What is the History of Pinot Noir?

Pinot Noir is a type of red wine grape that has a long history dating back to the 14th century in the region of Burgundy in France. However, there are competing theories on its exact origins, with some saying it originated between the Black and Caspian Seas, while others claim it originated in Gaul. Regardless of its origins, it is clear that pinot noir has become closely associated with the region of Burgundy and has played a significant role in the region’s reputation for producing high-quality wines.

The History of Pinot Noir, The History of Pinot Noir

Gravel road passing vineyards near Dundee, Oregon

Today, it is grown and produced in many regions around the world, including Champagne, Alsace, Sancerre, Lorraine, the Jura, Savoie, Menetou-Salon, and St.-Pourçain in France; Baden, the Pfalz, and the Rheingau in Germany; the Valais in Switzerland; and in many regions in the United States and New Zealand. Pinot noir is known for its delicate flavors and aromas, which can include notes of red fruit, cherries, and earthy spices. Its flavor and character can be heavily influenced by the terroir in which it is grown, resulting in a wide range of wine styles.

Did you know: Pinot Noir is a French word that is pronounced “pee-noh nwahr.” The “pinot” part of the word is pronounced with a silent “p,” so it sounds more like “nee-noh.” The “noir” part of the word is pronounced with the “r” sound at the end, so it sounds more like “nwahr” than “nwar.” So, the word is pronounced as “pee-noh nwahr.”

What is certain is that Pinot Noir found its home in Burgundy, where it has been cultivated for centuries. The first mentions of the grape by name date back to the 14th century, and it has been a beloved and highly respected variety ever since.

Many wine historians believe that the alliance of Pinot Noir and Burgundy was an explicit policy of the Valois dukes, who were powerful and influential rulers in the region. The reputation of Beaune wines as “the finest in the world” is often attributed to the propaganda efforts of these dukes, who sought to promote the popularity of pinot noir.

As the variety spread throughout France and beyond, it became known by different names in different regions. In Italian, it is known as Pinot Nero, while in German-speaking areas it is called Burgunder, Blauburgunder, and Spätburgunder. The names of the color mutations of Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc, Grauburgunder, and Weissburgunder, respectively, also reflect the assumed Burgundian origins of these varieties.

Did you know: The word “pinot” is derived from the French word “pinot,” which means “pine” and refers to the grape variety’s tight clusters of fruit that resemble pine cones. The word “noir” is French for “black,” and refers to the dark color of the grape and the resulting wine. The word “pinot noir” has been in use in France since at least the 14th century to refer to this particular grape variety.

History of Pinot Noir in the New World

Today, Pinot Noir is grown and produced in many regions around the world, and its versatility and ability to express the unique terroir of the regions in which it is grown to make it a highly sought-after variety among wine enthusiasts and collectors.

Pinot Noir grapes were first introduced to the New World in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but it was not until the 1960s and 70s that the variety began to gain widespread popularity in the United States and elsewhere.

One of the first successful plantings of pinot noir in the New World was in the Russian River Valley in California, where the cool climate and well-draining soil were well-suited to the grape. Pinot noir quickly gained a reputation for producing high-quality wines in this region, and soon other parts of California, as well as Oregon and Washington state, began planting the grape.

Today, pinot noir is grown in many regions throughout the United States, including California, Oregon, Washington, New York, and even Virginia. It is also grown in countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina, and South Africa, and has become a popular variety among winemakers and wine drinkers around the world.

Despite its popularity, pinot noir remains a challenging grape to grow and produce, as it is prone to various viticultural and winemaking problems. However, when done well, pinot noir can produce elegant and complex wines with a range of flavors and aromas, making it a highly prized and sought-after variety among wine lovers.

Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir Grapes

Why is Pinot Noir Hard to Grow?

Pinot Noir is a delicate and finicky grape variety that can be difficult to grow due to its thin skin and susceptibility to various diseases and environmental factors. One of the main challenges of growing pinot noir is that it is prone to grape diseases such as powdery and downy mildew, which can ruin a crop if not properly managed. Pinot noir is also prone to damage from pests such as mites and nematodes, which can be difficult to control.

The thin skin of Pinot Noir grapes also makes them vulnerable to sunburn and other forms of damage from hot weather, and they require careful canopy management to ensure that they receive the right amount of sunlight and protection.

In addition to these challenges, Pinot Noir grapes are also highly sensitive to soil type and growing conditions. They prefer well-draining, slightly acidic soil and a cool climate with moderate temperatures, which can be difficult to find in some regions. Overall, pinot noir requires a great deal of care and attention in the vineyard to produce high-quality grapes, which is one of the reasons it is highly prized among winemakers and wine lovers.

Pinot Noir Profile

Primary flavors:

Cherry, raspberry, mushroom, cloves, hibiscus

Taste profile:

Dry Medium body

Medium-high acidity

11.5 to 14% ABV

Handling:

Serve: 55 to 60°F / 12 to 15°C

Type of glass: Aroma collector, Pinot Noir red wine glass.

Decant: Not necessary or 30 minutes before serving by preference

Cellar: 10+ years

Where do the Most Expensive Pinot Noir Wines Come From?

Pinot Noir wines from the Burgundy region of France are generally considered to be some of the most expensive and sought-after in the world. This is due in part to the high demand for these wines, as well as the limited production and high cost of growing pinot noir in the region.

The most expensive and highly sought-after pinot noir wines from Burgundy come from a small number of prestigious vineyards, or “climats,” within the region, such as Chambertin, Romanée-Conti, and Montrachet. These wines are known for their complex and elegant flavors and can command high prices due to their rarity and reputation.

Pinot noir wines from other regions of the world can also be expensive, particularly those from top-quality producers in California, Oregon, and New Zealand. However, these wines generally do not command the same prices as the most expensive Burgundy wines.

Pinot Noir vineyard in Beaune

Pinot Noir vineyard in Beaune. Burgundy, France

Should I capitalize the “n” in “Noir”?

In English, it is generally accepted to capitalize the “N” in “Noir” when it appears as part of the name of a specific grape variety, such as “Pinot Noir.” This follows the standard practice of capitalizing the names of grape varieties, as they are proper nouns. In French, however, the names of grape varieties are not capitalized, so “noir” would not be capitalized in “pinot noir.”

For example, in English, it would be correct to write “Pinot Noir is a grape variety that is used to make red wine,” while in French it would be “pinot noir est un cépage utilisé pour faire du vin rouge.”

What foods pair well with Pinot Noir?

Pinot noir is a versatile wine that pairs well with a wide range of dishes. Here are some food pairings that work particularly well with pinot noir:

  • Grilled or roasted poultry: Pinot Noir’s medium body and bright acidity make it a great match for grilled or roasted chicken, duck, or turkey.
  • Mushrooms: Pinot Noir’s earthy and fruity flavors complement the savory and umami flavors of mushrooms. Try it with dishes like mushroom risotto or mushroom-stuffed chicken breast.
  • Salmon: Pinot Noir’s delicate fruit flavors and moderate tannins make it a good match for salmon, particularly when it’s grilled or baked with a light glaze.
  • Pork: Pinot Noir’s medium body and moderate tannins make it a good match for pork dishes, particularly those with a slightly sweet or savory glaze.
  • Beef: Pinot Noir’s moderate tannins and flavors of red fruit make it a good match for beef dishes, particularly those that are grilled or roasted.
  • Vegetable dishes: Pinot Noir’s bright acidity and subtle fruit flavors make it a good match for many vegetable dishes, particularly those that are roasted or grilled. Try it with dishes like roasted Brussels sprouts or grilled eggplant.
  • Cheese: Pinot Noir pairs well with many types of cheese, particularly soft, creamy cheeses like Brie and Camembert.

What are the Best Regarded Vintages for Primary Pinot Noir Regions?

Pinot noir is a finicky grape that is difficult to grow and produce consistently high-quality wines. As a result, it is not uncommon for certain vintages to be considered particularly good or bad for certain regions. Here are some of the most highly regarded vintages for some of the primary regions of pinot noir:

  • Burgundy, France: Some of the most highly regarded vintages for pinot noir in Burgundy include 2005, 2009, 2010, 2015, and 2018.
  • Willamette Valley, Oregon: Some of the most highly regarded vintages for pinot noir in the Willamette Valley include 2005, 2007, 2009, and 2012.
  • Sonoma Coast, California: Some of the most highly regarded vintages for pinot noir in the Sonoma Coast include 2005, 2007, 2009, and 2010.
  • Martinborough, New Zealand: Some of the most highly regarded vintages for pinot noir in Martinborough include 2005, 2009, and 2010.

Keep in mind that these are generalizations and that individual wineries may have had different levels of success in producing high-quality pinot noir in these vintages. It is always a good idea to research the specific winery and vintage before purchasing a bottle of pinot noir.

Clo Vougout

Clo Vougout, Burgundy

Who Makes the Best Pinot Noir?

It is difficult to determine who the “most” Pinot Noir winemaker is, as there are many winemakers who produce high-quality pinot noir wines from various regions around the world. Some winemakers who are particularly known for their expertise in making Pinot Noir include:

  • Domaine de la Romanée-Conti in the Burgundy region of France: This winery is considered one of the most prestigious in the world, and is known for its highly sought-after and expensive pinot noir wines.
  • Domaine Comte Georges de Vogüé in the Burgundy region of France: This winery is also well-regarded for its pinot noir wines, and is known for producing wines with a particularly elegant and refined style.
  • Williams Selyem in California: This winery has been producing high-quality pinot noir wines from California’s Russian River Valley for over 40 years, and is known for its full-bodied and complex wines.
  • Domaine Drouhin in Oregon: This winery is known for producing elegant and refined pinot noir wines from the Willamette Valley region of Oregon.
  • Cloudy Bay in New Zealand: This winery is known for producing expressive and bright pinot noir wines from the Marlborough region of New Zealand.

How Would I do a Historical Tour of Burgundy?

A historical tour of the Burgundy wine region would involve visiting the many wineries and vineyards that have played a significant role in the region’s wine-making history. Here are a few suggestions for stops on a tour:

  1. The Côte d’Or region is home to some of the most famous and prestigious vineyards in Burgundy, such as Romanée-Conti and La Tâche. These estates have a long history of producing high-quality pinot noir and chardonnay wines.
  2. The town of Beaune is known for its historic hospices, which were built in the 15th century to care for the sick and poor. Today, the hospices house a museum dedicated to the history of wine-making in the region.
  3. The Château de Meursault is a castle in the village of Meursault that dates back to the 12th century. It has a long history of producing chardonnay wines and is open to visitors for tours and tastings.
  4. The Maison des Vins in Chablis is a wine museum that tells the story of the Chablis region and its famous white wines made from chardonnay grapes.
  5. The village of Gevrey-Chambertin is home to several renowned wineries that produce some of the most highly regarded pinot noir wines in the region. Visiting these wineries and tasting their wine.

How Would I do a Historical Tour of the Willamette Valley?

To do a historical tour of the Willamette Valley wine region, you could start by visiting the Oregon Historical Society in Portland, which has exhibits on the history of the state’s wine industry. From there, you could visit some of the oldest wineries in the region, such as David Hill Vineyards, which was established in 1979, or Eyrie Vineyards, which was founded in 1965. You could also visit some of the newer wineries in the region, such as Soter Vineyards, which was founded in 1998, or Domaine Serene, which was established in 1989. Along the way, you could learn about the history of the region’s wine industry, including the role that pioneers like David Lett, Charles Coury, and David Adelsheim played in establishing the Willamette Valley as a premier wine-growing region. 

The Willamette Valley wine region is a beautiful and historical area located in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. It is known for producing high-quality Pinot Noir wines, as well as other varietals such as Pinot Gris and Chardonnay.

history of pinot noir--view of the former Prince Hill Vineyard and home of Dick Erath

Willamette Valley

To do a historical tour of the Willamette Valley wine region, you could start by visiting the Willamette Valley Wine History Museum in Carlton, Oregon. This museum is dedicated to preserving the history of the region’s wine industry and has exhibits on the early pioneers of the industry, the evolution of winemaking techniques, and the impact of the region’s wines on the global market.

Another interesting stop on your tour could be the Ponzi Historic Estate in Beaverton, Oregon. This estate was founded by Dick and Nancy Ponzi, who were instrumental in the development of the Willamette Valley wine industry. The Ponzi Historic Estate offers guided tours of the property, which include a visit to the original winery buildings and a tasting of some of the estate’s award-winning wines.

Other notable stops on a historical tour of the Willamette Valley wine region could include the Eola Hills Wine Cellars, which was one of the first wineries established in the region, and the Domaine Drouhin Oregon winery, which is known for its innovative winemaking techniques and stunning views of the valley.

Finally, be sure to visit some of the charming towns and villages in the Willamette Valley, such as McMinnville, Dundee, and Newberg. These small towns have a rich history and are home to many wineries, tasting rooms, and restaurants where you can sample the region’s delicious wines and cuisine.

How do I do a Historical Tour of the Russian River Valley?

To do a historical tour of the Russian River Valley wine region, you could start by visiting the Korbel Champagne Cellars, which were established in the region in 1882 and are the oldest continuously operating champagne house in California. You could also visit the Martinelli Winery, which was founded in 1887 and is known for producing some of the first Pinot Noir wines in the region. Other historical wineries in the Russian River Valley include Iron Horse Vineyards, which was established in 1976 and is known for producing sparkling wines, and DeLoach Vineyards, which was founded in 1975 and is known for producing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. In addition to visiting these wineries, you could also visit the California Wine Museum in Santa Rosa, which has exhibits on the history of winemaking in the region.

Quotes on Pinot Noir

  • “Pinot noir is the most cerebral of wines and the hardest to produce.” – Robert M. Parker, Jr.
  • “Pinot noir is the most romantic of wines, with so voluptuous a perfume, so sweet an edge, and so powerful a punch that, like falling in love, they make the blood run hot and the soul wax embarrassingly poetic.” – Clifton Fadiman
  • “Pinot noir is the most elusive of grapes. It is difficult to cultivate and harder still to vinify. It is an emotional grape, much like the woman it is named for.” – Robert Parker
  • “Pinot noir is the most stubborn, most temperamental, most difficult grape of them all. Which is why it’s so much fun to work with.” – David Lett, winemaker at The Eyrie Vineyards
  • “Pinot noir is a wine of contradictions. It can be light and delicate, or rich and full-bodied. It can be fruity or earthy. It can be aged or consumed young. It can be simple or complex. It is these contradictions that make pinot noir so fascinating and so loved by wine enthusiasts around the world.” – Unknown

A Few Quotes on Red Burgundy Wines:

  • Red Burgundy is wine for grown-ups. It’s cerebral, complex, and never fails to challenge and intrigue. It’s also one of the few wines that can improve with age, developing new flavors and nuances as it matures.” – Jancis Robinson, wine critic and author
  • “Red Burgundy is the perfect wine for those who appreciate subtlety, complexity, and finesse. It’s a wine that demands attention and rewards those who take the time to understand it.” – Robert Parker, wine critic

Did you know: Pinot noir is mentioned in a number of works of fiction, often as a high-end or prestigious wine.

In the novel “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho, the main character Santiago travels to the Pyrenees mountains in France and stays with a winemaker who produces pinot noir.

In the novel “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald, the character Tom Buchanan is described as having a “case of Château Latour” and a “case of Bollinger” in his garage, both of which are high-end red wines, with Latour being a blend of Bordeaux varieties and Bollinger being a Champagne made primarily from pinot noir and chardonnay.

Pinot noir is also mentioned in the TV show “Mad Men,” where it is served at a dinner party hosted by the character Roger Sterling.

What Are the Most Expensive Pinot Noir Bottles?

Some of the most expensive Pinot Noir bottles in the world include:

  1. Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Romanée-Conti Grand Cru: Prices for this wine can range from $10,000 to over $20,000 per bottle.
  2. Rousseau, Chambertin Clos de Bèze Grand Cru: Prices for this wine can range from $2,500 to over $5,000 per bottle.
  3. Dujac, Clos de la Roche Grand Cru: Prices for this wine can range from $2,000 to over $4,000 per bottle.
  4. Comte Liger-Belair, La Romanée Grand Cru: Prices for this wine can range from $2,000 to over $4,000 per bottle.
  5. Domaine Georges Roumier, Musigny Grand Cru: Prices for this wine can range from $1,500 to over $3,000 per bottle.

It’s worth noting that prices for these wines can vary widely based on the vintage and the seller.

Did you know? The most expensive bottle of Pinot Noir ever sold was a bottle was a DRC Romanée-Conti 1945, which was sold at auction for $558,000 in 2018. Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (DRC) is a prestigious winery in the Burgundy region of France that produces some of the most sought-after and expensive wines in the world.

Best-selling Pinot Noir Brands

It is difficult to determine the best-selling and affordable Pinot Noir, as sales figures can vary depending on the region, retailer, and other factors. Some popular Pinot Noir brands that are widely available include:

  • Kim Crawford Pinot Noir
  • Meiomi Pinot Noir
  • La Crema Pinot Noir
  • Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Noir
  • Erath Pinot Noir

To find the best Pinot Noir for your taste and budget, it is a good idea to try a variety of different brands and vintages. Many wine stores and online retailers offer tastings and samplers, which can be a great way to try different Pinot Noirs and find one that you like. You can also ask the staff at your local wine store for recommendations based on your preferences and budget.

Also read: Pinot noir was introduced in the region

Want to read more about Pinot Noir? Try out these books!

The History of Pinot Noir, The History of Pinot NoirThe History of Pinot Noir, The History of Pinot Noir

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