Pinot Noir Grape Variety

Pinot noir The name may also refer to wines created predominantly from Pinot noir grapes. The name is derived from the French words for "pine" and "black" alluding to the grape variety's tightly clustered dark purple pine cone-shaped bunches of fruit.

Pinot noir grapes are grown around the world, mostly in the cooler regions, but the grape is chiefly associated with the Burgundy region of France. It is widely considered to produce some of the finest wines in the world, but is a difficult variety to cultivate and transform into wine.[1]

Color of berry skin Black
Wine description Light tannins, Strawberry, raspberry, cherry, mushroom, meaty
Food pairing Squab, Duck, Quail, Coq au Vin
Origin France
Notable regions Burgundy, Champagne, California (Russian River Valley), Marlborough, Central Otago, Oregon, Casablanca Valley
Notable wine(s) Gevrey-Chambertin, Nuits-Saint-Georges



Pinot noir thrives in France's Burgundy region, particularly on the Cote-d'Or which has produced some of the world's most celebrated wines for centuries. It is also planted in Austria, Argentina, Australia, Canada, Chile, north parts of Croatia, the Republic of Georgia, Germany, Italy, Hungary, the Republic of Macedonia, Moldova, Romania, New Zealand, South Africa, Serbia, Switzerland, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, United States, Uruguay, Ukraine and Slovakia. The United States has increasingly become a major Pinot noir producer, with some of the best regarded coming from the Willamette Valley in Oregon and California's Sonoma County with its Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast appellations. Lesser known appellations can be found in Mendocino County's Anderson Valley as well as the Central Coast's Santa Lucia Highlands appellation and the Sta. Rita Hills American Viticultural Area in Santa Barbara County. In New Zealand, it is grown in Martinborough, Marlborough, Waipara and Central Otago.

The leaves of Pinot noir are generally smaller than those of Cabernet Sauvignon, but larger than those of Syrah. The grape cluster is small and cylindrical, vaguely shaped like a pine cone. Some viticultural historians believe this shape may have given rise to the name.[2] Pinot noir tends to produce narrow trunks and branches. In the vineyard it is sensitive to light exposure, cropping levels (it must be low yielding), soil types and pruning techniques. In the winery it is sensitive to fermentation methods, yeast strains and is highly reflective of its terroirwith different regions producing very different wines. Its thin skin makes it highly susceptible to bunch rot and other fungal diseases. The vines themselves are prone to downy mildew, leaf roll, and fanleaf. These complications have given the grape the reputation of being difficult to grow: Jancis Robinson calls Pinot a "minx of a vine"[2] and Andre Tchelistcheff declared that "God made Cabernet Sauvignon whereas the devil made Pinot noir."[2]

However, Pinot wines are among the most popular in the world. Joel Fleischman of Vanity Fair describes Pinot noir as "the most romantic of wines, with so voluptuous a perfume, so sweet an edge, and so powerful a punch that, like falling in love, they make the blood run hot and the soul wax embarrassingly poetic."[2] Master Sommelier Madeline Triffon calls pinot "sex in a glass".[2] Peter Richardsson of OenoStyle christened it "a seductive yet fickle mistress!"[3]

The tremendously broad range of bouquets, flavors, textures and impressions that Pinot noir can produce sometimes confuses tasters.[2] In the broadest terms, the wine tends to be of light to medium body with an aroma reminiscent of black cherry, raspberry or currant. Traditional red Burgundy is famous for its fleshy, 'farmyard' aromas, but changing fashions and new easier-to-grow clones have favoured a lighter, fruitier style. The grape's color when young, often compared to that of garnet, is often much lighter than that of other red wines. However, an emerging style from California and New Zealand highlights a more powerful, fruit forward and darker wine that can approach syrah in depth.

It is also used in the production of Champagne (usually along with Chardonnay and Pinot meunier) and is planted in most of the world's wine growing regions for use in both still and sparkling wines. Pinot noir grown for dry table wines is generally low-yielding and often difficult to grow well. Pinot noir grown for use in sparkling wines (e.g. Champagne) is generally higher yielding.

In addition to being used for the production of sparkling and still red wine, Pinot noir is also sometimes used for rose still wines, and even vin gris white wines.

History, mutants and clones

Pinot noir is an ancient variety that may be only one or two generations removed from wild vines.[4] The origins of the variety are unclear: In De re rustica, Columella describes a grape variety similar to Pinot noir in Burgundy during the 1st century AD,[2][5] however, vines have grown wild as far north as Belgium in the days before phylloxera, and it is possible that Pinot represents an independent domestication of Vitis vinifera. The vines of southern France may represent Caucasian stock transported by the ancient Greeks.

Ferdinand Regner has proposed[6] that Pinot noir is a cross between Pinot meunier (Schwarzriesling) and Traminer, but this work has not been replicated.[2] In fact Pinot meunier appears to be a Pinot noir with a mutation in the epidermal cells which makes the shoot tips hairy and the vine a little smaller.[7] This means that Pinot meunier is a chimera with two tissue layers of different genetic makeup, one of which is identical to Pinot noir. As such, Pinot meunier cannot be the parent of Pinot noir.

Pinot gris is a bud sport of Pinot noir, presumably representing a somatic mutation in either the VvMYBA1 or VvMYBA2 genes that control grape colour. Pinot blanc may represent a further mutation of Pinot gris. The DNA profiles of both Pinot gris and blanc are identical to Pinot noir;[8] the other two major Pinots, Pinot moure and Pinot teinturier, are also genetically very similar.[9]

The Wrotham (pronounced "ruttum") Pinot is an English variety with white hairs on the upper surface of the leaves, and is particularly resistant to disease. Edward Hyams of Oxted Viticultural Research Station was alerted to a strange vine growing against a cottage wall in Wrotham in Kent, which local lore said was descended from vines brought over by the Romans. An experimental Blanc de Noir was made at Oxted, and in 1980 Richard Peterson took cuttings to California, where he now makes a pink sparkling Wrotham Pinot.[11] Wrotham Pinot is sometimes regarded as a synonym of Pinot meunier, but it has a higher natural sugar content and ripens two weeks earlier.[12]

Pinot noir appears to be particularly prone to mutation (suggesting it has active transposable elements, and has a long history in cultivation, so there are hundreds of different clones such as Pinot Fin and Pinot Tordu. More than 50 are officially recognized in France compared to only 25 of the much more widely planted cabernet sauvignon.[1]The French Etablissement National Technique pour l’Amelioration de la Viticulture (ENTAV) has set up a programme to select the best clones of Pinot. This program has succeeded admirably in increasing the number of quality clones available to growers. Nonetheless, in the new world, particularly in Oregon, wines of extraordinary quality continue to be made from the earlier Pommard and Wadensvil clones.[2]

Gamay Beaujolais is an early-ripening clone of Pinot noir. It is used mostly in California but is also seen in New Zealand.[13] It was brought to California by Paul Masson.[14] is an early-ripening grape that is thought to be a clone of Pinot noir[1] - it's possible that the two are the same mutant.

In August 2007, French researchers announced the sequencing of the genome of Pinot noir.[15] It is the first fruit crop to be sequenced, and only the fourth flowering plant.


In the Middle Ages, the nobility and church of northeast France grew some form of Pinot in favoured plots, while peasants grew a large amount of Gouais Blanc. Much cross-pollination usually resulted from such close proximity, and the genetic distance between the two parents imparted hybrid vigour leading to many desirable offspring. These include Chardonnay, Aligoté, Auxerrois, Gamay, Melon and eleven others.[8]

In 1925 Pinot noir was crossed in South Africa with the Cinsaut grape (known locally as Hermitage) to create a unique variety called Pinotage.



Pinot noir is produced in several wine growing areas of Australia, notably in the Yarra Valley, Geelong, the Bellarine Peninsula, Beechworth, South Gippsland, Sunbury, Macedon Ranges and Mornington Peninsula in Victoria, Adelaide Hills in South Australia, Great Southern Wine Region in Western Australia all Tasmania and Canberra District in NSW


In Austria, Pinot noir is sometimes called Blauburgunder (literally Blue Burgundy) and produced in Burgenland and Lower Austria. Austrian Pinot noir wines are dry red wines similar in character to the red wines of Burgundy, mostly aged in French barriques. Some of the best Austrian Pinots come from Neusiedlersee and Blaufraenkischland, (Burgenland) and Thermenregion (Lower Austria).


Quality Pinot noir has been grown in Ontario for some time in the Niagara Peninsula and especially the Short Hills Bench wine region, as well as in Prince Edward County and on the north shore of Lake Erie. It has also been grown recently in the Okanagan, Lower Mainland, and Vancouver Island wine regions of British Columbia and the Annapolis Valley region of Nova Scotia.


Pinot noir is increasingly being planted in the U.K., mostly for use in sparkling wine blends such as Nyetimber. It is sometimes made into a fairly light still red or rose wine, in the style of Alsace; Chapel Down are particular keen on it. The U.K. can claim an indigenous Pinot variety in the Wrotham Pinot (see above).


Pinot noir has made France's Burgundy appellation famous, and vice-versa. Many wine historians, including John Winthrop Haeger and Roger Dion, believe that the association between pinot and Burgundy was the explicit strategy of Burgundy's Valois dukes. Roger Dion, in his thesis regarding Philip the Bold's role in promoting the spread of Pinot noir, holds that the reputation of Beaune wines as "the finest in the world" was a propaganda triumph of Burgundy's Valois dukes.[2] In any event, the worldwide archetype for Pinot noir is that grown in Burgundy where it has been cultivated since AD100.

Burgundy's Pinot noir produces great wines which can age very well in good years, developing floral flavours as they age, often reaching peak 15 or 20 years after the vintage. Many of the wines are produced in very small quantities and can be very expensive. Today, the celebrated Cote d'Or area of Burgundy has about 4,500 hectares (11,000 acres) of Pinot noir. Most of the region's finest wines are produced from this area. The Cote Chalonnaise and Maconnais regions in southern Burgundy have another 4,000 hectares (10,000 acres).

In Jura departement, across the river valley from Burgundy, the wines made from Pinot noir are lighter.

In Champagne it used in blending with Chardonnay and Pinot meunier. It can also appear unblended, in which case it may be labeled blanc de noirs. The Champagne appellation has more Pinot planted than any other area of France.

In Sancerre it is used to make red and rosé wines, much lighter in style that those of Burgundy, refreshing served chilled, especially in warmer years when they are less thin.

In Alsace it is generally used to make rose wines. However, it is also used to make genuine red wines usually called Pinot noir rouge, which are similar in character to red Burgundy and Beaujolais wines but are consumed chilled. Prominent examples are Rouge de Barr and Rouge d'Ottrott. Pinot noir rouge is the only red wine produced in Alsace.


In Germany it is called Spatburgunder (lit. "Late Burgundian"), and is now the most widely planted red grape.[1] Historically much German wine produced from Pinot noir was pale, often rose like the red wines of Alsace. However recently, despite the northerly climate, darker, richer reds have been produced, often barrel (barrique) aged, in regions such as Baden, Palatinate (Pfalz) and Ahr. These are rarely exported and are often very expensive in Germany for the better examples. As "Rhenish", German Pinot noir is mentioned several times in Shakesperean plays as a highly prized wine.[16]

There is also a smaller-berried, early ripening, lower yield variety called Freburgunder (Pinot noir , lit. "Early Burgundian") which is grown in Rheinhessen and Ahr area and can produce very good wines.


In Italy, where Pinot noir is known as Pinot nero, it has traditionally been cultivated in the Alto Adige, Collio Goriziano, Oltrepò Pavese and Trentino regions to produce Burgundy-style red wines. Cultivation of Pinot noir in other regions of Italy, mostly since the 1980s, has been challenging due to climate and soil conditions.

In Alto Adige  the variety is first noted 1838 as "Bourgoigne noir" in an grape wine buy list of the "k.u.k. Landwirtschafts-Gesellschaft von Tirol und Vorarlberg, Niederlassung Bozen" and later called "Blauburgunder" like in Austria. The first analytical descriptions are from Edmund Mach (founder of Ist. Agr. San Michele a.A.) in the year 1894: Friedrich Boscarolli - Rametz/Meran - Rametzer Burgunder 1890, Chorherrenstift Neustift - Blauburgunder 1890, R.v.Bressendorf - Vernaun/Meran - Burgunder 1890, C.Frank - Rebhof Gries Bozen - Burgunder 1889, Fr. Tschurtschenthaler - Bozen - Burgunder 1890 & 1891, Fr. Tschurtschenthaler - Bozen - Kreuzbichler 1889 & 1891 & 1887.[17] Today very small quantities from certain micro-zones (Mazon/Neumarkt, Buchholz, Eppan Berg, Vinschgau) are regularly on the top of Italian Pinot nero degustations. See for example the Pinot nero days

New Zealand

Pinot noir is a grape variety whose importance in New Zealand is greater than the weight of planting. Early in the modern wine industry (late 1970s early 1980s), the comparatively low annual sunshine hours to be found in NZ discouraged the planting of red varieties. But even at this time great hopes were had for Pinot noir (see Romeo Bragato). Initial results were not promising for several reasons, including the mistaken planting of Gamay, and the limited number of Pinot noir clones available for planting. However in recent years Pinot noir from Martinborough and Central Otago has won numerous international awards and accolades making it one of New Zealand's most sought-after varieties.

Historically, one notable exception was the St Helena 1984 Pinot noir from the Canterbury region. This led to the belief for a time that Canterbury might become the natural home for Pinot noir in New Zealand. While the early excitement passed, the Canterbury region has witnessed the development of Pinot noir as the dominant red variety. The next region to excel with Pinot noir was Martinborough on the southern end of the North Island. The moderate climate and long growing season gives wines of great intensity and complexity. In the 2000s, other sub-regions in the Wairarapa have been developed to the north of Martinborough.

At around this time the first plantings of Pinot noir in the Central Otago wine region occurred in the Kawarau Gorge near Bannockburn. Central Otago had a long (for New Zealand) history as a producer of quality stone fruit and particularly cherries. Significantly further south than all other wine regions in New Zealand, it had been overlooked despite a long history of grape growing. However, it benefited from being surrounded by mountain ranges which increased its temperature variations both between seasons and between night and day making the climate unusual in the typically maritime conditions in New Zealand.

The first vines were planted using holes blasted out of the north facing schist slopes of the region, creating difficult, highly marginal conditions. The first results coming in the mid to late 1990s excited the interest of British wine commentators, including Jancis Robinson and Oz Clarke. The latest sub-region appears to be Waitaki, on the border between Otago and Canterbury.

A recent blind tasting of New Zealand Pinot noir featured in Cuisine magazine (issue 119), Michael Cooper reported that of the top ten wines, five came from Central Otago, four from Marlborough and one from Waipara. This compares with all top ten wines coming from Marlborough in an equivalent blind tasting from last year. Cooper suggests that this has to do with more Central Otago production becoming available in commercial quantities, than the relative qualities of the regions' Pinot noir. In addition, as the industry has matured, many of the country's top producers have made the decision to no longer submit their wines to reviews or shows.

As is the case for other New Zealand wine, New Zealand Pinot noir is fruit-driven, forward and early maturing in the bottle. It tends to be quite full bodied (for the variety), very approachable and oak maturation tends to be restrained. High quality examples of New Zealand Pinot noir, particularly from the Martinborough region, are distinguished by savoury, earthy flavours with a greater complexity.


Pinot noir has recently been produced in small amounts in Lleida province, Catalonia, under the appellation "Costers del Segre" DO.

Pinot noir is recently being produced in small amounts in Ronda (province Malaga, Andalusia) by Cortijo Los Aguilares. It got a Great Golden Medal at the Pinot Noir Competition, in Sierre (Valais, Switzerland), this year.


Pinot noir is a popular grape variety all over Switzerland. In German speaking regions of Switzerland it is often called Blauburgunder. Pinot noir wines are produced in Neuchâtel, Schaffhausen, St. Gallen and Bündner Herrschaft. Neuchâtel, across the border from Burgundy, is renowned for its Pinot noir, a full bodied dry red wine. In Valais, Pinot noir is blended with Gamay to produce the well known Dôle.

United States

By volume most Pinot noir in America is grown in California with Oregon coming in second. Other regions are Washington State, Michigan and New York.

California wine regions known for producing Pinot noir are:

  • Sonoma Coast 
  • Russian River Valley AVA 
  • Central Coast AVA 
  • Sta. Rita Hills 
  • Monterey County / Santa Lucia Highlands 
  • Santa Cruz Mountains AVA 
  • Carneros District of Napa and Sonoma 
  • Anderson Valley 
  • Livermore Valley 
  • San Luis Obispo County / Arroyo Grande Valley, Edna Valley 

Oregon wine regions known for producing Pinot noir:

  • Willamette Valley AVA 

Although Oregon Pinot noir pioneer David Lett of Eyrie Vineyards is widely credited for first having planted Pinot noir in Oregon in 1965, Richard Sommers of Hillcrest Vineyards should be regarded as the first to plant and produce Pinot noir. He planted the variety in 1959 at his vineyards in the Umpqua Valley and produced wine from those vineyards in the early 1960s.[citation needed] In the 1970s several other growers followed suit. In 1979, David Lett took his wines to a competition in Paris, known in English as the Wine Olympics, and they placed third among pinots. In a 1980 rematch arranged by French wine magnate Robert Drouhin, the Eyrie vintage improved to second place. The competition established Oregon as a world class Pinot noir producing region.[18][19]

The Willamette Valley of Oregon is at the same latitude as the Burgundy region of France, and has a similar climate in which the finicky Pinot noir grapes thrive. In 1987, Drouhin purchased land in the Willamette Valley, and in 1989 built Domaine Drouhin Oregon, a state-of-the-art, gravity-fed winery. Throughout the 1980s, the Oregon wine industry blossomed.


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  2. page 19 
  3. OenoStyle
  4. Graves, David (2006). "On Varietal Origins: A Chat Between Wavey & The Professor"
  5. The Origin of Chardonnay[dead link] Meredith, Bowers, Boursiquot and This 
  6. Regner F; Stadlbauer A, Eisenheld C, Kaserer H (2000). "Genetic Relationships Among Pinots and Related"Am. J. Enol. Vitic. 51 (1): 7-14.
  7. Boss, P; Thomas M (2002-04-25). "Association of dwarfism and floral induction with a grape 'green revolution' mutation"Nature 416 (6883): 847-850. doi:10.1038/416847aPMID 11976683
  8. Meredith, Carole (2002-11-02). "Science as a Window into Wine History" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
  9. Hocquigny S; Pelsy F, Dumas V, Kindt S, Heloir M, Merdinoglu D (2004). "Diversification within grapevine cultivars goes through chimeric states"Genome 47 (3): 579-589. doi:10.1139/g04-006PMID 15190375
  10. Clive Coates, Cote D'Or (1997) pp. 144 and 457 
  11. "The Story Behind Wrotham Pinot"
  12. "History of English wine Production". English Wine Producers Marketing Association.
  13. Robinson J (2002). Vines Grapes & Wines. Mitchell Beazley. pp. 227.
  14. Adams, Leon D (1984). The Wines of America. McGraw-Hill. 
  15. Hopkin, M (2007-08-26). "Grape genome unpicked"Nature News (Nature).
  16. Stuart Walton, Understanding, Choosing and Enjoying Wine Hermes House 2006, p180 
  17. Peter Dipoli, Michela Carlotto: Mazon und sein Blauburgunder (in italian: Mazzon e il suo Pinot nero), Verschnerungsverein Neumarkt, Fotolito Varesco, Auer, 2009. 
  18. Teichgraeber, Tim (October 14, 2008). "David Lett, founder of Oregon Pinot Noir, dies"Decanter
  19. Colman, Tyler (October 13, 2008). "David Lett and an Eyrie Vineyards retrospective"Dr. Vino

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