Possibly the greatest and most wonderful of all the black varietals, certainly both the most rewarding and maddening. Pinot Noir has both the distinction and the fame of other varieties such as Cabernet and Merlot, but it also carries with it the heavy burden of being hard to grow, ferment, transport, store and sometimes enjoy. It is the most sensitive of grapes, susceptible to frost, disease, mildew, etc. Winemakers for centuries have been trying to recreate the magical and ethereal wines that originate in Pinot Noir's home of Burgundy, usually with limited or no success. Burgundies can range from light, fresh and fruity to deep, dark and brooding. There is no other variety where location makes as much of a difference in the quality of the wine. Generally speaking, tannins are lower and acids are higher than in most other reds, the fruits are high-toned and red, and there is often a floral component to both the aroma and flavors. Young wines can be fresh and easy-drinking, yet some versions can age for decades and take on decided notes of earth, spice and anise.
The best Pinot Noirs in the world come from the hallowed hills of Burgundy, where this varietal was first chronicled in the 4th century A.D. Wines from the Cote de Beaune are generally more floral and silky, whereas in the Cote de Nuits they can be more powerful and intense, though variation from one Grand Cru hill to the next can be dramatic. Fine and less pricey examples can be had from the Challonaise and Maconnaise, as well as from Sancerre and Alsace. This grape is also a vital part in the production of Champagne, particularly Blanc de Noir. Pinot Noir can also be found in Italy (as Pinot Nero), Germany and Austria (as Spätburgunder and Blauer Spätburgunder, respectively), and Spain. Pinot Noir has seen a rebirth of sorts in the New World as growers in the cooler climates of California (Carneros and Santa Barbara) and Oregon's Willamette Valley have found success. While they may not be Burgundy, they are quite enjoyable. The cool regions of Victoria in Australia as well as Central Otago in New Zealand have also provided some fine Pinots.