Pinot noir, the legendary grape variety of Burgundy red wines and the father of Gamay
You may associate the word "pinot" with some of your favorite wines, but do you know what it really means? Pinot noir is generally used to describe a red or rosé wine made from the eponymous grape variety. However, depending on the context, it can refer either to the grape variety or directly to a wine, or even an appellation.
The term pinot or pinot noir is famous and is one of the three most famous red grape varieties in the world with cabernet sauvignon and syrah (but not necessarily the most cultivated).
To understand everything about pinot noir, let's start by defining it and telling the story of this legendary grape variety.
Language and history
The word "pinot" actually comes from the French term "pomme de pin" (pine cone), but what does that have to do with the grape? Well, if you look closely at a bunch of this sumptuous and juicy grape variety on a vine, you'll quickly notice that the grapes are clustered in a tight, pinecone-like shape.
If we go deeper into the linguistic aspects, we can easily notice that each wine made from Pinot is accompanied by a descriptor in French: noir, gris, blanc, ... It is the same in Italian (with Pinot grigio or Pinot bianco) and in German (with Grauburgunder, Weissburgunder but not with Spätburgunder which refers to its vegetative cycle).
As for its origin, it is likely that this variety comes from wild vines selected and cultivated by the Romans in the North-East of France and more particularly in Burgundy. It is therefore no coincidence that the red wines of Burgundy are among the greatest wines in the world.
It would also be the father of different grape varieties such as Chardonnay, Gamay, Aligoté or Melon de Bourgogne. It is with the prohibition of gamay by Philippe II Le Hardi that it takes its rise. Indeed, in the past, the Gamay grape variety was widely present in the whole of the Burgundy vineyard from the Côte d'Or to Beaujolais. It acquired a bad reputation when it was banned from the Côte-de-Beaune and Côte-de-Nuit by the edict of July 31, 1385 of Philippe le Hardi, then Duke of Burgundy, upset by the coarse and rustic character of these wines produced in large quantities.
This banishment was done to the benefit of the famous and aristocratic pinot noir; the gamay found terroirs to its liking further south in Mâconnais and Beaujolais. The Burgundy of fine wines, in white as in red, thus imposed itself as a vineyard of mono-variety: the pinot noir with white juice for the reds, the chardonnay for the whites.
Today it is a variety of grapes spread all over the world between old Europe and the New World: France, Germany, Switzerland, United States, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Moldavia, Argentina, etc.
In France, it is particularly present in many regions, starting with Burgundy where it produces almost all the wines of the region. But we also find it in Champagne as a single variety or in a blend, or in Alsace.
A demanding grape variety
If it remains associated with an image of quality, it is nonetheless a complex and demanding grape variety from viticulture to vinification. To mention only a few of the difficulties encountered by winegrowers, Pinot Noir fears spring frosts, its skin is fragile and sensitive to diseases (notably mildew, grey rot and leafhoppers) and it offers low yields.
Its skin is thin, its berries are small and cylindrical and its pulp is black but with white juice. It is therefore necessary to leave the juice in contact with the skins for a certain period of time in order for it to become colored.
It is famous for its early budding and early ripening. This is why it is cultivated in the northernmost regions of the world. Thus, it takes courage and determination to tame this grape variety and get the best out of it.
A varied tasting experience
Pinot Noir offers a wide range of aromas and expressions depending on the nature of the terroir, the winemaking method and the associated maturation. As a true interpreter of the terroir, its expressions are very different: this is why in Burgundy the name of the grape variety is rarely indicated on the label of a bottle in favor of the place or the climate.
In their youth, wines made from pinot noir have a ruby color and become paler with age. On the nose, we find notes of red fruits (cherry, blackcurrant, raspberry) and it evolves in time on complex notes of fruits in brandy, notes of undergrowth and animal.
On the palate, it offers light wines with fine and silky tannins often offering a nice freshness. Depending on the vintage, the acidity will be more or less high. The best wines can be aged in oak barrels as in Burgundy. They will then develop a more robust body and more pronounced tannins from the wood.