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Get to Know Grapes: Pinot Noir

For many winelovers, Pinot Noir is the undisputed champion of the world of wine grapes. After all, Pinot is not only the grape of great red Burgundy: it is the backbone of Champagne as well. But if Pinot at its very best produces supremely elegant wine of unmatched finesse, there is another side to the coin.

Notoriously finicky Pinot is known as 'the heartbreak grape' for very good reason. Sometimes its wines are anything but graceful. It is difficult to grow, and genetically very unstable (Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris are spontaneous mutations of Pinot Noir). Pinot thrives in cool climates, especially where there is a long, temperate growing season. When it is too cold or too wet, Pinot can produce thin, stringy wines devoid of charm. If this is exasperating, in the end the risk is well worth it - in the good years Pinot can be simply sublime.

Pinot is a thin-skinned (colour pigments reside in grape skins) grape, typically producing light-coloured and medium- to light-bodied wines. A rookie mistake in wine is jumping to the conclusion that a pale Pinot cannot possibly be a profound wine.  In fact feeble-looking Pinots can be shockingly full of aroma and flavour, and astonishingly rich in body. The simple lesson: never judge a Pinot Noir wine by the way it looks.

No other grape inspires the passionate devotion that Pinot Noir can. The reason is that Pinot possesses an extra dimension that no other grape can match: great Pinot has a uniquely soft texture - typically described as velvety or silky - that makes drinking Pinot a sensual pleasure.  It also has a backbone of minerality, acidity, and tannin that confers great ageability. Pinot’s fruit displays red cherry and plum, cranberry, raspberry or darker cherry and black plum if grown in warm areas. Violets, undergrowth (sous bois as the French aptly put it), game, ‘barnyard’ or leather. It can also make wines that age magnificently, and undergo magical bottle metamorphosis, achieving an ineffable, ethereal quality. In a perfect world, we would all be drinking 1978 Chambolle-Musigny. Alas, we live in a world that has Donald Trump in it, so it may be slightly imperfect.

Happily we can drink Pinot Noir from New Zealand, Coastal Chile, Tasmanian, or Oregon, and discover Pinot’s ability to transmit a sense of place, known as terroir. And here in British Columbia, there are many lovely versions, from both Cowichan on Vancouver Island and the Okanagan and Similkameen valleys. Some of our favourites include…..


Baillie-Grohman Estate Winery - Estate Pinot Noir

Corcelettes - Pinot Noir 2015

Emandare - Pinot Noir 2014

Upper Bench - Pinot Noir 2013


Borthwick - Paper Road Pinot Noir 2010

Undurraga - Sibaris Pinot Noir Gran Reserva 2014

Bernard-Deaix - Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2014

Josef Chromy - Pinot Noir 2015

Here’s a round-up of the most important regions for Pinot Noir plantings:

Pinot Noir around the world 290,000 acres worldwide (117,000 hectares) (2012- 2015 statistics)

  1. France 75,760 acres - primarily in Burgundy
  2. United States 73,600 acres (including 37,290 acres in California and 15,507 acres in Oregon)
  3. Germany 29,049 acres
  4. New Zealand 10,648 acres  
  5. Italy 10,082 acres
  6. Australia 8,693 acres  
  7. Chile 7,127 acres
  8. Argentina 4,450 acres
  9. South Africa 2,520 acres

BC – 949 acres planted (of 10,000 total acres)

Ontario – 700 acres planted (of 15,000 total acres)

Grape Family 

Robinson, J., Harding, J., & Vouillamoz, J. (2012). Wine Grapes: A complete guide to 1,368 vine varieties, including their origins and flavours. New York, NY: HarperCollins.


*Pinot Noir Image: "Maturing Pinot Noir" by Jim Fischer—CC BY 2.0


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