A varietal… several types of wines : the Pinot Noir
If one may relate the appearance of Pinot Noir to the roman period, the origin of this varietal goes more back to the Middle Age. Through the impetus given by the Citeaux Abbey, the burgundian monasteries developed it widely. By jealously growing varietals adapted to each village, they contributed to the reputation of the burgudian vineyard and to the development of a rich and diversified genetic patrimony.
In Alsace too, the Pinot Noir appeared in the Middle Age as shown by the inventories of abbey cellars and the documents concerning wine taxes raised by the Church at this period. But this varietal started to decline in production at the end of the XVIth century and remained only in some localities (as Ottrot, Saint Hippolyte, Rodern, Boersch, Marlenheim…).
Often oriented towards the production of light and fresh red wines, the Pinot Noir has gone through a revival in the recent years. If you still might find a lot of wines close to the traditional “rosés”, there are more a more wines with more color, complexity and structure that have been aged in wooden barrels. The decrease of the yields in Alsace, the better knowledge of the soils by the producers, the highest frequency of “hot” vintages helped to that move. On the other hand, almost everywhere in the world, the red wines consumers, bored by too concentrated wines produced from Sirah, Merlot or Cabernet-Sauvignon, have rediscovered the subtlety and delicacy of the Pinot Noir. Without any doubt, the American movie Sideways launched in 2004 by Alexander Payne contributed to that move.
Moreover, in Alsace, the growing success of the sparkling wines and the search of diversification on that field led to an increasing use of Pinot Noir in the Cremant where it brings fruitiness and vinosity. When solely produced with Pinot Noir, the Cremant is either a “Rosé” or a “Blanc de Noirs”.
The Pinot Noir grapes are compact, rather small and cylindrical. The grape berries are small, spherical or slightly oval-shaped, with a characteristic bluish-black color. The skin of the berries is relatively thin but rich in pigments (anthocyan).
This grape varietal is considered being difficult and delicate to grow by the producers. It likes a continental and temperate climate. That’s why, besides Burgundy, Alsace and Champagne, it can be found in Germany, Switzerland, in Oregon where the climate is fresher and more temperate than in California, in Canada (Ontario) and in New Zealand. The well drained clay-limestone soils seem to be particularly adapted to the Pinot Noir, the limestone bringing body and richness to the wine while the clay would support elegance and freshness. The presence of iron in the soils could also be important for the stability of the color in the wines.
The Pinot Noir likes cool temperatures and big temperature variations between day and night which is characteristic of the hillsides in Alsace. It is a late varietal that can be sensible to diseases and grey rot possibly induced by too vigorous conditions. The estimation of the date of maturity of the grapes, the perfect health of the harvest that is exclusively handmade and a careful vinification are the keys of the success of Pinot Noir.
When vinified in rosé or light red, the Pinot Noir is dry, delicately fruity with aromas of small red fruit (raspberry, strawberry, red currant, blackberry…) or cherry. It has to be served slightly chilled with grilled meats, rustic buffets, delicatessen, some cheeses or even some fish for those who prefer a light red to a white wine.
The Red Pinot Noir with longer maceration of the berries and aged in wooden barrels is more complex and dense. It has often aromas of mature red fruit as black cherry and smoky notes. But the high interaction between the soils and the expression of the wines gives an unbelievable palette of aromas and tastes in these wines. Those can be served at temperature with red meats, game, cheeses and one may even try it with not too sweet chocolate desserts.
Shortly said, delicate and subtle wines for those who want to stray from the beaten tracks!