Best pinot noir: everything you need to know
olive’s wine expert on why the delicate red wines made with this grape are worth seeking out, plus the best bottles to buy for every budget
About pinot noir wine
Do you like your red wines dark and rich, heavy with assertive black fruit, oak and muscly tannins? If so, you’re likely to go for cabernet sauvignon, merlot or malbec, some of the world’s most popular grapes. If you prefer lighter, more graceful wines with more freshness and less alcohol, pinot noir will be your friend.
Pinot noir is native to the Burgundy region of France and has been grown there for more than 2,000 years. It is the forefather of the pinot family of grapes (so called because of their pine-cone-shaped bunches) that includes pinot gris (better known in its Italian incarnation, pinot grigio), pinot blanc and pinot meunier (which, along with chardonnay and pinot noir, is one of the only three permitted grapes in champagne – the skins are red but the juice is white).
The wonderfully ethereal pinot noirs from the famous vineyards of Burgundy are those most likely to make wine aficionados go weak at the knees – one of the most expensive wines in the world, 2002 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Grand Cru, will set you back thousands of pounds, such is the esteem Burgundy’s best is held in wine collector circles, and even those relatively more modest bottles now command high prices.
Fortunately for us lesser mortals, pinot noir is also produced elsewhere, although it is fragile and difficult to grow well, thriving only in cool-ish climates and demanding careful treatment. It is a very beautiful wine – pale, sometimes transparent – with flavours that carry the character of the place in which it was made, the unique combination of climate, geology and local environment, known as the terroir.
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Germany and Austria make prestigious pinot noirs, often precise, savoury and earthy, while those from warmer climes such as California and Oregon tend to be more overtly fruity. Look to New Zealand for great value – the Central Otago region is famous for its ripe and herbaceous pinots; those from more northerly Marlborough and Martinborough are lighter and more perfumed. Australia’s cooler areas such as Tasmania and Victoria are also good sources, as are Chile’s high-altitude and coastal regions.
I love it slightly chilled, especially but not only in the summer – chilling sharpens the fruit and quenches the thirst. Pinot noir is very forgiving with food, as long as it’s not too heavily spiced. Roast beef, lamb or pork are always good; duck is often even better, especially if it’s cooked with cherries. Salmon, tuna and other meaty fish work well. And it’s fantastic with roast veg and anything involving mushrooms. It’s also really, really good just with a bowl of black pepper crisps – trust me. Let’s all pour a pinot noir.
The best pinot noir wines to try…
Made by Cramele Recas, Romania’s biggest and most forward-thinking winery, this is cracking value for money. Ripe and juicy fruit with a touch of cinnamon and chocolate.
Delicate but vibrant with bright raspberry and cherry fruit and a lifted freshness. Easy drinking and very versatile with food.
Classic red burgundy that punches well above its weight for the price. Ripe summer berries with soft tannins and a little earthy grunt.
Pinot noir is known as spätburgunder in Germany and this is made by one of that country’s best makers. Dazzlingly delicious with crunchy morello cherries, bright acidity and a touch of bonfire smoke.
From a multi-award-winning winery in new Zealand’s Marlborough region, this brings together Old World elegance and delicacy with New World exuberance. Plummy fruit, cloves, black olives and sage balanced together in a really stunning wine.
From a forward-thinking winery in Chile, this ticks the organic and vegan boxes, as well as being delicious and medium-bodied with some earthy spice. Try with our venison wellingtons with rosemary and redcurrant sauce.