Great wines may be memorable, but great Pinot Noirs are unforgettable.
This is because—wine nerds generally agree—Pinot is best at capturing the essence of the place and season in which the grapes grew. Try a Pinot made of grapes from a vineyard planted on one side of a road and it’ll smell and taste distinct from the wine made on the opposite side. Not better or worse, just different expressions of similar times and places—like a director’s films or an author’s books.
That’s why exploring Pinots from around the world is so delightful: There’s always a new deliciousness to discover—whether it’s from one region to another, or just across the street.
What Pearl Jam is to Seattle, Pinot Noir is to Burgundy. Burgundy reds, all Pinot Noirs, are beloved for their perfect balance of bright, red-fruit flavors and an earthy, mushroomy character.
For centuries monks grew Pinot throughout the region and carefully assessed the soil composition, sun exposure, vine health and wine quality of each plot of land. The village-by-village classification of the vineyards they developed is still adhered to today.
California’s top Pinot spots are Sonoma and Santa Barbara. They’re 400 miles apart, but the climates are similar: warm days with cool, Pacific-influenced evenings (ideal growing conditions). Both Pinots have concentrated red- and black-fruit flavors; however you’ll find darker, richer wines in Santa Barbara.
Fun fact: Pearl Jam lead singer Eddie Vedder’s favorite wine is a Sonoma Pinot Noir.
All the wine regions grow Pinot Noir, particularly in the cooler areas. The most acclaimed wines come from Martinborough, on the North Island, and from Marlborough and Central Otago on the South Island. Central Otago Pinots are the darkest and richest, but all New Zealand Pinot Noirs are lauded for their melding of intense, bright fruit flavors with a savory, herbal note.
The Pinot-vineyard-packed Willamette Valley extends south from Portland about 100 miles. Oregon Pinots vary from light and bright to dark and rich, but as a whole they are considered the most Burgundy-like in the New World. That’s why so many French winemakers moved to Oregon to make wine.