Pinot Noir: The Spinster

We call Pinot Noir “The Spinster” because it should never be married with other red grapes. Blending compromises the delicate aromas, flavors, and mouthfeel of the grape.

Pinot Noir is over 1000 years older than Cabernet Sauvignon. During the middle ages, the church produced the best wine in France. Monks spent centuries developing Pinot Noir growing and winemaking techniques. Pinot Noir was favored for the sacraments, which helped its
overall reputation.

Philip the Bold, powerful Duke of Burgundy, established Pinot Noir as Burgundy’s preferred red grape in 1395 and gave the grape its present name based on its resemblance to a black pine cone.

 “Philip the Bold”


Pinot Noir

  • Difficult to cultivate and transform into wine
  • Doesn’t like hot, harsh windy climates
  • Genetically unstable – over 100 clones
  • Highly susceptible to vine diseases
  • Thin skins, make the wine…
    • lightly colored
    • medium bodied
    • low in tannins
  • Unpredictable aging
  • Cherry, strawberry, raspberry, spice, earthy flavors
  • A medium-bodied wine, with high acidity
  • Low to moderate tannins
  • Age-worthy, because of acidity and minerality
  • Transparent – really shows the character of a place. In Burgundy, varies from row to row
  • New World Pinots tend to have more fruit and less earthiness

Pinot Noir is nicknamed the “heartbreak” grape because it is thin-skinned and susceptible to all sorts of disasters in the vineyards… and very difficult to ripen.

Pinot Noir requires low yields and is subject to numerous illness that can be brought on by wind, cold or hot weather, fungus or rot, due to its thin skin. The grape does best in cool, dry climates with well-drained, stony, or chalky soils.

The Côte de Nuits area of Burgundy is the home to the finest Pinot Noir.


Distinctive Pinot Noir Regions



Edna Valley, San Luis Obispo County, California. Photo by Elliot Essman




Sonoma’s Russian River Valley.






Pinot Noir – Important Grape in Champagne

  • The red grapes Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, along with the white grape Chardonnay, are used to produce base wines for Champagne
  • Crushing the grapes without allowing skin contact assures a very lightly colored wine
  • Blanc de Noir (“white from black”) Champagnes are made from Pinot Noir only
  • Blanc de Blanc is produced from Chardonnay

Pinot Noir and Chardonnay

  • Pinot Noir is one of the parent grapes of Chardonnay
  • Both are characteristic grapes of Burgundy, where each is almost always produced as a single varietal wine
  • Pinot Noir and Chardonnay prefer similar cool-climate growing regions, on a worldwide basis
  • The term “Burgundian varieties” refers to both

The Other Pinots

  • Pinot Gris (Pinot Grigio), Pinot Blanc, Pinot Meunier (used in Champagne) are probably not separate grape varieties
  • They are color mutations of Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir In Other Languages

  • Italy: Pinot Nero
  • Germany: Spätburgunder (late Burgundy)
  • Austria: Blauburgunder (blue Burgundy)
  • Hungary: Nagyburgund (great Burgundy)

Effect on Pinot Noir of the Film Sideways

  • Sideways promoted Pinot Noir
  • Pinot Noir demand skyrocketed
  • Finicky Pinot Noir is even harder to grow more of than Merlot, and quality suffered greatly
  • Unlike Merlot, Pinot Noir is best as an unblended single varietal wine
    • Delicate aromas and flavors easily overwhelmed
    • But it was plumped up with other varieties
  • The result was a lot of mediocre Pinot on the market, especially at lower price points