I love touring and tasting; sipping and savoring Pinot Noir. It is the primary red grape of Burgundy, Champagne, Oregon and New Zealand with vibrant aromas of black cherries and rose petals. The Pinot Noir grape is a temperamental thin-skinned grape that is sensitive to light exposure, pruning and soil types, generally low-yielding and highly susceptible to rot and fungal diseases. That’s why it’s so special! Pinot Noir from France tends to be rustic, earthy and acidic; Burgundy is known as the original cultivation area for Pinot Noir so these wines are in very high demand. Sonoma’s Pinot is lush with rich flavors and usually experiences longer time in french oak which adds a vanilla flavor. Sonoma Pinot has higher alcohol than French Pinot Noir.
To really understand the terroir where Pinot Noir thrives, you need to analyze some maps. I have included a number of AVA maps in this post. Pinot noir grapes are grown around the world, mostly in the cooler climates, and the grape is chiefly associated with the Burgundy region of France. Pinot Noir grapes like cool nights and sunny days.
“There is one component in which Pinot Noir seems naturally quite rich, three to four times higher compared to other varieties, especially when it is grown in cooler and more humid climates: resveratrol.”
Pinot Noir is one of the oldest grape varieties to be cultivated for the purpose of making wine. Ancient Romans knew this grape as Helvenacia Minor and vinified it as early as the first century AD. Burgundy (Bourgogne) France has been producing Pinot Noir since at least 1375 . The Côte d’Or (“Slope of Gold”) is a two-mile-wide, thirty-mile-long stretch of hills in Burgundy where Pinot Noir grapes thrive and the vineyards slope gently down toward the East.
I’m very fond of California Pinot Noir from regions like the Russian River Valley AVA in Sonoma County, California. This cool-climate, foggy appellation was grated AVA status in 1983 and enlarged in 2005.
I also like the wine produced from these three Pinot Noir regions in California: (1) The Santa Lucia Highlands AVA is is part of the larger Monterey AVA located in Monterey County, California in the Santa Lucia Mountains above the Salinas Valley; (2) The Santa Rita Hills AVA is part of the larger Santa Ynez Valley AVA in Santa Barbara County between Lompoc and Buellton (https://www.sbcountywines.com/wine-tasting-routes.html) where there are four associated appellations within the Santa Ynez Valley: Sta. Rita Hills, Ballard Canyon, Los Olivos District, and Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara and there are 5571 acres of Pinot Noir planted in Santa Barbara County and (3) The Anderson Valley AVA in Mendocino County California.
SYV Wine Association
Santa Barbara Winery
Oregon produces some beautiful Pinot Noir but France produces some of the world’s most sought-after and attractive wines. You can try a Premier Cru or a Grand Cru from Burgundy:
- Premier Cru: The name of the village the name of the vineyard classified as premier cru: e.g. Meursault Charmes 1er cru, Gevrey Chambertin Clos St Jacques 1er cru. There are 585 premier cru vineyards in the Côte d’Or and Côte Chalonnaise. They represent 18% of Burgundy’s total production.
- Grand Cru: The name of the vineyard on its own: e.g. Chevalier-Montrachet, Corton Charlemagne (white); Richebourg, Le Musigny (red). Confusingly some of the grand cru names (Musigny, Chambertin, Montrachet) appear as part of a village name (see above).There are 32 Grand Cru vineyards in the Côte d’Or. They represent less than 5% of total production.
I like wine from Burgundy’s Côte d’Or. This region stretches from Dijon in the north to almost Lyon to the south, overlooking the valley of the Saône to the east. The east-facing slope of the Côte d’Or is home to some of the greatest names of Burgundy wine including: Gevrey-Chambertin, Clos de Vougeot, Meursault and Montrachet. Burgundy has a higher number of appellations d’origine contrôlée (AOCs) than any other French region.
Burgundy’s wine-producing area stretches almost 300 km, from Joigny in Yonne to Mâcon in Saône et Loire. It consists of 5 large vineyards, from north to south:
- Chablis and Grand Auxerrois (in Yonne)
- Côte de Nuits (in Côte d’Or)
- Côte de Beaune (in Côte d’Or)
- Côte Chalonnaise (in Saône et Loire)
- Mâconnais (in Saône et Loire)
I also tasted some Gamay-dominated. Beaujolais. Burgundy wines from sub-regions are usually referred to by their own names rather than as “Burgundy wines”. In some vintages, Beaujolais produces more wine than the Burgundy wine regions of Chablis, Côte d’Or, Côte Chalonnaise and Mâconnais put together.
The northern half, the Côte de Nuits, produces mostly red wine. The Côte de Beaune, around Beaune in the south, produces a mix of white wine and red wine. Grands Crus, Premiers Crus and prestigious appellations stretch out across the Côte de Beaune. From north to south, its vineyards extend from Ladoix-Serrigny to Maranges, geographically dominated by the Hautes-Côtes de Beaune. Côte de Beaune is renowned for its great whites such as Corton-Charlemagne, Montrachet and Meursault.
Some of the red wines include: Corton, Pommard and Volnay.
The practice of delineating vineyards by their terroir in Burgundy goes back to medieval times, when various monasteries played a key role in developing the Burgundy wine industry.
Beaune wine is produced in the commune of Beaune in the Côte de Beaune sub-region of Burgundy. The vineyards of the Côte de Beaune are among the five great vineyards of Burgundy. Beaune is the largest village-named appellation of the Côte d’Or. Four vineyards on a hill above Beaune get the designation of Côte de Beaune. The Hautes-Côtes de Beaune are a separate appellation for the hills to the west of Beaune. A local hill gets its own appellation of “Côte de Beaune; a charity based in the town, consisting of the Hôtel-Dieu hospital and the Hospices de la Charité. The Hospices are funded by their endowment of vineyards on the Côte d’Or and the auction of their wines on the third Sunday in November that sets a benchmark for prices for that vintage.
To learn more about Burgundy, read:
Depending on its origins, wines produced with Pinot Noir grapes exhibit a range of aromas, textures and flavors, but are commonly light to medium bodied with red berry and earthy characteristics.
I just returned from Oregon and I tasted some incredible Pinot Noir. Oregon is regarded as one of the premier Pinot-producing regions in the world with 17,744 acres planted. Oregon Pinot Noir is usually a little lighter in color and texture than California Pinot Noir. Oregon’s leading producer is King Estate; they ship only 401,400 cases per year and most produce under 35,000 cases.
The Willamette Valley AVA stretches from the Columbia River in the north to just south of Eugene in the south; and from the Oregon Coast Range in the West to the Cascade Mountains in the East. These are the sub-appellations of the Willamette AVA: Chehalem Mountains AVA, Dundee Hills AVA, Eola-Amity Hills AVA, McMinnville AVA, Ribbon Ridge AVA, and the Yamhill-Carlton District AVA
Much of the Willamette wine tourism focuses on the wineries and tasting rooms in and around the Yamhill Valley southwest of Portland within the Yamhill-Carlton AVA. In the Yamhill-Carlton District AVA only grapes grown in vineyards with elevations ranging from 200 feet to 1,000 feet may be used to produce wines that bear the appellation’s name on their labels.
You can use this post as a guide to taste some of my recent favorites or check out Wine Enthusiast’s online Buying Guide to find the top-rated Pinot Noir in their extensive Pinot Noir wine reviews and easy-to-use database. I’m definitely buying some of the amazing Patricia Green Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley and the Ribbon Ridge sub-appellation in Oregon!
I love Pinot Noir wines and I have a passion for visiting Pinot Noir producing AVAs around the world!!
Here’s an interesting article:
I’m with Ernest Hemingway on this one: