The Ultimate Guide to Pinot Noir (For Beginners)

The Ultimate Guide to Pinot Noir (For Beginners)

Introduction to Pinot Noir

History of Pinot Noir

Origins of the grape

Pinot Noir is one of the world’s oldest grape varieties, dating back to ancient Roman times. Its origins can be traced to the Burgundy region of France, where it has been cultivated for centuries. This delicate, thin-skinned grape has captivated wine lovers for generations due to its complex and unique flavors.

Regions and terroirs

While Burgundy remains the most famous region for Pinot Noir, the grape is now grown in various parts of the world, including California, Oregon, New Zealand, Australia, and Chile. Each region’s unique terroir imparts different characteristics on the grapes, resulting in diverse styles of Pinot Noir wines.

Pinot Noir grape

Characteristics of Pinot Noir

Aroma and flavor profile

Pinot Noir is known for its diverse and intricate aromas and flavors. Common notes include red fruits like cherry, raspberry, and strawberry, along with earthy and spicy undertones such as mushroom, forest floor, and clove. The grape’s thin skin allows for delicate and nuanced flavors, making it a favorite among wine enthusiasts.

Tannins and acidity

Pinot Noir wines typically have moderate tannins and high acidity, which contribute to their overall balance and structure. These factors make Pinot Noir versatile and food-friendly, as well as an excellent candidate for aging.


The thin skin of Pinot Noir grapes results in lighter-colored wines, ranging from pale ruby to deep garnet hues. The color can vary depending on the region, grape ripeness, and winemaking techniques used.

Food pairings with Pinot Noir

Food pairings with Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir’s versatile flavor profile and moderate tannins make it an excellent choice for pairing with various dishes. Here are some pairing suggestions that will help elevate your dining experience: Learn more about wine and food pairings


  1. Charcuterie Boards: A selection of cured meats like prosciutto, salami, and coppa pairs wonderfully with Pinot Noir, as the wine’s acidity cuts through the richness of the meats while complementing their savory flavors.
  2. Bruschetta: The fresh and bright flavors of tomato, basil, and garlic atop crusty bread work harmoniously with the fruity and earthy notes of Pinot Noir.
  3. Smoked Salmon Crostini: The smoky, rich flavor of smoked salmon combined with creamy cheese and fresh dill creates a balanced and delicious pairing with the wine’s fruity and acidic characteristics.

Pasta Dishes

  1. Wild Mushroom and Pancetta Pasta: Earthy wild mushrooms and salty pancetta create a rich and savory pasta dish that complements the earthy and fruity notes of Pinot Noir.
  2. Pasta Puttanesca: The bold flavors of anchovies, olives, capers, and tomatoes in this classic Italian dish are enhanced by the acidity and fruit-forward notes of the wine.
  3. Spinach and Ricotta Stuffed Shells: The creamy and slightly tangy flavors of spinach and ricotta cheese pair well with the bright acidity and fruitiness of Pinot Noir.

Asian Cuisine

  1. Duck Confit with Plum Sauce: The rich and tender duck confit is balanced by the sweet and tangy plum sauce, creating a delightful contrast that pairs beautifully with Pinot Noir’s fruit and earth flavors.
  2. Grilled Teriyaki Salmon: The sweet and savory teriyaki-glazed salmon, when grilled, has a smoky and umami-rich taste that complements the wine’s acidity and red fruit flavors.
  3. Thai Red Curry with Vegetables: The spicy and aromatic flavors of Thai red curry, combined with a variety of vegetables, offer a complex and satisfying pairing with the fruity and earthy notes of Pinot Noir.


  1. Dark Chocolate Fondue: The rich and slightly bitter flavors of dark chocolate contrast with the bright and fruity notes of Pinot Noir, creating a luxurious and indulgent pairing.
  2. Cherry Clafoutis: This traditional French dessert, featuring cherries baked in a custard-like batter, pairs wonderfully with Pinot Noir due to the shared cherry flavors and the wine’s acidity cutting through the richness of the dessert.
  3. Poached Pears with Red Wine Reduction: The subtle sweetness and spiciness of poached pears in a red wine reduction complement the fruity and earthy flavors of Pinot Noir, making for a refined and elegant dessert pairing.

Grilled Dishes

  1. Rosemary and Garlic Marinated Lamb Chops: The rich flavors of lamb, combined with the aromatic rosemary and garlic marinade, make for a savory and delicious dish that pairs well with the fruity and earthy notes of Pinot Noir.
  2. Grilled Portobello Mushrooms: The meaty and earthy flavors of grilled portobello mushrooms are an excellent vegetarian option that complements the wine’s earthiness and acidity.
  3. Barbecue Chicken Pizza: The smoky and tangy flavors of barbecue chicken pizza, topped with red onions and cilantro, create a harmonious pairing with the fruit-forward and earthy characteristics of Pinot Noir.


  1. Beet and Goat Cheese Salad: The earthy sweetness of roasted beets, combined with the tangy creaminess of goat cheese, creates a delightful contrast that pairs well with the fruity and earthy flavors of Pinot Noir.
  2. Spinach Salad with Warm Bacon Dressing: The rich and smoky flavors of the warm bacon dressing, combined with fresh spinach, hard-boiled eggs, and red onions, create a satisfying salad that complements the wine’s acidity and fruity notes.
  3. Grilled Peach and Prosciutto Salad: The sweet and smoky flavors of grilled peaches and salty prosciutto create a unique and flavorful salad that pairs wonderfully with the bright and fruity characteristics of Pinot Noir.

Holiday Dishes

  1. Roast Turkey with Cranberry Sauce: The tender and juicy roast turkey, accompanied by tangy and sweet cranberry sauce, is a classic holiday dish that pairs well with Pinot Noir’s fruit-forward flavors and bright acidity.
  2. Honey-Glazed Ham: The sweet and savory flavors of honey-glazed ham, combined with its rich and tender texture, create a mouthwatering dish that complements the fruity and earthy notes of Pinot Noir.
  3. Roasted Root Vegetables: A medley of roasted root vegetables, such as carrots, parsnips, and sweet potatoes, with fresh herbs like rosemary and thyme, offers a hearty and flavorful side dish that pairs beautifully with the wine’s earthy undertones and bright acidity.

How to serve and store Pinot Noir

Serving Pinot Noir

  1. Temperature: Pinot Noir is best served slightly chilled, at a temperature between 55-60°F (13-16°C). This temperature allows the wine’s delicate aromas and flavors to shine without being overwhelmed by alcohol heat. If the wine is stored at room temperature, place it in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes before serving to reach the desired temperature.
  2. Decanting: Although not always necessary, decanting Pinot Noir can help enhance its flavors and aromas by introducing oxygen, which helps release the wine’s aromatic compounds. Decanting can be particularly beneficial for young or tightly wound Pinot Noirs or those with sediment. Pour the wine into a decanter and let it sit for 15-30 minutes before serving.
  3. Glassware: Use a large, balloon-shaped glass to serve Pinot Noir, as the wide bowl allows the wine’s complex aromas to be fully appreciated. Hold the glass by the stem to avoid warming the wine with your hands and fill it only one-third full to give the wine ample room to breathe.
  4. Food Pairings: Pinot Noir’s versatility makes it an ideal partner for a wide range of dishes. Pair it with poultry, game, fish, or vegetarian options to elevate your dining experience. For specific pairing suggestions, refer to the “Food pairings with Pinot Noir” section above.

Storing Pinot Noir

  1. Unopened Bottles: Store unopened bottles of Pinot Noir in a cool, dark, and humidity-controlled environment. Ideal storage conditions include a temperature of 55°F (13°C) and a relative humidity of 70%. Keep the bottles away from direct sunlight, temperature fluctuations, and strong odors. When storing, place the bottles horizontally to keep the cork moist and prevent oxidation.
  2. Opened Bottles: Once opened, Pinot Noir should be consumed within 3-5 days to ensure optimal taste and freshness. To prolong the wine’s quality, reseal the bottle using a wine stopper or vacuum seal and store it in the refrigerator. This minimizes oxidation and preserves the wine’s flavors and aromas.
  3. Long-term Aging: Pinot Noir can be aged for varying lengths of time, depending on factors such as producer, vintage, and individual wine characteristics. While many Pinot Noirs can be enjoyed within a few years of release, high-quality examples from renowned producers can benefit from extended cellaring, developing complex tertiary flavors over time. Research the specific wine and consult wine critics or experts for optimal aging recommendations. Learn more about wine aging for beginners.

Famous Pinot Noir producers

Pinot Noir is produced by numerous wineries worldwide, with each region offering its unique interpretation of the grape. Here is a list of famous Pinot Noir producers from both the Old and New World Wine producers:

Old World Producers

  1. Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (Burgundy, France): Arguably the most famous Pinot Noir producer globally, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti is known for its limited production, exceptional quality, and high prices. Their flagship wine, Romanée-Conti, is considered the epitome of Burgundy Pinot Noir.
  2. Domaine Leroy (Burgundy, France): Established in 1988 by Lalou Bize-Leroy, Domaine Leroy produces some of the finest and most sought-after Pinot Noirs in Burgundy. With a focus on biodynamic viticulture, their wines are renowned for their purity, elegance, and longevity.
  3. Domaine Ponsot (Burgundy, France): Domaine Ponsot is a historic winery with roots dating back to the 19th century. Known for their expressive and age-worthy wines, the winery uses traditional winemaking techniques to create some of the most coveted Pinot Noirs in Burgundy.
  4. Domaine Dujac (Burgundy, France): Founded in 1967 by Jacques Seysses, Domaine Dujac is a respected producer of both red and white Burgundy wines. Their Pinot Noirs are known for their perfume, elegance, and ability to age gracefully.
  5. Bouchard Père & Fils (Burgundy, France): Established in 1731, Bouchard Père & Fils is one of the oldest wine estates in Burgundy. Their Pinot Noirs are highly regarded for their balance, complexity, and consistency across various vineyard sites.

New World Producers

  1. Kosta Browne (Sonoma County, California, USA): Founded in 1997, Kosta Browne has quickly become a highly acclaimed Pinot Noir producer in California’s Sonoma County. Their wines are known for their opulent fruit flavors, velvety texture, and approachable style.
  2. Domaine Serene (Willamette Valley, Oregon, USA): Established in 1989, Domaine Serene is a prominent Pinot Noir producer in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Their wines showcase the unique terroir of the region, combining elegance, depth, and complexity.
  3. Felton Road (Central Otago, New Zealand): Located in New Zealand’s Central Otago region, Felton Road is known for its expressive and refined Pinot Noirs. With a focus on organic and biodynamic viticulture, their wines reflect a strong sense of place and have gained worldwide recognition.
  4. Au Bon Climat (Santa Barbara County, California, USA): Founded in 1982 by Jim Clendenen, Au Bon Climat is a leading producer of Pinot Noir in California’s Santa Barbara County. Their wines are known for their balance, elegance, and ability to express the region’s diverse terroir.
  5. Bass Phillip (Gippsland, Victoria, Australia): Established in 1979 by Phillip Jones, Bass Phillip is a pioneer of Pinot Noir production in Australia’s Gippsland region. Their wines are highly regarded for their complexity, depth, and ability to age, showcasing the potential of Australian Pinot Noir.

Final Word

Pinot Noir is a captivating and versatile grape variety that has enchanted wine enthusiasts for centuries. Its complex aromas, flavors, and ability to pair with a wide range of dishes make it a must-try for any wine lover. By understanding its characteristics, proper serving techniques, and ideal food pairings, you can fully appreciate the depth and nuance of this remarkable wine.


What makes Pinot Noir unique?

Pinot Noir is unique due to its thin skin, which imparts delicate flavors and lighter colors to the wine. Its diverse aromas, high acidity, and moderate tannins make it versatile and food friendly.

Can Pinot Noir be aged?

Yes, Pinot Noir can be aged, and many high-quality bottles benefit from several years of cellaring. The wine’s acidity and tannins can help it develop and evolve over time, resulting in more complex flavors and aromas.

How long can you store an opened bottle of Pinot Noir?

An opened bottle of Pinot Noir can be stored for up to 3-5 days if properly sealed and kept in the refrigerator. Use a wine stopper or vacuum seal to minimize oxidation and preserve the wine’s flavors and aromas.

Why is Pinot Noir considered a challenging grape to grow?

Pinot Noir is considered challenging to grow because of its thin skin and susceptibility to various diseases, pests, and climate-related issues. The grape requires a specific climate, typically with cooler temperatures, to thrive and produce high-quality wines.

Is Pinot Noir a good wine for beginners?

Yes, Pinot Noir can be an excellent wine for beginners due to its approachable fruit-forward flavors, moderate tannins, and high acidity. These characteristics make it easy to enjoy and pair with a wide variety of dishes, making it a great entry point for those new to wine.

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