Pinot noir is a red wine grape variety of the species Vitis vinifera. The name may also refer to wines created predominantly from pinot noir grapes. The name is derived from the French words for pine and black. The word pine alludes to the grape variety having tightly clustered, pine cone-shaped bunches of fruit.
Pinot noir grapes are grown around the world, mostly in the cooler climates, and the grape is chiefly associated with the Burgundy region of France. Pinot noir is now used to make red wines around the world, as well as Champagne, and such sparkling white wines as the Italian Franciacorta, and English sparkling wines. Regions that have gained a reputation for red pinot noir wines include: the Willamette Valley of Oregon, the Carneros, Central Coast and Russian River AVAs of California, the Elgin and Walker Bay wine regions of South Africa, Mornington Peninsula, Adelaide Hills, Great Southern, Tasmania and Yarra Valley in Australia and the Central Otago, Martinborough and Marlborough wine regions of New Zealand. Pinot Noir is the most-planted varietal (38%) used in sparkling wine production in Champagne and other wine regions.
Pinot noir is a difficult variety to cultivate and transform into wine. The grape's tendency to produce tightly packed clusters makes it susceptible to several viticultural hazards involving rot that require diligent canopy management. The thin skins and low levels of phenolic compounds lends pinot to producing mostly lightly coloured, medium-bodied and low-tannin wines that can often go through phases of uneven and unpredictable aging. When young, wines made from pinot noir tend to have red fruit aromas of cherries, raspberries and strawberries. As the wine ages, pinot has the potential to develop more vegetal and "barnyard" aromas that can contribute to the complexity of the wine.
Pinot noir has made France's Burgundy appellation famous, and vice versa. Wine historians, including John Winthrop Haeger and Roger Dion, believe that the association between Pinot and Burgundy was the explicit strategy of Burgundy's Valois dukes. Roger Dion, in his thesis regarding Philip the Bold's role in promoting the spread of Pinot noir, holds that the reputation of Beaune wines as "the finest in the world" was a propaganda triumph of Burgundy's Valois dukes. In any event, the worldwide archetype for pinot noir is that grown in Burgundy, where it has been cultivated since AD 100.
Burgundy's Pinot noir produces wines which can age well in good years, developing complex fruit and forest floor flavours as they age, often reaching peak 15 or 20 years after the vintage. Many of the wines are produced in small quantities. Today, the Côte d'Or escarpment of Burgundy has about 4,500 hectares (11,000 acres) of Pinot noir. Most of the region's finest wines are produced from this area. The Côte Chalonnaise and Mâconnais regions in southern Burgundy have another 4,000 hectares (9,900 acres).