Pinot noir is one of the most beloved light-bodied red wines around. The complex profile is full of cherry, raspberry, cranberry, wet mushroom, dried fall leaves, clove, and hints of hibiscus. With bright acidity and mild tannins, it's easy to drink, but not so easy to grow. But, there are a handful of regions around the world have exceptional conditions for this finicky grape, and they produce world-class pinot noir wines.
Notable Pinot Noir Regions
There are five broad regions between the Old World and New World where pinot noir really shines. While it's grown around the world in regions beyond these, the terroir of these five regions is well suited to grow pinot, and each creates its own unique expression of the grape.
The most renowned region in the world for pinot noir, Burgundy has been producing pinot noir significantly longer than the other regions. The region itself isn't large; regardless, it produces some of the most delightfully complex iterations of the grape. Within the region, the appellation of Côte de Nuits is the most famous, running from Dijon to just beyond Nuits-Saint-Georges. Limestone-rich soil contributes to the flavor profile here.
The cool spring and fall sandwich a warm summer that allows the grapes to ripen slowly, retaining good acidity and filling out with full red fruit flavors and earthy, rustic undertones. Expect aromas of rose petal, wild cherry, warm baking spices, and a mineral finish from Burgundy pinots.
In Oregon, David Lett planted pinot vines in the state in the mid-1960s and Oregon never looked back. The cool climate and wet winters matched by warm, dry summers make great growing conditions for pinot noir. Soils vary AVA to AVA (American Viticulture Area), but there is a mix of both volcanic and sedimentary soil with lingering granite, loam, and silt.
The Willamette Valley is the hot spot for Oregon pinot noir, putting some exceptional vintages on the map. Expect softer, more fruit-forward expressions compared to Burgundy. They will have structure but be rich in brambly red fruits, cherry, wild rose, and pomegranate. They will have a bit more obvious finesse.
Pinot noir plantings span numerous parts of California. From the Anderson Valley to the Russian River Valley, the vines cover the landscape and produce varied expressions based on the coastal sea breeze, warm valley floors, northerly vineyards, low-hanging fogs, and so on.
Expect the cooler renditions to have bit tighter profile with higher acidity, sour cherry, raspberry, pomegranate, and tart plum, while pinots from the warmer sub-regions will have more saturated fruit notes of sweet red cherry, strawberry, cinnamon, and licorice.
New Zealand has been producing pinot noir since 1975. With a small but mighty wine scene, pinot noir is most prominent on the South Island, in Nelson, Marlborough, Canterbury, and Otago. The climate is maritime with cooler summers that make for slow ripening fruit with desired high acidity.
The micro diversity in climate and soil offers a range of styles. You can expect structured wines with floral aromatics and notes of strawberry, spiced sour cherry, savory umeboshi, autumn leaves, garden herb, and earthy minerals.
Newest to the elite game, Chile produces noteworthy pinot with its own flare. The coastal regions of the Casablanca Valley and San Antonio get cool breezes and early morning fog that provide the grapes with the cooler conditions they crave. Bío Bío is cooler yet, with more rainfall, which makes for a longer but trickier growing season.
Chilean pinot noir tends to lean more towards a medium body but still has good acidity. They are defined by notes of cherry, cranberry, strawberry compote, nutmeg, tobacco, dried leaves, clove, and cassis.
Pinot Noir From Around the World
Requiring a cool climate and vineyard conditions that are just so, it's a real treat to discover the finesse and flavor of pinot from all of these notable regions. The best way to discover the nuances from each place is to taste them side by side.