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A Celebration of Pinot Noir

I'll hold my hands up now and say this grape is a big favourite of mine, so if this post seems a little biased then it probably is. But as it is Pinot Noir day on the 18th August, here are five reasons why Pinot Noir is up there with the best and why you should try it and get to know it better.

1. It is old

Ok, so not necessarily the most obvious reason to love it BUT bear with me. Pinot Noir is thought to be one of the most ancient winemaking grapes that has survived to this day. It has been documented in France since the Roman times and after they up and left, the monks took the vines into their care. Where they really thrived was in Burgundy and soon, due to a number of factors, it became the undisputed king of Burgundy. But also, these monks could spot a good thing when they saw it. The Cistercian Monks recognised that Pinot Noir vineyards had the highest quality grapes and thus, it became the official wine used for the sacrament of Communion.

An excellent example of a French Pinot Noir coming from this region with a lot of history is the Domaine de Valmoissine Pinot Noir from Louis Lator. Louis Lator's history goes all the way back to 1731 and the grapes for this wine are grown on the site of the ancient monastery of Valmoissine. Not quite Roman, but not bad!

2. It's tasty

This might be stating the obvious as to why I love it, but I am not the only one. Pinot Noir is an ever popular grape variety that is very versatile when it comes to food. It sits on the light end of red wine when thinking about body and has red fruit flavours, magnified by a smooth long finish. This grape is often praised for it's ability to offer complex flavour combinations. In fact, Höpler winery say that 'if there is an odd silence in the house you can be guaranteed that Mrs H is curled up on the sofa lost in a book with a glass of Höpler Pinot Noir by her side! This is an elegant, tantalizing classic.' Austria's climate lends itself very well to grow this fussy grape and this is a lovely example.

When drinking Pinot Noir, you may want to serve it slightly chilled. Not to the extent you would a white or a rose, but serving it at around 12-14 degrees can help bring out its best qualities and perfectly balance the acidity and alcohol levels.

3. It's beautiful

Pinot Noir translates, very literally, to black pine cone as it grows in a tight pine cone shape. It is famously a hard grape to grow, with very thin skins that are sensitive to temperature fluctuations and the sun, as well as being very prone to disease. In fact, it is such a tricky thing to get right that it is sometimes referred to as the 'heartbreak grape', referring to the despair of many wine makers over the years. This is not necessarily a selling point but when it goes well, these thin skins mean it has a naturally delicate colour. You can tell if you have found a good one if you can tilt your glass over a newspaper and can still read the article through it.

4. It's a globe trotter

Despite being the undisputed King of Burgundy, Pinot Noir is grown all over the world. It's temperamental nature means that it likes to grow in cooler climates, benefitting from the long growing season. France is the top producer, followed by the USA, Germany, Moldova, Italy, New Zealand, Australia, Switzerland and Chile. This breadth of growing regions means there is a huge variety of Pinot Noir to try. Depending on your preferences you might want to look out for the following:

  • France: the original home of Pinot Noir, with the world's most coveted Pinot Noir vines grown just south of Dijon. You will find that the French style will result in a more earthy and floral style. French Pinot Noirs will also often age well, some for 20+ years.

  • USA (California): you will find that most Pinot Noir in the US comes from California. That being said, a lot of the state is too hot for this grape and it will be found growing where it can benefit from a cool breeze from the pacific. These wines will be rich and tend to be more fruit forward than the French style, such as the Napa Cellars Pinot Noir from the Napa Valley. They also age their wine in 100% French oak barrels for 10 months which will add to the richness and body to the wine.

  • New Zealand: although famous for their Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealanders are also first class Pinot Noir producers. Their long growing season and moderate heat means the grapes retain their acidity and the wine has a subtle power similar to those of Burgundy. Babich winery, in Marlborough, produces excellent Pinot Noir wines year on year, including their 2020 vintage.

5. It's versatile

When it comes to pairing this wine with food, it is extremely versatile. Because of its high acidity and low tannin content it is light enough for grilled fish but also complex enough to go well with roast chicken or a good stew.

But also... Pinot Noir does not just make red wine.

Pinot Noir is the most widely planted grape variety in the whole of Champagne and is a staple in many of the champagne blends. It brings body to the wine and beautiful aromatics to the blend. Veuve Clicquot, with it's distinctive yellow label, has always been known as a Pinot Noir house. With their blend being around 50% Pinot Noir grapes, these grapes provide a structure to the wine that is so typical of this Champagne house.

It is also a common find in rose wine. Using Pinot Noir grapes, gives the wine a delicate, blush pink colour and crisp acidity and delicious rose petal and strawberry flavours. An example of this style of wine is the La Petite Perrier Pinot Noir Rose which is full of fruit and freshness.

Less commonly it is also used to make white wine which is richer than many other white wines and has flavours of baked apple and pear.

Finally, it occasionally strays out of wine altogether. Chapel Down Winery in Kent has used the skins of their Pinot Noir grapes after the pressing process for their sparkling wine, to produce a delicate blush gin. It has aromas of red berries and rosehip, perfectly balanced with a juniper-led palate and citrus fresh finish.

Conclusion - Pinot Noir is great

Hopefully, the above demonstrates why a day specifically to celebrate Pinot Noir is entirely justified, maybe it even needs a month? If this a grape that you haven't had a chance to get to know yet, make it high on your list as you won't regret it.

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