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Pinot Noir 101

Pinot Noir 101

Inclement weather gives way to bursts of sun during the month of March, inspiring us to look forward to the coming of summer. March also happens to be Pinot Noir Month. So, how does a single variety of grape deserve a whole month of appreciation? Perhaps it’s because pinot noir is the perfect complement to spring.

A Fickle Grape That Likes Dank Weather

With a pale color in the glass and a zesty acidity on the palate, the pinot noir grape is much more delicate than cabernet sauvignon. With thin black-skinned grapes in tightly wound bunches, pinot noir struggles to gather precious sun in the valleys where it grows best. The grape prefers areas with a long spring and fall, but these interim months can trouble vineyards with grape rot and freeze. Still, the effort is worth it because the resulting wine is fascinating to drink.

The Taste of Pinot Noir

With flavors ranging from cranberries to black cherries, pinot noir has great variation. A pinot noir from France tends to have rustic earthy flavors, lower alcohol, and higher acidity, while from California, it develops more rich black cherry flavor, higher alcohol content, and a lush character. Besides regional variations, one of the major factors that affects a pinot noir’s taste is oak barrel aging. Longer aging imparts richness and a vanilla-like flavor, whereas less aging results in tart cherry flavors. Match a pinot noir to the spring weather this March using this guide:


Fruity, light, and tasting anywhere from cranberry and pomegranate to dark cherry. These wines start at around $20 and are not too complex — perfect on a brisk but sunny day.

New Zealand

The darkest pinots from New Zealand come from the Central Otago and have a cherry, baking spice, and cola-like finish. A decent New Zealand pinot noir will cost about $25. With more power in its punch, a Kiwi pinot noir will keep you warm in the late afternoon on a gray day.

Click here to find more tasting notes on pinot noirs from around the world.

Madeline Puckette is the host of, a wine learning website serving up wine courses, videos and articles to inspire wine drinkers everywhere. A certified sommelier through Court of Masters, Madeline Puckette offers an alternative approach to loving wine: learn by drinking. Follow Madeline @Winefolly as she finds the most passionate people behind the wine.

Wine 101: Pinot Noir

Inspired by one of VinePair’s most popular site sections, the Wine 101 podcast takes an educational, easy-to-digest look into the world of wine. This episode of Wine 101 is sponsored by Talbott Vineyards. At Talbott Vineyards, we focus on crafting estate- grown Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in Monterey County’s Santa Lucia Highlands. Our celebrated Sleepy Hollow Vineyard is located in one of the coldest grape-growing climates in California, ideal for these two varieties. Here, the brisk wind and fog rolling off Monterey Bay create a long growing season, producing fruit-forward wines with spectacular acidity. Building on a nearly 40-year legacy of meticulous craftsmanship, Talbott continues to produce highly acclaimed wines of distinction.

Welcome back to Wine 101. In this episode, VinePair tastings director Keith Beavers breaks down the styles and origin of Pinot Noir, widely considered one of the most important grape varieties in the world. Although partly popularized by the 2004 film “Sideways,” Pinot Noir is believed to have existed since the 4th century. Early evidence suggests it comes from the Burgundy region of France.

Best Overall: Kosta Browne Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir

Kosta Browne is one of the treasured producers of exceptional, unabashedly California-style pinot noirs. This particular vintage has earned accolades across the board from noted wine critics. Although known for their cool-climate Sonoma County pinots, they’ve begun sourcing grapes from Central Coast’s Sta. Rita Hills in recent years. This region in Santa Barbara is home to exceptional vineyards and world-class wines, and this bottle bears the winery's unmistakable stamp, imbued with freshness, tremendous verve and energy.

Vivid aromas of ripe wild strawberry, tangy black cherry, cranberry, and hints of blood orange, fleshy and delicious fruit flavors are supported by grippy tannins. Juicy acidity rounds out this wine of elegance, precision, tension and finesse.

Recipe Steps

Step 1: Lightly score the steak(s) in a crosshatch pattern on both sides. Make the cuts 1/4 inch apart and not more than 1/8 inch deep.

Step 2: Place the steaks(s) in a large shallow bowl. Pour the wine over them and stir in the shallots, garlic, thyme, and olive oil. Marinate for 4 hours in the refrigerator.

Step 3: Drain the steak(s) in a colander over a bowl. Transfer the meat to a plate and blot dry. Reserve the veggies and wine.

Step 4: Make the sauce: Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a heavy saucepan. Add the bacon and sauté over medium heat to render some of the fat, 2 minutes. Add the shallots and garlic from the marinade and the shiitakes and cook over medium heat until the ingredients are lightly browned, 3 minutes. Place the cornstarch in a tiny bowl, stir in 1 tablespoon of the reserved wine, and set aside. Add the reserved wine and beef stock to the shallot mixture and increase the heat to high. Boil the mixture until reduced to about 1 cup. Whisk in the cornstarch mixture: the sauce will thicken slightly. Whisk in the remaining butter and salt and pepper to taste: the sauce should be highly seasoned. Keep warm.

Raul Diaz on best recipes per grape variety: Part 1 – Pinot Noir

As a trained sommelier Raul Diaz has many years of experience working directly with customers and chefs to draw up a mental list of which sort of dishes go with each major grape variety. A list he has now turned into a book, Wine & Recipes by Raul Diaz, that is aimed both at the drinks trade and consumers. Here in the first of a new series he shares the principles of food and wine pairing and highlights which styles of food are best matched with Pinot Noir.

As a trained sommelier Raul Diaz has many years of experience working directly with customers and chefs to draw up a mental list of which sort of dishes go with each major grape variety. A list he has now turned into a book, Wine & Recipes by Raul Diaz, that is aimed both at the drinks trade and consumers. Here in the first of a new series he shares the principles of food and wine pairing and highlights which styles of food are best matched with Pinot Noir.

Everyone will have their own take on what food to pair with what wine, but in his book – Wine & Recipes – Raul Diaz explains some of the fundamentals and science that mean a certain grape variety will match up to particular style of food.

When we eat food and drink wine together, the food has a notable effect on the way that we perceive the flavours in the wine. If we understand the general principles of this interaction, we can enhance our enjoyment of both the wine and food.

My desire to share grapes and wine styles paired with delicious recipes was my inspiration for these series. This is a short piece with information presented in a fun and straightforward manner, placing more emphasis on wine than on food. Although we all grow up eating food, we don’t all grow up learning about wine. Here is an opportunity to learn about different wines and how best to pair them successfully with food.

Raul Diaz believes he has a unique take on what wines should be paired with different food styles

I want to share with you some simple guidelines that will help you make some smart decisions about good pairings considering that everyone has different sensitivities and preferences. It’s best to understand these principles and then experiment and make decisions that suit you. My book Wines & Recipes is a practical guide to wine and food pairing.

One grape per recipe

I have organised it so that each grape (or in some cases wine style) is paired with a recipe – for today’s example, a Pinot Noir makes the perfect pairing with the Greek dish, Saganaki. The grape or wine profile faces the recipe, providing you with all the relevant wine information alongside the instructions for preparing the dish.

The role of wine and food matching has evolved in a spectacular way in the last 10-15 years. After the 2009 crisis, restaurants had to rethink completely about their offer. Michelin starred establishments suffered a lot around that period with lots of places closing their doors within months.

The street food revolution appeared as a matter of necessity rather than a choice. The ultimate effect of that crisis was that customers had more control of what they eat and drink. This also affects the role of wine and food pairing. Customers were free to expand their choices about wine and food. They were able to taste more food from different places and wines that could go well with them.

During the last year, with the massive impact of the pandemic, we were forced to stay at home. This situation opened a new unexpected window for wine and food pairing in our own kitchens. Many people started to pay more attention to pairing food with wine.

What food can do to wine

What wine are you going to put on your table with different dishes?

Here are my overall thoughts on how wine and food pairing should work and how you can benefit from it. Consider tasting wines without food, then pay attention to the changes that occur when you do eat something. It can be quite a revelation.

When we eat, our perception of things such as the saltiness or sweetness of a food are affected by what we have last tasted. Here’s a classic example – think about how unpleasant orange juice tastes right after brushing your teeth.

Dealing with salt and acidity

There are two characteristics in most of the dishes we eat that are very wine friendly: salt and acidity. When a food contains salt, we perceive the wine to be less bitter and acidic, more fruity and softer. The same is true for foods that are acidic. Additionally, many people find that pairing fatty, oily or fried food with wines with high acidity is very satisfying.

The acidity in the wine gives the feeling of cleansing the palate by cutting through the oil. One of the most problematic food characteristics is sweetness. This will make a wine seem more bitter and acidic and will subdue the fruits. A good rule of thumb when pairing wine with something sweet is that the wine should be sweeter than the food, since the perceived level of sugar in the wine will be reduced by the sugar in the food.

Umami will have the same effect on wine as sweetness does. Umami is difficult to isolate because foods that are solely umami are rarely served on their own. Umami taste, which is a neutral and intense savouriness, is found in things such as walnuts, mushrooms and cured meats. The good news with umami is that adding salt helps to counteract the negative effects.

Matching intensity

There are two other food characteristics to consider. A food that is highly flavoured generally works best with wine with equal flavour intensity. If the wine is too delicate, it will be overwhelmed by the taste of the food. Likewise, a delicate dish can be overpowered by an intensely flavoured wine. You should also be aware of chilli heat and its interaction with wine. The intensity of the heat or burning sensation felt when eating chillies can vary greatly depending upon the individual. Some people actually enjoy this sensation while others do not.

Alcohol in wine increases this sensation – the higher the alcohol in the wine drank alongside, the more intense the sensation of heat in the food. Knowing this, you can decide for yourself how you want your wine to interact with the heat from chillies in a dish.

What to pair with Pinot Noir

One of the world’s hardest but most rewarding grapes to grow: Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir, one of the most ancient grape varieties in the world, is thought to have already existed in Burgundy prior to the arrival of the Romans. It is the grape that produces some of the most celebrated, and costly, wines in the world – red Burgundy.

More than 15 grape varieties lay claim to Pinot Noir as one of its parents. This is a rather delicate grape, but in the right place it is one of the most expressive grapes that exists. In cool to moderate climate regions like Central Otago and Oregon, Pinot Noir thrives, producing wines with high acidity, red fruit flavours and typical savoury notes of earth, mushroom, game and leather.

Pinot Noir styles

Successful Pinot Noir is always fresh in style, but they can range from simple and easy to drink to the better, more complex, wines with loads of aromas and structure. Rosé wines are also made with this thin-skinned grape. Some sparkling wines, for example Champagne, are made using Pinot Noir.

Cherry, strawberry, raspberry, cranberry, game, mushroom, leather, toast.

The Recipe: Saganaki

Saganaki is a Greek recipe and the word simply means ‘fried cheese’. This recipe is extremely popular in the Greek tavernas. I am a huge fan of feta – I particularly love the texture, saltiness and strong flavour. Just imagine it fried and you have saganaki. The high acidity and red fruits of Pinot Noir are a perfect foil to the crispy crust and tangy cheese of the saganaki.

1 Heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan over a medium heat.

2 Meanwhile, beat the egg in a large glass bowl. Dip the entire piece of cheese in the egg, then very carefully coat it lightly with flour, making sure you don’t break the piece of cheese.

3 Put the cheese in the hot pan and cook for 2 minutes on each side until it is golden-brown. Carefully remove it from the pan and place on some kitchen towel to absorb the oil.

4 Put the cheese on a serving plate and scatter over the toasted sesame seeds. Drizzle over some honey and garnish with lemon wedges for squeezing over.

Pairing Pinot Noir With Food

As one of the wine world's most versatile, food-friendly red wines, pinot noir brings the rich fruit flavors of strawberry, cherry, and raspberry to the glass often in a mix of warm spice and earthy undertones.

Pinot noir is often described as having a red-wine palate profile and a white-wine style, making it popular with both red-wine and white-wine enthusiasts. Without a doubt, pinot noir tends to be lighter bodied than many of its red-wine counterparts (although significant, delicious exceptions do occur) and enjoys a more subtle tannin structure due to the thinner skin of the pinot noir grape itself. However, it's the combination of great acidity, silky tannins, and distinct body that makes it so successful for pairing with a tremendous variety of foodie favorites.

We've rounded up recipes to showcase the exceptional food-pairing qualities that pinot noir offers to everything from cheese and chocolate to Peking duck and roasted beef tenderloin.

Rosé Wine: Wölffer Estate Petite Rosé Verjus

I was excited to try this pretty pink bottle because I am a fan of this New York state vineyard’s wines. Their non-alcoholic rosé is made from verjus, which is the pressed juice of unripe wine grapes.

Since verjus is made from unripe grapes, it’s typically too tart to be sipped as-is. But there’s a touch of sweetness in the Petite Rosé Verjus, which is made from 100% Pinot Meunier grapes (one of the three traditional varietals used in Champagne production).

When combined with water and finished off with carbon dioxide, the result is a bright, bubbly non-alcoholic rosé that’s all too easy to drink.

Red Wine 101 - Pinot Noir

Paul Giamotti&rsquos character in the movie Sideways described Pinot Noir beautifully. So beautifully, in fact, that we have included his eloquent speech. When asked why he is so into Pinot, he responds:

&ldquo&hellipI don't know, I don't know. Um, it's a hard grape to grow, as you know. Right? It's thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early. It's, you know, it's not a survivor like Cabernet, which can just grow anywhere and thrive even when it's neglected. No, Pinot needs constant care and attention. You know? And in fact it can only grow in these really specific, little, tucked away corners of the world. And only the most patient and nurturing of growers can do it, really. Only somebody who really takes the time to understand Pinot's potential can then coax it into its fullest expression. Then, I mean, oh its flavors, they're just the most haunting and brilliant and thrilling and subtle and. ancient on the planet.&rdquo

Pinot Noir can be one of the most complex wines in the world. Pinot Noir can be found in France, Oregon, New Zealand, Germany, Italy and California, but it thrives in cooler climates. Unlike most red wines, Pinot Noir is very rarely blended. The main flavor profile attributed to Pinot Noir is one of cherry, raspberry, plum and smoke.

Pinot Noir is chiefly associated with the Burgundy region of France, most famously from the villages of Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune. When these Pinots are aged slightly, some of the fruitiness of the grape can give way to a richer, gamier flavor (such as wild game, tobacco, and truffle) that is not often found in new world Pinot Noirs.

California and New Zealand&rsquos interpretations of Pinot Noir are often a bit jammier, with more fruit prevalent on the tongue than the gamey notes found in Burgundy. The prevalent regions for Pinot Noir in California are Russian River Valley, Carneros, and Santa Barbara.

Pinot Noir is what put Oregon on the map in the wine world and is the most planted varietal in the state. Most Oregon Pinot Noirs are closer to the style typified in Burgundy rather than their neighbor to the south.

In Germany, Pinot Noir is known as Spätburgunder. Spätburgunder is lighter in color and body than Pinot Noirs from other areas. The same can be said of Pinot Noirs from Italy, which are know as Pinot Nero.


For the brine:

Add all of the ingredients to a large sauce pot and bring to a boil. Remove from heat, let cool and then add the ice to cool completely.

Place the ribs in a zip-top bag and cover the short ribs with the brine. Refrigerate for 4 to 6 hours.

For the short ribs:

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Remove the short ribs from the brine and pat dry, making sure they are as dry as possible, then season heavily with salt and pepper.

Heat a Dutch oven over medium-high heat or until the point of almost smoking. Add ½ cup of the corn oil. When it begins to smoke, add the short ribs and brown them on all sides (about 2-3 minutes on each side, making sure that they reach a rich dark color). Take the meat out of the pan and set aside.

Heat the Dutch oven back to medium-high heat and add the remaining ½ cup of corn oil, as well as the cipollini onions and leeks to the Dutch oven. Saute them until they are lightly caramelized, then add the sun-dried tomatoes and thyme.

The whole time, make sure to lightly scrape the bottom of the pan to get all those delicious good meat bites off of the bottom. Add the pinot noir to the vegetables in the Dutch oven and simmer until reduced by half.

Add the stock and hot sauce and bring to a boil. Then pour the vegetable-wine mixture over the short ribs. Bring the short ribs to a boil then turn off the stove. Cover the Dutch oven with foil and bake for 3 to 4 hours or until they are fork-tender.

Pinot Noir Chocolate Cake

This rich and decadent pinot noir chocolate cake topped with a pinot noir chocolate ganacheis any wine lovers dream dessert!


For the Cake

  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cups unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup Erath Pinot Noir 2017
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ½ cup water, boiling

New Group

  • For the Ganache:
  • 8 oz 60% cocoa chocolate, chopped fine
  • ¼ cup (1/2 stick) salted butter, cubed
  • ¾ cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ cup Erath Pinot Noir 2017


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a bundt pan and set aside. To do this, brush room temperature butter on with a pastry brush getting all of the grooves of the bundt pan. Dust with flour and shake until the pan is
    completely coated. Tap over a sink to release any excess. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl whisk together all dry ingredients: sugar, flour,
    unsweetened cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
  3. In the bowl of a mixer, combine: eggs, 1 cup Pinot Noir, oil, sour cream, and vanilla. Beat until all combined on medium-low.
  4. Slowly beat in the dry mixture and mix on medium-high for 1 minute.
  5. Bring water to a boil on the stovetop and slowly pour into the batter, mixing on low until combined. The batter will be very thin.
  6. Pour into prepared bundt pan and place on a rimmed baking sheet for easier transfer.
  7. Bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  8. Remove and cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes before carefully inverting to a cooling rack.
  9. Cool completely before adding the ganache.

What’s the difference between Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir?

Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir are two different red grapes. Pinot Noir is a thin-skinned variety that makes wines of light color, light-to-medium body and alcohol, with high acidity, elegance and aromas of red fruits (cranberries, raspberries, red cherries) and mushrooms. Pinot Noir has long been famous with wine lovers for the haunting styles made in Burgundy and the riper expressions from California and Oregon. Cabernet Sauvignon has more tannin, body, alcohol and a darker hue. It hails from the left bank of Bordeaux, where it has been made famous by the wines of the Médoc, notably Margaux and Pauillac.

Watch the video: WINE 101: PINOT NOIR