Five bottles of wine in a row

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 this autumn

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.

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…

Exquisite Collection Wairarapa Pinot Noir, £5.99, Aldi

A real bargain from New Zealand’s North Island: perfumed and pretty with just enough fruity welly to handle autumnal dishes such as our roast partridge and cinnamon pears with warm barley and roots salad.

A bottle of red wine with a white label

Palataia Pinot Noir 2017, £9, M&S

Made by the great German winemaker, Gerd Stepp – complex and savoury with earthy notes that suit dishes such as roasted butternut squash wedges with sage pesto.

A dark bottle of red wine with a white label

De Martino Legado Pinot Noir, £11.99, Waitrose

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.

A dark bottle of red wine with a red cap and white label

Dunleavy Pinot Noir Rosé 2018, £12.95,

Pinot noir can also make rosé, and this is the nicest English one I’ve tasted this year. Poised and delicate, just the thing for an aperitif or with simple fish or seafood plates.

A bottle of pale pink rose wine

Domaine Serge Laloue Les Rôties Sancerre 2015, £25, Wine Society

Get more French bang for your buck by looking away from Burgundy and to Sancerre in the Loire Valley, better known for its sauvignon blancs, but also making pitch-perfect pinots. Have it with French onion soup.

A bottle of red wine with a white label