What Is Pinot Noir Wine?

A Guide to Buying and Drinking Pinot Noir Wine

Pinot Noir clusters

Jim Fischer / Getty Images

In This Article

Pinot noir is a type of wine grape and a style of red wine that is typically light to medium-bodied, fruit-forward, and relatively low alcohol compared to other red wines. Originally from Burgundy, the pinot noir grape is notoriously hard to grow. Known as "red Burgundy" in France, the grapes are now grown under favorable conditions all over the world.

Fast Facts

  • Regions: Burgundy, California, Oregon, Australia, New Zealand, Chile
  • Origin: Burgundy, France
  • Sweetness: Medium dry
  • Color: Bright red to dark red
  • ABV: 13–15%

Pinot Noir vs. Merlot

Two classic and well-known red wines, both pinot noir and merlot show up on countless wine lists and get their own sections at the wine shop. While the two wines are both popular reds, there are some key differences. Merlot is bigger-bodied with bolder tannins and acidity. It's also drier than pinot noir with a darker, bluish coloring. A cool-weather, balanced merlot can sometimes be swapped for a pinot noir and vice versa. Pair merlot with more assertively flavored foods as well as dark chocolate.

Taste and Flavor Profile

Pinot noir is a light to medium body, medium-dry red wine that is typically fruit-forward. When tasting, you're greeted with an earthy, herbal, and spicy nose. Flavors of dark cherries, red currants, and berries are common, along with notes of mushroom and soil. You might taste hints of vanilla, spice, chocolate, tobacco, and oak. Pinot noir's medium acidity and low to medium tannins make this an especially balanced red wine.

How to Taste Wine

Follow these steps when tasting wine to ensure you have the best experience:

  1. Look: Take a look at the wine, examining the color and the opacity through the glass. Pinot noir's light color may trick you into thinking it will be light on flavor.
  2. Smell: Swirl your glass for at least 10 seconds and take a whiff. Stick your nose into the wine glass for a deep inhale, taking in your first impressions of the wine. What do you smell?
  3. Taste: Take a small sip and let it swirl around in your mouth. Note the acidity, sugar, tannins, and alcohol content when first tasting, then move on to specific tasting notes (berries, spice, wood) and finally the finish.

Grapes and Wine Regions

Pinot noir grapes come from the legendary Burgundy region of France. The red grapes can be used to make red, white, rosé, and sparkling wine, but are most commonly used to make a red wine of the same name. While many experts still consider the best pinot noirs to come from Burgundy, the grapes are grown in regions around the world, including Oregon, California, New Zealand, Australia, Chile, France, Spain, Germany, and Italy. The wine's diverse geographical range means that you might also find it labeled as red Burgundy, pinot nero, Blauburgunder, or Spätburgunder.

Pinot noir may be the toughest grape to grow—it is a fickle grape that demands optimum growing conditions, preferring cool, coastal climates. Limestone-rich soils force the vines to push down into the ground for nutrients, creating better flavor in the grapes. Pinot noir has a summer growing season and is typically harvested in September depending on the vineyard location and intended style of wine.

Food Pairings

The lighter-bodied, rich fruit character components of many pinots make it appealing to red and white wine drinkers. Thanks to its subtle tannins and balanced acidity, it is well-suited to pair with a wide variety of foods. Perfect pinot noir pairings include practically any meat, from grilled salmon to smoked turkey to braised short ribs, as well as mushrooms, eggplant, or lentil curry. It's light enough not to overpower subtler dishes while still having enough backbone to accompany spiced items.

Serve pinot noir at cellar temperature (60 degrees Fahrenheit) in a red wine glass. The open bell will allow the aroma to fully open up when drinking.

Key Producers, Brands, and Buying Tips

Due to the stringent growing requirements for pinot noir, it is produced in much smaller quantities than other popular red wines, making it a bit pricier. That being said, pinot noirs are still easy to find in wine stores and even supermarkets at a range of prices. The quality of wine tends to be better if you're willing to spend over $20. Look for long-standing vineyards from Burgundy, northern California, Oregon, and New Zealand. If you can't find pinot noir, look for a smooth and balanced merlot.

  • Joseph Drouhin
  • Beringer
  • Angeline Vineyards
  • Niner
  • Domaine Jessiaume
  • La Crema
  • Jean-Charles Boisset
  • Domaine Faiveley
  • Castle Rock
  • J Vineyards