Native to Bourgogne, the Pinot Noir grape is a mysterious and complex varietal. It is the raw material of the greatest Bourgogne red wines, and has thus played a key role in the region’s worldwide reputation. It is the quintessential interpreter of terroir, and is capable of capturing every nuance of the land on which it is grown. It is thanks to this propensity to reflect the characteristics of the land that we see more and more producers driven to capture this by producing single vineyards Pinot Noirs.
Pinot Noir offers a varied palate of aromas which are a direct consequence of the terroir on which it is grown. That is why the name of the varietal is rarely mentioned on the label of a bottle of Bourgogne wine, which gives preference to its place of production. And it looks like domestic winemakers are starting to catch on, as we see more and more Pinot focused producers prominently listing the designated vineyard site (sometimes getting so exact as to identifying the specific block in the vineyard that the grapes are coming from) prominently on the bottle.
Depending on where it is grown, Pinot Noir can produce intense, structured wines, or else elegant and delicate ones. Here are some broad guidelines on what to expect from Pinots from the three main soil types:
The Effect of Terroir on Pinot Noir
As a general rule Pinot Noirs from volcanic soils emphasize red and blue fruits, with distinctive floral aromatics and spice notes. Tannins tend to be softer, smooth and well integrated. These wines show good acidity, even in warm years.
Wines from predominantly marine sedimentary soils show powerful, succulent black fruit notes, especially in warmer years, with dry, dusty, earth notes. These are big, powerful wines, with more pronounced, robust tannins.
Pinot Noir from loess soilstend to be lighter, elegant, with aromas of red and blue fruits and notes of exotic spices, licorice and cedar. In warm years, they can also exhibit more noticeable black fruit components. Tannins tend to be fine, smooth, with a soft velvety texture on the palate accompanied by good acidity.
Location is Everything
Like we said before, Pinot perhaps more than any other grape is greatly affected by the location its grown. Two Pinot vineyards across the road from each other can produce wildly different wines, maybe they are planted to different clones, maybe one is shaded by a mountain in the afternoons while the other is not, while they may be less than a mile apart these seemingly small changes make all the difference. This is why rather than simply listing the region or AVA that the wine was grown in, winemakers are choosing to identify specific vineyard sites on their bottles.
How Vineyard Designation Might Help You Buy a Better Bottle
This is good news for the consumer, especially Pinot-philes! Say, for instance you have fallen in love with a Pinot Noir from the Russian River specifically the famed Rochioli Vineyard. Now you can find Pinots across multiple producers from the same vineyard that (while they will all differ depending on winemaking practices) will all share characteristics from a vineyard you already know that you enjoy.
The concept of “terroir” can sometimes seem somewhat vague, but we believe that nowhere is it better illustrated than across single vineyard producers. Try mixing up a case and taste the difference for yourself! We’ve listed out a few suggestions from our favorite Pinot powerhouses.
This wine is explosively juicy in black cherry and pomegranate, finding a way to offer fruity tartness alongside an intensity of savory complexity. Big boned and concentrated, the layers of flavor are complemented by a luxuriously velvety texture. Estate Notes: Such an enchanting and engaging classic Russian River bouquet of blackberry, cherry, blueberry and spice. Add in flavors of sarsaparilla, licorice and brown sugar with a rich, round, lush mouthfeel, initially a bit tight on the palate. Flavors linger on with an aromatic finish of strawberry, orange peel and rose petal. Simply delicious. 392 cases
This wine is thick in youthful tannin and earthy intrigue—an explosive, spicy and exotic expression of the variety that’s all in. Wild strawberry, pine, clove and black tea intermingle with purpose and distinct power. Estate Notes: A surprisingly floral nose is backed up with cherry aromas, which are quite typical of wines produced from this region. Black raspberry and black cherry flavors are backed up by gentle mouth-coating tannins. The finish is remarkably persistent. 338 cases.
Pinot noirs from Wildcat Mountain vineyard always seem to have a wide brush stroke of volcanic minerality, black tea and cassis on the nose and the palate. This 2014 also shows hints of black licorice, strawberry jam and exotic spices, with a graceful and alluring mouthfeel and a savory finish of balsamic, white pepper and plum. 140 cases produced.
Bright and ebullient, this wine charms with intense perfumed notes of raspberry, blueberry and black licorice. The palate is round, soft and lush with fascinating accents of rhubarb, caraway, sandalwood, cream soda and mineral. It’s rich, firm structure ensures a good pairing with a hearty meal, and promises balance and long aging potential.
Using all Heritage clones (mostly Calera and Swan), this wine is linear, precise and delicate. Notes of raspberry, licorice and cola throughout. Very soft tannins and bright red currant notes. A great food wine. 58 cases produced
Generous – a warm, round expression of PN with hints of caramelized fruit, jam and savory notes on the finish. 85 cases produced
This is a very bold big wine, cherry brightness saturating the palate and finishing long and savory.150 cases produced
Soft velvety tannins dominated by intense cherry freshness, followed by delicate nuances of raspberry and cola. A big luscious PN with a long bright finish. 56 cases produced