Pinot noir a thin-skinned, light- to medium-bodied black grape variety that is very fussy about where it's grown. While it's a difficult variety for grape growers, it's a very easy wine to drink. Pinot noir has soft tannins, and its tasting characteristics are floral, fruit, earth, and herb and spice. Learn all about this elegant and complex red variety ahead.
Pinot noir tasting characteristicsPinot noir is a black grape variety with a thin skin and is best suited to a cool to moderate climate. Pinot noir is pale to medium in colour and is high in acidity with fine, soft tannins. Its red fruit flavours include strawberry, cherry, raspberry, cranberry and plum and the freshness will depend on the ripeness of the grape. Pinot noir can also have an earthy palate. For example, the pinot noir made in Tasmania is full of bright red fruit but also boasts mushroom, truffle and forest floor.
When tasting, one must remember that pinot noir is not a big red wine. This is a variety that’s tricky to perfect, but once you do, it’s all delicacy and finesse.
Origins of pinot noirPinot noir is an ancient grape. The earliest use of the name, then spelled “pinoz”, was recorded in 1375. It’s also a variety with one of the most interesting vinous family histories: until DNA testing in 1993, it was assumed that pinot noir, pinot gris, pinot meunier and pinot blanc were distinct varieties found within the pinot family, but it’s since been confirmed they’re actually mutations of the same genetic footprint.
It’s also widely believed pinot is the grandparent of teroldego, marzemino, lagrein and dureza; a parent of savagnin; the grandparent of chenin and sauvignon blanc; and, perhaps most dramatically, a great-grandparent of cabernet sauvignon – an incredible evolution over the last 1000 years.
While pinot noir is now grown across many international sites, its spiritual homeland is undoubtedly Burgundy. Give or take a century or two, Burgundy was pinpointed as a great wine-producing area by the end of the first millennium. Over the next 600 years, the monasteries and monks painstakingly discovered, defined and refined the process for growing the greatest possible pinot noir.
In regards to Australian pinot noir, it’s possible that a clone made its way to Australia with the First Fleet in 1788, and it was definitely part of the collection of vines that James Busby established in the Hunter Valley in the early 1800s. Despite trying and failing to grow pinot noir in South Australia, the variety successfully took off in Victoria, especially in Geelong and the Yarra Valley.
In the 1880s, however, vines were wiped out by phylloxera in Geelong and later by the switch to dairying in the Yarra Valley, and it wasn’t until the 1970s that pinot noir made a comeback. Today, you can find first-class Australian expressions coming out of our cooler climate wine regions.
How to pair food with pinot noirPinot noir is one of the most food-friendly red wines. The holy grail of pairings is pinot noir and duck. Ask any winemaker or sommelier and they’ll agree: whether the pinot is cherry-red or a more savoury number, duck is a winner.
Don’t be afraid to pair pinot with a touch of spice either. Pinot noir is an excellent accompaniment to lightly spiced Thai dishes or even a mid-morning round of Chinese yum cha. Oily meals such as salmon, tuna or pasta will pair well with a light and dry pinot noir, while the more tannic styles go with richer foods like a beef bourguignon. And don’t forget the cheese. Make sure your platter includes creamy brie, blue and sharp goat’s cheeses, and you’ll be dining (and drinking) well.
Serving temperature for pinot noirThe ideal serving temperature for pinot noir is 14 degrees.
The best Australian pinot noir tasting notes
Jack Denis Pooley Pinot Noir 2020Tasmania
Applejack Vineyard Pinot Noir 2021Yarra Valley
Pinot Noir 2020Tasmania
De La Terre 2019Geelong
Premium Old Vines Pinot Noir 2020Gippsland
La Maison Pinot Noir 2020Tasmania
A moderate climate in the west, and cooler climate in the south and east, the region is a diverse one. A handful of wineries produce pinot noir from rustic to sophisticated, and from lighter- to fuller-bodied.
New South WalesSmall quantities are being grown in the Hunter Valley (and often blended with shiraz), along with the cool climate regions of Orange and Tumbarumba.
*Information and quotes are taken from James Halliday’s Varietal Wines.
Image credit: Wine Australia.