Pinot Noir may just be the most admired red grape in the entire world of wine. Thin-skinned, pale and beguiling in nature, Pinot Noir is scattered across the world in a far more specific fashion than say, Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, purely because it requires very certain conditions in order to grow properly. Susceptible to all sorts of rot, fungi and vine diseases, Pinot Noir takes some serious care and attention to grow but, once it is, there's nothing quite like it, and a good glass of Pinot Noir is possibly more responsible for capturing people and introducing them to the world of wine than anything else!
So, where are the best places to find Pinot Noir? Burgundy is its homeland and arguably, it's greatest expression. New Zealand, America, Australia, South Africa, Chile and even more traditional white wine countries like Germany are all growing sizeable amounts of Pinot Noir. Costs are rarely low, owing to the inescapable difficulties of production and world-wide popularity, and styles change broadly across the world. Whilst Pinot Noir is also responsible for some of the great sparkling wines of the world (did you know that Champagne is mostly planted with red grapes?) we're going to focus on its red wine expression in this short article. If you love a good glass of Pinot Noir, strap in as we're about to explore the world and find some top expressions of this hauntingly beautiful grape.
Whilst we could look at France as a whole with regards to Pinot Noir, Burgundy is really where this grape reaches its apogee. Sancerre and Alsace are increasingly making better quality examples but if you're looking to experience the classic, world-famous examples then this northerly, cool region is exactly where you need to be headed. Burgundy is possibly the most sought after wine in the world, for both white and red, and with good reason. The understanding of terroir here is second to none, the land having been constantly evaluated and classified since medieval Europe, and the result is a fragmented scattering of different quality levels of land, hundreds of small producers and some of the worlds most expensive wines! Let's have a look at some of the more famous villages producing Pinot Noir:
Marsannay: One of the most northerly Pinot Noir producing villages of Burgundy, Marsannay is often overlooked in favour of its more famous neighbours. A mistake, in our eyes! When you have producers like Sylvain Pataille and Bruno Clair in your corner, you know there's something worth investigating about the land here. Sylvain Pataille's fresh, crunchy Marsannay is a great starting point to understanding the village.
Gevrey-Chambertin: One of the most famous villages in Burgundy with a number of Grand Cru vineyards to its name. Firmer, darker and generally more savoury than most Burgundy, this is home to some of Pinot Noir's longest lived wines. Famous names like Armand Rosseau and Geantet-Pansiot are to be found here, though for value we personally love Trapet.
Morey-St-Denis: The classic Burgundian village and somewhere in the middle, stylistically speaking, when it comes to comparing Gevrey Chambertin vs Chambolle-Musigny. Domaine Dujac, Ponsot and Clos des Lambrays are all names worth keeping an eye out for!
Chambolle-Musigny: This is where Pinot Noir reaches its most seductive heights. Chambolle-Musigny tends to command some of the highest prices for village wines in all of Burgundy and with good reason; the perfumed, soft nature of the wine here is almost impossible to replicate. Mugnier, Barthod and Pacalet are all names that command these premium prices.
Vosne-Romanee: The most famous village of them all and the only one to rival Chambolle-Musigny in price and demand. Underneath the quiet streets of Vosne Romanee lies the most expensive wines in the world and certainly the most sought-after bottles of Pinot Noir. Romanee Conti and Leroy are the names that created the fame of the village, though Sylvain Cathiard and Anne Gros deliver better value and are possible to buy without selling any vital organs!
Volnay: There are several Pinot Noir producing villages to the south of Burgundy, but Volnay is much the most famous. Similar to Chambolle-Musigny in style but without the weight and spice of the region, Volnay is about as delicate and perfumed as it gets for Pinot Noir. Michel Lafarge and d'Angerville are the leading lights, here.
Top Tip: Whilst the fame of Burgundy is rightly reserved for its Grand Cru, Premier Cru and village wines, do keep an eye out for the humble 'Bourgogne Rouge'. Generally made from younger vines within this more famous villages or a blend of several of them, they offer great value for money and often showcase a style of one of these highly acclaimed producers.
Germany is, believe it or not, the worlds third largest producer of Pinot Noir! Known locally as Spätburgunder and so popular that the best bottles rarely leave the country, plantings of this grape have risen dramatically in just the last decade. Once criticised for being too heavy and oak-laden, Germany's Pinot Noir has really matured as of late, and telling a good bottle of Spätburgunder apart from its equivalent in Burgundy is a lot harder than it looks! You'll find Spätburgunder dotted across the country, though most notably in the Pfalz and Baden.
Baden: This is Germany's stronghold for Pinot Noir, being the longest and warmest region in the country. Split across 9 sub-regions, Baden has long been famous for its spicy, rich Pinot Noir though much like the rest of Germany, delicacy and finesse have been the watch-words for the last decade. Weingut Ziereisen, Bernhard Huber and Enderle and Moll are all names to keep an eye out for!
Pfalz: Further North of Baden lies the Pfalz, a large, dry and relatively sunny region in Germany. Whilst famous for production of dry, steely Riesling, Pinot Noir also thrives here, particularly due to its dry nature, and some of Germany's most famous producers can be found here, though not in the same concentration is Baden. Knipser and Dr Wehrheim are two of the most highly regarded producers here.
It's hard to think of America and Pinot Noir without recalling the now-infamous Sideways; one of the worlds great wine movies, though unintentionally so! America has taken to Pinot Noir as much as anyone else and whilst many regions are simply too warm to grow Pinot of distinction, there are a few spots where this complex grape has made itself very much at home.
Oregon: Oregon is the heartland of Pinot Noir in America, focusing almost exclusively on the grape for their red wines, and the best wines here have attracted attention from across the world, including Burgundian producers looking to buy land! Cooler and wetter than southerly California, as its location on the Pacific North-West would suggest, the style is here is often compared to Burgundy, though tends to be a little fruitier and heavier in alcohol. Domaine Drouhin, Beaux Freres and Eyrie are our favourite producers.
Sonoma Coast: Whilst most of California is simply too warm for quality Pinot Noir production, the cooler parts of Sonoma Country, typically the coast, bucks the trend with some remarkably delicate, delicious Pinot Noir. Regions like the Russian River Valley in particular are famous for their cool-climate Pinot Noir production, cooled by the mornings mists drifting in from the ocean. Usually still a little heftier than their cousins in Oregon, some of the best wines here are truly outstanding and will hold their own with Pinot Noir from across the world. Hirsch, Littorai and Raen are all names to try.
New Zealand made a name for itself for producing aromatic, zesty Sauvignon Blanc yet their Pinot Noir is also increasingly renowned across the world. The maritime climate here makes for a few difficulties in the vineyards but certain parts of the country are naturally inclined towards making Pinots' of varying styles.
Martinborough: On the southern tip of the Northern island of New Zealand, lies Martinborough, a region famous for its dark, earthy Pinot Noir. The cool winds blowing in from the South allow Pinot Noir to ripen slowly and evenly, whilst keeping the vineyards mostly dry. This, and the artesanal nature of most of the producers here, is a match made in heaven for Pinot! Ata Rangi, Dry River and Palliser Estate are amongst the most highly regarded.
Marlborough: This is Sauvignon Blanc land first and foremost. Across the water from Martinborough, the suns rays beat down which is a large part of the reason such aromatic, fruit-laden wines are produced. Yet the Pinot Noir's produced here, and in neighbouring Nelson, are increasingly sought after. Bright, fresh and herbal, producers like Fromm, Loveblock and Dogpoint are leading the way.
Central Otago: Arguably the worlds most beautiful wine region, heading down into Lord of the Rings land! This remote, southerly wine region is to New Zealand as Oregon is to America; Pinot Noir territory. The continental nature of the region makes for some sleepless nights if you're a vigneron, yet the results are there for all to see; bright, textured, fresh Pinot Noir that is more in a Burgundian mould than any other wines in New Zealand. Indeed, there's an exchange program between winemakers here and Burgundy every year! Felton Road, Burn Cottage and Rippon are all stalwarts and worth seeking out.
Australia isn't the sort of country you'd have associated with Pinot Noir a decade or two ago. Hot, dry and well known for producing mighty Shiraz, bold Cabernet Sauvignon and buttery Chardonnay; delicacy and finesse wasn't really on the menu. However, a brand new generation of Australian wine-makers have been pushing the boundaries and investing in land in cooler, less known regions. Pinot Noir is thriving as a result and some of the most exciting wines to come from the coastal regions are now made from this finnicky grape.
Mornington Peninsula: Close by to Melbourne, this cool-climate, coastal region is arguably Australia's finest for high quality Pinot Noir production. The focus here is, a little like Martinborough in New Zealand, very boutique with a personal touch and no truly large producers to speak of. Unsurprisingly, there's also a tightly knit community here! Yabby Lake, 10 Minutes by Tractor and Paringa are the best that we've discovered so far!
Yarra Valley: Close to Melbourne again but layered over rocky, volcanic soil, Yarra Valley competes with Adelaide Hills to be considered the new, cool region of Australia; somewhat ironic considering its illustrious past! Lots of young wine-makers have flocked here to producer lighter styles of Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and, yep, Pinot Noir. Savoury, delicate and delicious with the very best some of the best examples of Australian Pinot Noir around. Look out for Yering Station, Luke Lambert and Mount Mary Quintet.
Tasmania: The coolest region of Australia is so-called 'Tazzy', a large island just off the south of the country. Famous for its sparkling wine production, Tasmania is also home to the lightest, freshest styles of Pinot Noir, usually from the slightly warmer regions not suitable for sparkling wine production. Stefano Lubiana, Tolpuddle and Liffey Valley are all lesser known producers that we suspect have a very bright future ahead of them!
A little like some of the other New World countries, South Africa wasn't always highly regarded for its Pinot Noir production, owing to the fact that most of its famous wine regions are really quite warm. However, if you take a trip to the very south of the Western Cape, you'll find yourself enjoying the ocean breezes as they whip in from the South, which is exactly the sort of mitigating conditions that allow Pinot Noir to flourish!
Walker Bay: This is the most famous region for South African Pinot Noir, bar none. Whilst the region as a whole is particularly promising, it's the wines from the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley that are really catching everyones attention. Funneling the cool winds from the ocean across the vineyards allows for a longer growing season, better vine health and, as a result, better quality wine. Crystallum, Hamilton Russel and Newton Johnson are all making exceptionally good Pinot Noir here, and the future looks bright indeed!
Last but not least, we have the long, skinny wine-producing region of Chile. Best known for its aromatic, pungent expressions of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Carmenere, the terroir of Chile is increasingly being understood and discovered, and with regards to Pinot Noir, it's the coastal zone that is of the most interest.
Casablanca Valley: The coastal area of the Aconcagua Valley is one of the coolest regions of Chile, benefiting from the chilly breezes from the Pacific Ocean, and Casablanca Valley has, as a result, made a name for itself as a cool-climate wine region. As you'll have noticed by now, Pinot Noir loves cool conditions! Along with the San Antonio Valley, a sub-region within, the very best tangy, bright-fruited Pinot Noir is produced here, typically from smaller producers looking to make high quality wines. Montesecano, Anakena and, yep, even Cono Sur are making excellent Pinot Noir here!
All this talk of Pinot Noir is making us thirsty, and we've barely scratched the surface in terms of the regions where its grown and its top producers! If you love a glass of Pinot Noir, we hope this has given you a little guidance to go out and try different styles from across the world, and hopefully find a new producer that suits your palate on the way! From Burgundy to South Africa, from Oregon to Baden, there's a lot of very good Pinot Noir in this world. Cheers to that!
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