So what is it about Pinot Noir and why is it the most highly prized wine in the world? When you think of a noble grape, you wouldn’t think Pinot Noir. It’s not nearly as bold and rich and voluptuous as its cousin, Cabernet Sauvignon. In fact, Pinot Noir it is a weak and shy variety but what gives it its nobility, is the true elegance and class that it has to offer.
Let me help you understand all you need to know about Pinot Noir and why this grape makes the most expensive wine in the world.
Photo Credit: Barnoa Wine Company
So what is Pinot Noir all about?
- To give you context, Pinot Noir directly translates into "Pine Black". The reason for this is that Pinot Noir has very tightly clustered, pine cone-like looking bunches.
- It is the 10th most planted grape in the world.
- The grape is grown all over the world but most notably associated with the Burgundy region in France. Other notable regions are the Willamette Valley in Oregon & Sonoma County, USA; Central Otago in New Zealand; Walker Bay, South Africa; Tasmania & Yarra Valley, Australia; and of course, the one and only Champagne region in France.
- Pinot Noir is a very difficult grape to grow and turn into wine. To me, it is like a beautiful woman. If you treat her well and spoil her, she will give you the same in return, but do one thing wrong, just one thing, and it’s all downhill from there - pretty much over really! This is why it's nicknamed the “heartbreak’ grape.
- Pinot Noir grapes have a thin skin. Thin skins on a grape mean that they are much more sensitive to light, soil types, and pruning techniques need to be well managed so the grapes ripen properly during harvest time. The grape is also more vulnerable to diseases because of the thin skin - again pointing to the difficulty of growing this varietal that present unique challenges in the vineyard.
- Pinot Noir, Pinot Grigio, and Pinot Blanc have the exact same DNA. They are basically just colour mutations of one another. So if you like Pinot Noir, you should enjoy Pinot Grigio and Pinot Blanc as well.
- The Pinot Noir varietal is in the rankings as one of the oldest grapes in the world. Pinot Noir is thought to be some 2,000 years old in comparison to other well-known grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, which have a mere few hundred years under its belt.
Photo Credit: Christie's
- Hong Kong is the biggest market in the world for Pinot Noir, especially from Burgundy. In 2013, six Domaine de la Romanée-Conti 1995 magnums were sold for US$27,300 a bottle (HKD215,000).
- Chardonnay is related to Pinot Noir. It’s a natural crossbreed of Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc (a near extinct variety). This is why Chardonnay and Pinot Noir always seem to grow together.
- Pinot Noir is also the parent of the South African grape Pinotage. It was crossed with Cinsault in 1925.
- 14 years ago after the release of the movie, Side-ways, Pinot Noir sales increased by 16% globally due to the praise from character, Miles Raymond (played by Paul Giamatti). Another thing to note is that Merlot sales decreased by 4% based on the famous line from the same character, “No, if anyone orders Merlot, I'm leaving. I am NOT drinking any f-ing Merlot!"
Photo Credit: Biofuels Digest
In a nutshell why is this grape so noble and expensive?
- It is a difficult grape to grow and requires a lot of human attention, which costs money.
- It is very susceptible to disease, so grapes that do survive warrant the high asking price (like a rare antique).
- Almost all Pinot Noir worldwide is hand harvested, again needing humans that add to production costs.
- Overall, the vine has a very low yield, plus with the addition of vines being trimmed and thinned up to 4 times before harvest, there is very little crop left. In some cases, almost one-third of the grapes end up on the ground. Winemakers and viticulturists take this step to help the remaining grapes either mature more quickly, or to concentrate the flavours of the remaining high-quality grapes.
- So small yield = small volume = high quality = limited = expensive price!
Now it's time to crack open a bottle and enjoy the fruits of its labour.