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Pinot Noir

One of the most difficult yet rewarding grapes to grow

One of the most difficult yet rewarding grapes to grow, Pinot Noir is commonly referred to by winemakers as the “heartbreak grape.” However, one needs simply to look to the greatest red wines of Burgundy to see why it is unquestionably worth the effort. More reflective than most varieties of the land on which it is grown, Pinot Noir prefers a cool climate, requires low yields to achieve high quality, demands care in the vineyard and lots of attention in the winery. It is an important component of Champagne and the only variety permitted in red Burgundy, where few would dispute that it reaches its zenith. Pinot Noir enjoys immense popularity internationally, perhaps most notably in Oregon and California, the latter state being where it often reaches its fullest-bodied iterations. New Zealand’s Central Otago region is a current hot spot to keep an eye on. A very old variety, Pinot Noir mutates easily, and more than 50 different clones of it exist. Each one has its own unique viticultural characteristics (resistance to disease, productivity, and potential ripeness, to name a few) and can lend different flavors and aromas to the final wine. Many Pinot Noir wines are made from a blend of several different clones.

In the Glass

Pinot Noir Is all about red fruit—strawberry, raspberry, and cherry. It is relatively pale in color with soft tannins and lively acidity. It ranges in body from very light to the heavier side of medium, typically landing somewhere in the middle—giving it extensive possibilities for food pairing. With age (of which the best examples can handle an astounding amount), it can develop hauntingly beautiful characteristics of fresh earth, autumn leaves, and truffles.

Perfect Pairings

Pinot Noir’s sweet red-fruit flavors and velvety tannin profile make it a fantastic solo drink. At the table it’s exceptionally adaptable, content to work in tandem with a whole gamut of dishes. Pinot’s healthy acidity cuts through the oiliness of pink-fleshed fish like salmon, ocean trout, and tuna. Its mild mannered tannins don’t fight with spicy food, and give it enough structure to pair with all sorts of poultry—chicken, quail, and especially duck. As the namesake wine of Boeuf Bourguignon, it can even match with heavier fare. Pinot Noir is also very vegetarian-friendly—most notably it is absolutely delightful with any dish that features mushrooms.

Sommelier Secret

Pinot Noir is dangerously drinkable, highly addictive, and has a bad habit of emptying the wallet. Look for affordable but still delicious examples from Germany (as Spätburgunder), Italy (as Pinot Nero), Chile, New Zealand, and France’s Loire Valley and Alsace regions.

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  • Au Bon Climat Knox Alexander Pinot Noir 2010
    Pinot Noir from Santa Maria Valley, Central Coast, California
    • V 93
    • WE 92
    • ST 92
    • WS 91
    • RP 90
    Currently Unavailable $33.99
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    33 99
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  • Foxen Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir 2012
    Pinot Noir from Santa Maria Valley, Central Coast, California
    • ST 90
    Currently Unavailable $36.99
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    36 99
    36 99
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  • Foxen La Encantada Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011
    Pinot Noir from Santa Maria Valley, Central Coast, California
    • WE 94
    • V 93
    • ST 92
    Currently Unavailable $64.99
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    64 99
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  • Dierberg Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir 2006
    Pinot Noir from Santa Maria Valley, Central Coast, California
    • PR 92
    • CG 91
    • ST 90
    Currently Unavailable $39.99
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    39 99
    39 99
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  • Fiddlehead Lollapalooza Pinot Noir 2010
    Pinot Noir from Santa Maria Valley, Central Coast, California
    • ST 93
    Currently Unavailable $78.99
    Try the 2000 Vintage 54 99
    78 99
    78 99
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