Out of all red varieties, Pinot Noir is the most difficult to grow. Wherever it grows, this delicate grape will struggle. But with attentive cultivation and proper vinification, Pinot Noir wines can be stellar. It has the potential to create some of the most tantalizingly sensual wines in the world, but it also is extremely fickle. In off years, it can produce tart, innocuous wines, so careful attention must be paid to vintage when considering Pinot wines.
Pinot Noir is typically a low-yielding grape that is susceptible to several diseases including rot, spring frost, and Pierce’s Disease. Clone selection is vital in preventing disease. The most suitable climate is cool, yet temperate, preferably with well-drained soils.
Vinification technique is also a very important factor when dealing with Pinot Noir. Winemakers have many options available, and the use of oak is one of the main variables. It tends to do well with French oak, but not necessarily with American oak, and its thin skins leads to higher fermentation temperatures.
Burgundy is, by most standards, the best region where Pinot Noir is produced. The great Burgundies have no challengers with their fine combination of tradition and terroir. In the Côte de Nuits, Gevrey-Chambertin, Vosne-Romanée, and Chambolle-Musigny are king. In the Côte de Beaune, Beaune, Pommard, and Volnay reign. Pinot Noir is also one of the three Champagne grapes, and is responsible for some spectacular sparkling rosé.
The New World has come up with some remarkably good answers to Burgundy’s Pinot Noir. In California, Pinot Noir wines from Santa Barbara County, Russian River Valley, and Carneros are consistently good. California Pinot Noir is often bland and watery, but when it is done well, it can be as rich, velvety and sensual as in any other part of the world. What it sometimes lacks, however, is the elegance and subtlety that is achieved in France and in other cooler areas. In Oregon, the Willamette Valley has a latitude and climate very much like that of Burgundy, making wines that are often stylistically similar.