Pinot Noir is estimated to be more than 2,000 years old, originating in the Burgundy region of France, perhaps before the Roman invasion. The holy grail of wine grapes, Pinot Noir has a finicky nature and chameleon-like tendencies in the vineyard, making it one of the least consistent grapes to grow. Winemakers around the world, drawn to the stunning potential of this elusive wine, have attempted to emulate the great red wines of Burgundy in their own regions.
Regions with cool climates and a long, slow growing season have begun to captivate wine drinkers with a wide array of Pinot Noir styles. In California, appellations such as Russian River Valley, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Lucia Highlands, Anderson Valley and the Pacific-cooled Sonoma Coast areas are producing tangy, fuller-style Pinots with ripe red berry fruits. Oregon is perhaps the most promising region in the U.S. for making a balanced, elegant Pinot that is slightly fuller than the Burgundian model but has more finesse than the high-octane style of California. New Zealand Pinot Noirs are trickling into the U.S. market with zesty, lighter styles that possess mouthwatering acidity. Australia, too, has achieved some impressive, classically light-bodied Pinots in their cooler regions.
The quintessential food wine, a young Pinot Noir possesses high acidity and loads of fruity characteristics such as cherries, plums and strawberries. A mature wine will develop complexities that include mushroom, violets and figs. Pinot Noir will hold up to most hearty dishes, yet it is delicate enough to pair with fish. Delightful to drink young, Pinot Noir is one of the few wines that possess both approachability in youth and great complexity in maturity.