The Art of Tasting Wine with James Flewellen: Spotlight on Pinot Noir
Pinot Noir is a light-skinned red grape originating from Burgundy in its modern form. Although, the Burgundians have been working with Pinot for around a thousand years, so the term ‘modern’ should be taken with a grain of salt!
The grape typically produces light-bodied wines with aromas ranging from fresh red fruit (raspberry, strawberry, cherry) to black (blackberry, mulberry) depending on the local climate of the vineyard. Warmer sites tend to produce wines with ‘blacker’ and riper fruit flavours. Alongside the fruit, good Pinot exhibits a fresh minerally, or even pleasantly ‘grassy’ character – complemented by the grape’s naturally high acidity on the palate. With bottle maturation, the wine develops notes of mushroom and decaying autumnal leaves — expressed evocatively by the French term sous-bois — which translates as ‘forest floor’. The thin skins of the grapes mean that the wines are generally low in tannin, though tannins are usually very fine-grained and punctuate the wine sufficiently so it can be enjoyed with food.
Pinot Noir is a notoriously fickle grape and is very difficult to handle. Burgundy’s millennium of association with Pinot Noir means that it produces the best in the world — and that the Burgundian clones of the grape are ideally suited to Burgundy’s continental climate. Explaining Burgundy’s appellation system would take an entire post of its own, but there are two main subregions for Pinot Noir there: Côte de Beaune and Côte de Nuits. These are further divided into villages, which may be further identified by vineyard — and these can be classified as either Premier Cru or Grand Cru indicating the quality level of the grapes.