Molly's Meal Match: Pinot Noir
Updated: Oct 25, 2021
I was admittedly apprehensive to take on Pinot Noir, as a grape to feature in my Meal Match series. As the 10th most planted wine grape, it's one of the most important and ancient wine varieties in the world. With this abridged information, I hope to do this variety and all of the Pinot enthusiasts proud.
Pinot Noir is a light to medium bodied wine, with low tannin and high acidity. The aromas are complex and the finish is smooth on the palate. It's truly a magical display of place and time. Nevertheless, the risk of getting a lousy bottle can be pretty high.
It's a cool climate loving varietal, that can encounter many hazards in the vineyard and at time of harvest. If vignerons pick the grapes too early in the season (to avoid rain), the resulting wine will be bland. If picked too late, the grapes run the risk of being water logged - causing diluted flavors in the wine. Coupled with its thin skin and the dense grape bunches*, the grape is also susceptible to unwanted rot.
When the conditions are just right, the wine can be outstanding. Pinot Noir is certainly a demanding and temperamental grape, but perhaps the most rewarding red wine to cultivate.
*Oenophile fact: Pinot translates to Pine Cone. A name received due to the clusters resemblance to a pine cone.
Pinot Noir* from Burgundy is credited as "the carrier through which the message of terroir is passed." Burgundy is not about the person who makes the wines, it is about the place from which the wine is made. Each vineyard, has distinct dirt diversity, from granite, to limestone, to chalky soils - each imparting unique flavors into the wines. These wines are the most individually expressive and their uniqueness can be as poignant as the row of vines, from which the grapes were picked. This type of transparency of terroir, is rarely seen outside of Europe.
Despite the outstanding success of Pinot Noir in this region, Burgundy is not immune to the grape growing challenges. The northerly location of these vineyards can be severely impacted by lack of sunlight and heavy rainfall. Since environmental influences can have such a drastic impact on the grapes, paying attention to vintages is very important. Finding a delicious Burgundy can be hit or miss, but when you find one of these intensely flavored wines - it will be worth it. Keep an eye out for 2005, 2009, 2012, 2014, 2015, and 2018 vintages.
*Oenophile fact: Pinot Noir is the only red grape in Burgundy, since Gamay was banished in 1395.
Pinot Noir hit monumental fame after the release of the 2004 film, Sideways. Creating a demand that could not be full-filled by the limited yielding grape. To cope with the emerging popularity, some Californian wine producers relied on the legislation requiring only 75% of the variety to be in the wine. Using surplus varieties like Syrah or Merlot, to make up the remainder of the blend, still claiming it as a single varietal. This ultimately resulted in bigger wines, that were more suitable to the American palate and consumers looking for oaky, rich, and dark displays of the varietal. This is known in the wine industry as the "Sideways Effect."
High quality Pinot Noir is not lost in California, it is however worlds apart in flavor and aroma from Burgundy. The rule of thumb is to keep to coastal regions and in particular, Sonoma. Pinot Noir grown in the costal wine regions of California, benefit from moderating influences like the encapsulating fog and coastal breezes. Making it possible to grow this finicky grape. This comparatively warmer region, creates higher alcohol, full bodied and massively fruity wines with a distinct cola-like sweetness. Unfortunately, terroir can get lost under the grape's exaggerated fruit flavors and high alcohol levels.
New Zealand is emerging as a high quality Pinot Noir producing region. Once thought to be too cold, New Zealand is now a stronghold for Pinot Noir - doubling in plantings from 2003 to 2013. Primarily planted on the south island, it's the country's most widely planted red grape variety. These wines are thought of as the middle ground between Old and New World. They have raspberry, wet earth and earl grey flavors, with distinct mineral qualities reminiscent of Burgundy.
The Central Otago wine region, is earthy and wildly herbaceous, compared to the fruitier styles of Marlborough. Central Otago has large temperature diurnals (change in temp from day to night), which allow for complex flavors to develop and favorable acidity to build as the grapes cool at night. A ring of mountains protect this region from unwanted sea breezes and rain fall, without losing the region's unique salty qualities.
Pinot Noir has put Oregon on the map. Its interpretation of this varietals is one of the most important contributions to America's wine scene. The cool climate region Oregon provides, is suitable for these slow ripening grapes. Creating herbaceous, bright and elegant wines that lie somewhere between the light punchy flavors of Burgundy and the oversaturated fruit flavors of California Pinot. It has tart cherry, ripe berry and sweet fruity flavors, juxtaposed by brambly, earthy and mushroom flavors.*
Oregon parallels the culture of wine making in Burgundy; it clings to an artisanal set of values that focus on sense of place. The limited production winemaking, allow for the unique expressions of the Willamette Valley terroir to vary from wine to wine. Each town grants the grape permission to pick up the flavors from where it's grown and celebrate its place.
*Pairing tip: Oregon Pinot Noir pairs deliciously with salmon. The high acid and low tannin, highlight the delicious fish flavors.
Flavors + Aromas
Primary (grape and alcoholic fermentation):
Floral: hibiscus, rose, violet, iris, potpourri
Red Fruit: cherry, cranberry, raspberry, red plum, pomegranate, strawberry,
Black Fruit: black plum, blueberry, blackberry
Herbal: dried herbs
Spice: licorice, cinnamon
Fruit Ripeness: ripe fruit, cooked fruit
Secondary (post-fermentation winemaking):
Oak: vanilla , clove, gun smoke, milk chocolate, brown sugar, allspice
mushroom, earth, plum sauce, cola, tobacco leaf, dried leaves, wet leaves, potting soil
*Cellar for 15 - 20 Years
Wine Buying Tips
Look for wines at the $20.00 price point or above. Otherwise quality of the wine will often be less than favorable, since a lot of time and effort is needed to make a good Pinot Noir.
The color of the wine should be pale and translucent; darker Pinot Noirs are likely to have been blended with other grape varieties.
Pinot Noir is often aged in used oak to allow the terroir of the region to shine through. Avoid Pinot Noir wines that have been aged in new oak, the flavors from the barrels will overwhelm the nuances of the terroir.
Serve your Pinot Noir in a big ass glass and sip your wine in stages. As the wine sits in your glass it will transform substantially, evolving through earthy and fruity flavors.
Do not decant, pour the wine directly from the bottle and begin sipping. Too much oxygen can cause the flavors to fade. To be safe... finish the bottle.
Food Pairing Tips
Pinot Noir is a great food pairing wine. The high acidity and lower tannin allow the wine to be versatile with food. It can pair well with earthy dishes, mushrooms, duck, chicken, pork and even some fish dishes.
Vincent Lumpp Givry Clos Du Cras Long Premier Cru, 2018 (FR)
This Pumpkin Risotto has it all! Sweet, savory with a little bit of bite! Made like a traditional Risotto, I just substituted heavy cream with pumpkin puree and topped it with dried cranberries, pumpkin seeds, and crumbles of goat cheese that perfectly melt into the quinoa! The wine is robust with aromas of bright cherry, moss and cranberry. The woody flavors on the palate, gave the wine depth. The wine had just enough tannin to cut through the heaviness of the pumpkin and cheese. While the sour notes of the dried cranberries complimented the aromas of the wine. The flavors of the dish and wine are a delightful match.
1. In a large sauce pan, drizzle 2 tbsp of avocado oil over medium high heat. Sauté the minced shallot for about 3 minutes. Add in a few pinches of fresh thyme, sauté for another minute.
2. Add quinoa, 1/2 cup of vegetable both and 1/4 cup of wine to the sauce pan, bring to a boil. Simmer until the rice has absorbed the wine. Repeat with broth and wine, simmering between additions. Once complete, the rice should be tender and the process will take about 20 minutes.
3. Add in 1 can of pumpkin puree, stir to integrate. Continue with adding in the shredded parmesan.
4. Serve warm topped with pumpkin seeds, dried cranberries, and goat cheese crumbles.
4 cups vegetable broth
1 can of pumpkin puree
2 cups white/rose wine
1 cup quinoa
pumpkin seeds (for garnish)
dried cranberries (for garnish)
4 oz of goat cheese
1 shallot (minced)
Turkey, Sun-dried Tomato, Basil & Brie Panini
Rabbit Ranch Pinot Noir (NZ)
Not much beats a savory sandwich paired with a delectable wine, on a chilly afternoon. This Central Otago, Pinot Noir is earthy with heavy minerality on the palate. The mouthwatering acidity easily cuts through the unctuous brie and sun-dried tomato, while highlighting the aromas of mushroom and black cherries. Sometimes the simplest recipe, can result in the most rewarding pairing.
1. Bring your brie to room temperature, it will be easier to spread on the bread.
2. Spread mayo on each slice of bread, spread brie on one of the slices of bread. Top with sun-dried tomatoes and leaves of basil.
3. Warm your turkey on the panini maker, then add it to the sandwich.
bread > mayo > brie > sun-dried tomatoes > basil > turkey > mayo > bread
4. Close the sandwich and grill it. (You can also grill the sandwich in a pan with a covered lid), for about 3-5 minutes.
5. Cut in half and enjoy!
Turkey, Sun-dried Tomato, Basil & Brie Panini
2 Sourdough Bread Slices
4-5 slices of turkey
4 oz of brie
fresh basil leaves
Lemon Dill Salmon & Potato Au Gratin
Gran Moraine Pinot Noir (OR)
Oregon Pinot Noir and salmon is a delicious and classic pairing. Forget about white wine with fish when it comes to salmon! The high acidity in the fish is easily matched by the acidity in Pinot Noir. The light to moderate tannin, allow the flavor of the fish to shine, while juxtaposing the oily texture. We seasoned the fish and the potatoes with dill - which can sometimes be tasted in Pinot Noir. This delicious pairing is perfect for the PNW!
1. Have someone else clean your fish and remove the itty bitty bones. Pre-heat the Traeger (or oven) to 300 degrees (or lower depending on your cooking vessel for the fish)
2. Meanwhile pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees, grease a 9x11 casserole dish and line the dish with the potato slices. The slices will stack 2 - 3 high.
3. Slightly melt the butter and mix it with the milk and cream cheese. Once fully blended, add in fresh chopped dill, chives and pinch of salt.
4. Evenly pour the cream mixture over the potatoes, top the potatoes with the shredded cheese. Cover the dish with foil and bake for 40 minutes. Remove the foil and broil for 5 minutes to roast the cheese.
5. While your potatoes are cooking, it is time to season and cook your salmon.
6. Squeeze half a lemon over the two flanks of salmon. Sprinkle a handful of freshly chopped dill and chives over the salmon halves, followed with a sprinkle of salt.
7. Grill the salmon skin side down...should have been obvious, but you never know. Check around 12 - 15 minutes. Ours was a smaller fish so this was the perfect amount of cooking time, larger salmon may require more time.
8. Serve warm with the potatoes, and drink wine!
Lemon Dill Salmon
Potato Au Gratin
Refrigerated Goods: 1 salmon
3 tbsp butter (melted)
1/2 cup of milk
1/2 of cream cheese
1 1/2 of white cheddar cheese (shredded)
Produce: fresh dill (chopped) fresh chives (chopped) fresh lemon
5 potatoes (peeled and thinly sliced)
fresh dill (chopped)
fresh chives (chopped)
Mushroom & Kale Pumpkin Pasta
Rickshaw 2019 Pinot Noir (CA)
This creamy pumpkin pasta is a delicious choice, for those spooky October evenings. It's a robust pasta, complete with mushroom, kale and sausage. The classic Pinot Noir cherry aromas, are complimented by earthy flavors of moss and forest floor. Aligning deliciously with the flavors of the dish.
1. Cook your choice of pasta according to package instructions, set aside and reserve 1 cup of pasta water.
2. Meanwhile in a large sauce pan, cook/brown the ground sausage.
3. Add kale, garlic and mushrooms, sauté on medium for about 2 minutes (the kale and mushrooms will shrink considerably)
4. Add in the pumpkin and heavy cream to the pan, coat the sausage and veggies.
5. Simmer on low heat for 5-10 minutes, if the sauce looks too thick - add in pasta water until you reach your desired consistency.
6. Add salt and pepper to taste.
7. Add in cooked pasta to the large sauce pan, evenly coat the noodles.
8. Serve warm.
Mushroom & Kale Pumpkin Pasta
Dry Goods: 1 tbsp oil (or butter) 1 package of linguine 15 oz can of pumpkin 1 cup reserve pasta water
Produce: 1-2 cups baby kale 1-2cups baby bella mushrooms (sliced) 2+ cloves of garlic (minced) fresh thyme (optional garnish)
Refrigerated Goods: 1/2 cup of heavy cream 1/2 pound of ground pork sausage
I hope you enjoyed learning about Pinot Noir and checking out these pairing suggestions. If you have feedback, comments, or questions please feel free to comment below, post to The Wine Tails Facebook Page, or message me on Instagram.
Thank you Wine Simple, Wine for Normal People, The Wine Bible, and Wine Folly for providing me with amazing research materials. Follow along with The Wine Tails Pinterest page to see what gets me motivated and gives me inspiration for these pairings.
Cheers and happy sipping!