvet glove’ is apt: Layers of strawberries, raspberries with spicy and meaty notes are cloaked in silky textured but firm tannins with fresh acidity. The fruit opens up in the palate like a peacock’s tail with the very best wines leaving a long, lingering finish of complex fruit and minerality.


Burgundy red wines, which are synonymous with pure Pinot Noir expression, have a wide stylistic and quality range. Simple regional blends or négociant wines may display delicate raspberry or cherry fruit with a hint of vegetal and earthy notes. At the other end of the spectrum, wines from the best producers of Premier Cru and Grand Cru vineyards display alluring, complex flavours that are elegant and haunting. With the firm structure (acids and tannins) providing the backbone, these wines have a myriad of flavours which evolve and change in the glass as well as with time. In its youth, the wines have layers of red-berry fruit, spices, game and floral notes. With time, the truffle and mushroom character add to the wine’s nuances.

These thin-skinned grapes are notoriously temperamental. One of the key reasons is because Pinot Noir needs a long, cool ripening period in a marginal climate. Too much heat, and the fragrance and delicacy of the variety is lost as well as its acidity. Too little heat, and the vegetal notes dominate, producing weedy flavours devoid of fruit.


Despite the challenges, Pinot Noir is planted extensively in Europe and the New World with demand generally outstripping supply. Quality regions for this variety are always cool, with the most successful New World regions being New Zealand and coastal California and Australia.


New World Pinot Noir expression is more fruit-dominant, with fewer nuances of game, earthy or vegetal characters. Good examples are characterised by sweet red berries – raspberry, red cherry and strawberry, supported by firm acidity. Pinot Noir has an affinity to oak, which can add spicy or toasty elements though these aromas can sometimes overpower the delicate fruit.


Rise in new plantings have resulted in excellent, delicate expressions of this feminine variety from places like Central Otago, Martinborough, Mornington Peninsula, Geelong, Russian River Valley and Central Coast California.


Refreshing Pinot Noirs to try this summer:


2006 Giaconda Nantua Pinot Noir, Victoria, Australia
This is an elegant Pinot Noir that has simple red berry fruit aromas. On the palate, it delivers layers of spices, herbs and savoury characters. The acidity is lean and present through the finish. This is indeed a well made, multi-dimensional Pinot Noir.(90)


2007 Domaine de Montille Volnay Mitans 1er cru, Burgundy, France
The 2007 Volnay by de Montille is a very lively wine with forward and very friendly flavours. Delicate layers of focused vibrant flavours are balanced by velvety tannins and great length. A very good, elegant Volnay. Good length and depth.(93)


2009 Joseph Drouhin Beaune Clos des Mouche Rouge, Burgundy, France
A wonderful and smoky complex Burgundy with layered expressions of quintessentially red ‘Beaune’ flavours. There is an elegant, light, nice ripeness in the fruit flavours.  This wine has good density with excellent length and freshness.(92)


2008 Liger-Belair Vosne Romanee 1er Cru Aux Reignots, Burgundy, France
This is a fuller and more muscular Vosne Romanee incomparison with Les Suchot. The roasted, meaty flavours are very attractive and add a savoury note the vibrant red berry fruits. There is a gentle elegance to this wine despite its power. The flavours linger on the palate for a very long time. A wonderfully savoury wine.(94)


1997 Kistler Pinot Noir, Sonoma County, California 
This wine is surprisingly young with bright ruby colour.  This is a ripe Pinot style that is very typically Californian in expression and filled with sweet strawberry and cherry flavours.  Lingering length.(91)