Pinot Noir’s New Popularity
Pinot Noir is still just a drop in the ocean of American wine compared to the big three wine varieties—Chardonnay (which accounts for a quarter of every dollar Americans spend on wine annually), Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. But Pinot is undeniably America’s hot grape of the moment. Its sales have risen more than 20 percent a year for the past few years, and most top sommeliers sing its praises as a partner for food.
Where Pinot Noir Grows
Many wine regions around the world grow Pinot Noir, and grow it well. Pinot has a reputation as a difficult grape that’s only able to thrive in a narrow band of climate and soil conditions, but those conditions—relatively cool climates and well-drained, often limestone soil—exist in a surprisingly large number of places. Yet just as there are differences among individual vineyards, there are variations among Pinot Noir–growing regions that result in different textures, flavors and aromas. Pinot Noirs from Sonoma’s Russian River Valley, for instance, are known for their silky texture and deep black-cherry fruit. Pinots from Burgundy tend to be more structured (i.e., have more acidity and stronger tannins), and ones from northern Italy (where they call the grape Pinot Nero) are often lighter-bodied, with red-cherry notes.
The Essence of Pinot Noir
After tasting 147 Pinot Noirs to find the 30 here, I can say that the best all have complex, intense aromas; textures that are somehow both firm and weightless; and flavors that seem to effortlessly balance the fruity (raspberries, cherries, strawberries) with the savory (earth, mushrooms, pepper).