Pennsylvania Wine School: What is Pinot Noir?

Chambour-huh? Vidal who? Need some help demystifying some of Pennsylvania’s most essential wine words? The PA Wine Land Post is at your service, schooling you on the grapes you need to know.

Varietal: Pinot Noir (pronounced pee-no nwahr)

Grown: Across Pennsylvania but particularly in southeastern PA

Similar to: Lemberger

Pinot Noir plays hard to get. The seductive grape is tricky to grow but easy to love, and the resulting wines walk the delicate line between fruity and earthy.

Native to the Burgundy region of France, Pinot Noir is now the 10th most planted grape variety in the world. It fares particularly well in southeastern Pennsylvania, where the rocky, hilly terroir recalls that iconic wine producing region. The name comes from the French words for pine and black — the word “pine” is apt because the grape grows in tight clusters that resemble pine cones.

Those signature tight clusters are just one reason that Pinot Noir is so hard to cultivate. They trap moisture and encourage rot. This means that vineyard workers need to be extra diligent when it comes to pruning.

But the results are worth it. The thin-skinned grape produces dry red wines with a stunning garnet color, medium body, vivid acidity, and smooth tannins.

When sipping a Pinot Noir, look for flavors of cherry, raspberry, and mushrooms. Secondary notes (many of which result from aging in oak) include clove, tobacco, leather, vanilla, and hibiscus.

Pinot Noir loves the cellar. While young wines tend to highlight those red-fruit aromas and flavors, aging will accentuate the earthier notes of truffle and leather — sommeliers praise these “barnyard” accents — adding complexity to the glass.

A wonderful wine to pair with food, Pinot Noir is adored for its versatility. Drink it alongside rich, funky dishes (wild game, duck, bacon, aged cheese) and the bright acidity will serve as a welcome foil. Serve it with more delicate flavors such as salmon, mushroom risotto, or roast turkey with herbed gravy, and allow the wine’s complexity to shine. Because of that flexibility, this is a great wine for a table to order by the bottle at a restaurant — it’s sure to pair beautifully with a range of entrees. Hot tip: It’s also exquisite with chocolate.