Explore / Expertise

How to buy pinot noir

Contents

Matthew Horsley Matthew Horsley / 28 February 2021

Buyer and Master of Wine student Matthew Horsley gives us a guide to the best regions for pinot noir, one of the world's most beguiling and charismatic grape varieties.


Tricky to grow, difficult to understand and produced in the most marginal of climates; what is the allure of this delicious but enigmatic grape?

Pinot noir, the moody grape

The great Burgundy writer Clive Coates MW likens pinot to Bizet's temperamental Carmen. Having never seen Carmen I'll have to take his word for it. But what I do know is that pinot ripens early and hates the cold, both during winter and at flowering. A cold growing season and pinot struggles to ripen, giving mean-tasting and astringent wines; too warm and they lack structure and freshness. If yields are too high the wines are dilute and uninteresting; too low and you won't be in business very long.

Despite its idiosyncrasies however, no grape reflects its terroir better than pinot noir – neighbouring vineyards can produce distinctly different wines, often at drastically different prices. But perfect terroir does not a great pinot make, and it takes a skilled vigneron to unlock pinot's charms.

What does pinot noir taste like?

'Blockbuster' is an adjective rarely used for pinot noir, its pleasure is in its sensual, seductive aromatics, ranging from cherries and redcurrants, to oriental spices, forest floor and mushroom as it ages. Its thin skins produce wines typically pale in colour and medium-bodied.

But that's not to say pinot doesn't pack a punch. In the right place and in the right hands it can possess wonderful concentration and intensity of flavour with a structure that allows pinot to age magnificently. Great pinot can sing while young and old, a rarity among great red wines.

Where is it grown?

Burgundy is pinot noir's homeland, shining most brightly in the Côte d'Or. While the region is complicated, there are four tiers to keep in mind – Bourgogne (using grapes from across the Burgundy region), Villages (from a named village), premier cru (from a named premier cru vineyard), and grand cru wines (from a named grand cru vineyard).

'So, a grand cru is better than a premier cru wine?' Well… not exactly. 'But Village wines are always cheaper than premier cru wines, right?' Wrong. 'So how do I know what to buy?' Good questions… Burgundy is about the land, but most importantly it's about the people. We recommend starting by tasting by producer, finding out whose wines you like and going from there. This is part of the appeal!

The cooling influence of the Pacific makes for excellent pinot in USA's west coast (Vineyards near Sebastopol in Sonoma, California)
The cooling influence of the Pacific makes for excellent pinot in USA's west coast (Vineyards near Sebastopol in Sonoma, California)

But what about outside Burgundy?

In Alsace the theme of terroir continues with a patchwork of soils, but production methods often play a greater role in determining style, the wines typically spending time in large old oak barrels to bring wonderful purity of fruit. In Germany, where pinot noir is known as spätburgunder, key regions such as Baden give richly fruited pinot that can develop savoury character at an early age.

The USA's west coast dominates production thanks to the cooling influence of the Pacific. Styles range from firm, fresh and saline in the northern regions of Oregon and Sonoma Coast, to richer, fuller and darker fruited in the southern areas such as Santa Barbara.

The Pacific plays a key role in Chile too and Limarí, with its limestone soils, is home to some of Chile's finest, more mineral styles of pinot noir.

South Africa, often seen as the most traditional of the new world pinot producers, relies on cool sites and high-quality French oak to give wines of structure with savoury notes and wonderfully ripe fruit. A smart first stop outside Burgundy.

In Australia there's a trend towards pure, pale coolclimate styles from regions like Mornington Peninsula and Tasmania. Here the wines give redcurrant and cherry flavours moving to oriental spices with age.

New Zealand pinot generally divides in two: red-fruited and savoury styles from coastal regions such as Martinborough and Marlborough, or Central Otago's fuller bodied and dark-fruited. Both are equally delicious and offer some of the finest pinot outside of Burgundy.

Discover all our wines made from the iconic pinot noir grape

Discover our grape guides

Want more inspiration?

Sign up for a carefully-curated selection of recipes, guides, in-depth expertise and much more.

Our website uses cookies with the aim of providing you with a better service. By using this website you consent to The Wine Society using cookies in accordance with our policy.

Close

4.4. Cookie Policy

By using The Wine Society website, you agree to cookies being used in accordance with the policy outlined below. If you do not agree to this, you must alter your browser settings to turn off cookies or block those types which are unacceptable to you or cease using the website.

The Wine Society uses cookies to enable easy navigation and shopping on the website. We take the privacy of all who use our website very seriously and ensure that our use of cookies complies with current EU legislation. The following guide outlines what cookies are, the types of cookies used on The Society's website and how they work.

You may alter your browser settings to turn off cookies or block those types which are unacceptable to you, but this will cause difficulties when accessing and using some areas of the site. Instructions on how to do this can also be found below.

4.4.1. What are 'Cookies'?

  • Most major websites use cookies.
  • A cookie is a very small data file placed on your hard drive by a web page server. It is essentially your access card, and cannot be executed as code or deliver viruses. It is uniquely yours and can only be read by the server that gave it to you.
  • Cookies cannot be used by themselves to identify you.
  • The purpose of a basic cookie is to tell the server that you returned to that web page or have items in your basket. Without cookies, websites and their servers have no memory. A cookie, like a key, enables swift passage from one place to the next.
  • Without a cookie every time you open a new web page the server where that page is stored will treat you like a completely new visitor.
  • More recently, cookies have also been used to collect information about the user which allows a profile of their preferences and interests to be created so that they can be served with interest-based rather than generic information about available goods and services.

4.4.2. How do Cookies help The Wine Society?

Cookies allow our website to function effectively. Cookies also help us to arrange content to match your preferred interests more quickly. We can learn what information is important to our visitors, and what isn't.

4.4.3. How does The Wine Society use cookies?

The Wine Society does not accept advertising from third parties and therefore, as a rule, does not serve third-party cookies. Exceptions to this include performance/analytical cookies (see below), used anonymously to improve the way our website works, the provision of personalised recommendations, and occasions when we may team up with suppliers to offer special discounts on goods or services.

The Society uses technology to track the patterns of behaviour of visitors to our site.

4.4.4. What type of cookies does The Wine Society use?

We use the following three types of cookies:

4.4.4.1. Strictly Necessary Cookies
These cookies are required for the operation of our website, enabling you to move around the website and use its features, such as accessing secure areas of the website. Without these cookies, services like shopping baskets or e-billing cannot be provided. Under this heading, we currently use the following cookies:

  • Authentication Cookie and Anonymous Cookie
    These cookies remember that you are logged in to your account – without them, the website would repeatedly request your login details with each new page you visit during your time on our website. They are removed once your session has ended.
  • Session Cookie
    These cookies are used to remember who you are as you use our site: without them, the website would be unable to tell the difference between you and another Wine Society member and facilities such as your basket and the checkout process would therefore not be able to function. They too are removed once your session has ended.

4.4.4.2. Functionality & Targeting/Tracking Cookies
These cookies are used to recognise you when you return to our website and to provide enhanced features. This allows us to personalise our content for you. Under this heading, we currently use the following cookies:

  • Unique User Cookie
    This cookie is used to:
    • store your share number in order to identify that you have visited the website before. Without this cookie, we would be unable to tell whether you are a member or not.
    • record your visit to the website, the pages you have visited and the links you have followed. We use this information to make our website, the content displayed on it and direct marketing communications we may send to you or contact you about more relevant to your interests.
    • This cookie expires after 13 months.
  • Peerius Cookies
    These third-party cookies are used to provide you with personalised recommendations based on your purchase and browsing history. They expire within 4 hours of your visit.

4.4.4.3. Performance/analytical cookies
These cookies collect information about how visitors use a website, for instance which pages visitors go to most often, and if they get error messages from web pages. These cookies don't collect information which identifies a visitor. All information these cookies collect is aggregated and therefore anonymous. It is only used to improve how a website works. Under this heading, we currently use the following cookies:

  • Google Analytics Cookies
    These are third-party cookies to enable Google Analytics to monitor website traffic. All information is recorded anonymously. Using Google Analytics allows The Society to better understand how members use our site and monitor website traffic.

4.4.4.4. Authentication Cookie
In order for us to ensure that your data remains secure it is necessary for us to verify that your session is authentic (i.e. it has not been compromised by a malicious user). We do this by storing an otherwise meaningless unique ID in a cookie for the duration of your visit. No personal information can be gained from this cookie.

4.4.5. How do you turn cookies off?

All modern browsers allow you to modify your cookie settings so that all cookies, or those types which are not acceptable to you, are blocked. However, please note that this may affect the successful functioning of the site, particularly if you block all cookies, including essential cookies. For example, In Internet Explorer, go to the Tools Menu, then go to Internet Options, then go to Privacy. Here you can change the rules your browser uses to accept cookies. You can find out more in the public sources mentioned below.

4.4.6. Learn more about cookies

4.4.7. Changes to our cookie policy

Any changes we may make to our cookie policy in the future will be posted on the website and, where appropriate, notified to you by email. Please check back frequently to see any updates and changes to our cookie policy.