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The historical roots of the Pinot Noir grape variety reach back as far as Roman times. It is considered a classic variety for cooler winegrowing regions and is grown in such climates all over the world. Pinot Noir vines are very demanding when it comes to soil conditions and climate. In good locations, it can become the basis for very complex red wines.

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Pinot Noir, also known as Spätburgunder, is generally produced as a dry red wine, and especially high quality Pinot Noirs are often even barrique matured. In addition, Pinot Noir grapes are one of the most important bases for Champagne. In a more modest capacity, they are also used for the production of rosé wines and white wines - the so-called Blanc de Noirs (white wine made from red grapes). 

History and origin of Pinot Noir Wine

The variety Pinot Noir evolved from the wild grapes of Western Europe. The ancient Romans cultivated them under the name Vitis allobrogica, and it is likely that they also played a role in the winemaking of the Gauls and Middle-Eurpoean Celts. The Pinot Noir grape arrived in Germany along the Rhône Valley and into the Rhine Valley through the Belfort Gap. Emperor Charles III brought them to the Lake of Constance in 884 termed as Clävner. The medieval monasteries in Austria and Germany were responsible for its further distribution. 

Pinot Noir: origin and crossbreeds

The extensive genetic analyses performed in the 1990s by the US Amerikan biologist Carole Meredith confirm the theory that the Pinot Noir grape is almost directly related to the wild grape vitis sylvestris. Her research shows that Pinot Noir vines differ significantly from the vines found in the South of France, which probably originated from ancient Greek vines. 

In turn, the Pinot Noir vine also produced numeroous new grape varieties. A study from 1998 proves that the spontaneous cross breeding of Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc vines brought forth several new grape varieties – among them Chardonnay and Gamay. In the 20th Century, various new varieties were bred according to specific criteria. One example is the Pinotage, which was the result of crossing Pinot Noir with the Cinsault vine from southern France. 

Because the vine has a strong proclivity for mutation, there are numerous Pinot Noir relatives that – usually without any loss in quality – have been bred to place emphasis on specific characteristics such as colour or aroma. 

Growing regions of the Pinot Noir Vine

The Pinot Noir variety is grown worldwide and plays a large role in all winegrowing regions with suitable climates. In Germany, Pinot Noir vines are cultivated on around 20 000 hectares today, and with an upward trend since the 1990s. The largest winegrowing regions can be found in Baden (5600 hectares), the Palatinate (1600 hectares) and Rhein-Hesse (1300 hectares). In the course of this development, the quality of German Pinot Noirs has seen a marked improvement and  - depending upon location - rivals top French wines. 

In ten of the 13 German winegrowing regions, the Pinot Noir vine is considered a traditional variety. 

Crop yields of the Pinot Noir variety

The crop yield of Pinot Noir vines is average at best, which is due to the high demands it places on soil and climate conditions. In addition, this variety also tends to drop a large portion of its fruit after flowering - a process called coulure in French. The relatively low yield, however, is more than compensated by the quality of the grapes. In general, it can be said that a top Pinot Noir wine is often the combined result of: low yield, fully ripe grapes and old vines. 

Spätburgunder: demands on soil and climate conditions

The Pinot Noir variety is very demanding in respect to location and soil. Optimum locations are well ventilated and have deep, slightly warm and wet soil. The Pinot Noir vine thrives better in a cool climate, however it reacts poorly to dryness. The cooler temperatures preclude a longer ripening period for the wine grapes, which benefits their top quality characteristics. The downside to the long ripening period is the increased vulnerability to both downy mildew and powdery mildew, rot (a fungal infestation), and various viruses. The vines may also be susceptible to chlorosis – insufficient chlorophyll production due to mineral deficiency. 

Characteristics of Pinot Noir Wines

Good Pinot Noir wines have a full-bodied, fruity aroma, often with light notes of bitter almond. It has a typical bouquet of red berries – blackberries, cherries, strawberries, black currants. Wines matured in barrique-casks may also contain discreet notes of vanilla and cinnamon. 

Traditional Pinot Noirs are low-tannin and display a paler red colour, however modern varieties that exhibit higher tannin levels have a deeper colour and are becoming increasingly popular. 

Pinot Noir: From Spätburgunder to Blauburgunder

There are numerous synonyms for the Pinot Noir variety. In Germany (and other countries) it is also known as Spätburgunder or Blauburgunder. Other synonyms are, for example, Clevner and Rulandské modré. 

Pinot Noir & Cuisine

Classic Pinot Noirs are ideal as winter wines. They are best suited – cooled to a temperature of 16 to 18 degrees Celcius – to hearty roasts, wild game, or cheese trays. The Blanc de Noirs is perfect as an aperitif or an accompaniment to starters or light meats.

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