Pinot Noir, “peeno nwaahhr”, is a favorite of sommeliers and winemakers alike. Why? First of all, this noble red variety from France's Burgundy region makes an intensely flavored, complex, high acid wine with incredible longevity. As the climate gets warmer, the fruit becomes riper and more obvious, and the acid softens a bit. The net result in any case is a wine that will not overpower your meal. It is called the most sensuous of wines because of its enticing, sometimes earthy perfume and soft, round, silky, but still structured texture.
Much of what is considered the best Champagne is Pinot Noir dominated. Beyond France, New Zealand, Oregon, and California have taken this grape variety to the stratosphere, though the style is much more fruit-forward as you would expect with warmer climates. The key for these new world producers is isolating the cooler microclimates such as Central Otago in New Zealand or Willamette Valley in Oregon, or those with extended growing seasons due to coastal fog or high elevations such as Santa Barbara, Santa Lucia Highlands, Carneros, Russian River Valley, and Mendocino in California.
Tip: Winemakers love Pinot Noir because it is so temperamental. They try to tame it and master it, but they cannot. It is impetuous and does what it wants. But when it is good, it is really good.
Pinot Noir is most enviable in its various interpretations as Red Burgundy. From the feminine Chambolle-Musigny to the exotic Richebourg, Pinot Noirs from this small area of France are the role models for the world. No other grape delivers a wine with such heady perfume, silky texture, and primal, earthy flavor. Generally the wines are light to medium bodied, light in color-one of the lightest red wines in the world is aged Domaine de la Romanee Conti (DRC), so the praising of dark inky color as a sign of quality certainly does not apply here. If a Pinot Noir is dark and inky, most likely it has been blended with another variety to achieve this popular, trendy characteristic.
Bollinger and other top Champagnes are another exquisite interpretations of Pinot Noir, all raspberry and lace. New Zealand produces brilliant, acid-balanced versions, as do producers such as Coldstream Hills in Yarra Valley – Victoria, Australia. In the USA, styles include fruity, juicy, and bright versions from the Willamette Valley, Oregon, as well as in cool climate producing areas in California including Mendocino, Russian River Valley and Los Carneros, overlapping Napa and Sonoma counties. Fuller, rounder, deeper styles are found in areas where the effect of hot sun is moderated by cooler morning and evening temperatures from coastal fog or higher elevations, giving a longer growing season and the potential for increased flavor development. These areas include the Santa Lucia Highlands - Monterey, in the North Central Coast, especially those from Gary Pisoni, and some of the longest lived and exotic versions from Bien Nacido, Santa Maria Valley, and the Santa Rita Hills, all of Santa Barbara in the South Central Coast.