Learn about Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir sign with autumn grapevines in vineyard

Pinot Noir is one of the most versatile wines on the list. This is my go-to for just about any situation. On the one hand, it’s a great sipping wine that doesn’t have to be paired with any food. On the other, it goes perfectly with Salmon or a juicy steak. Good to know when you’re selecting a bottle for the table and your dinner companions have ordered a mix of seafood and red meat.

Jump to these sections:
Top Regions, Tasting Recommendations, Tasting Notes, Rating System, Restaurant Ordering Tip, Pairings

Top Regions for Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir has a reputation as one of the most finicky grapes to grow. They take a lot of care and attention. Their thin skins make them more susceptible to disease and they are a low yielding grape, which means there is not much room for error.

  • France
  • Oregon
  • California
  • New Zealand

Burgundy is in the eastern-central part of France. There are two main varieties of grapes grown in the region – Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Red Burgundy is Pinot Noir and White Burgundy is Chardonnay. There are other grapes grown here, but we’ll save those details for another time.

Oregon’s Willamette Valley has a nice cool climate for growing Pinot Noir. This is the most planted grape in Oregon and really shines in this area of the country.

California’s Sonoma County and Mendocino County located just north of San Francisco is a warm climate. But the soil and coastal location provide the right combination for these fickle grapes.

The southern regions of New Zealand provide the perfect cool climate for Pinot Noir. It’s the 2nd most planted variety in the country right behind Sauvignon Blanc.

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Pinot Noir Tasting Recommendations

The best way to become familiar with wine is to taste it. Select Pinot Noir from each of the top 4 regions in the world and compare.

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Pinot Noir Tasting Notes

When tasting the wine, follow these three tasting steps to become familiar with the typical taste profile. You can even have some of the food pairing suggestions on hand to see how they work together.


Take your glass and tilt it over a white napkin or paper. Compare the color across all regions. If you put your fingers between the glass and the napkin, is the wine translucent or opaque?

TASTING PROFILE:  Light ruby, a bit translucent.


Let’s see how aromatic the wine is. Hold your glass at your chest and see if you can catch any scent. Then move it to your chin and try to smell. Then really put your nose in the glass and take a big sniff. What scents do you catch? Swirl the wine and then sniff again. What scents do you catch now?

TASTING PROFILE:  Not an aromatic grape. With nose in the glass, you’ll get cherry, blackberry, cranberry, vanilla, currant and rose scents.


Take a taste and swirl it in your mouth. What flavors do you taste? After you swallow, how long does the flavor linger and how would you describe those flavors?


Fruit:  Light fruit flavors of cherry and raspberry.

Acidity:  Medium to high levels. (This is tartness in the wine and hits underneath the back of your tongue and throat.)

Tannin:  Medium to low levels. (This is bitterness that comes from the grapes skins.)

Oak:  Pinot spends time aging in oak which gives hints of vanilla and toast.

Body:  Light to Medium body. (This is how heavy or full the wine is. Think skim milk vs. whole milk.)

Easy Rating System

If you are comparing different Pinot’s try this easy rating system. Add notes to help remember what you liked or didn’t like about the wine.

5pts   Love!
4pts   Like
3pts   Good, but not great
2pts   Meh
1pt     Not for me

Restaurant Ordering Tip

Next time you want to order a Pinot Noir at a restaurant, just remember these top regions. No need to know the actual brands. Keep it simple and just look for the regions you know are best for this wine. When I go to a restaurant and I don’t recognize the brand or winery, I usually look at the region it’s from. I always go for a Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. I know I’ll never be disappointed.

Pinot Noir Food & Cheese Pairings

This light red goes with practically everything. It’s a red that is very versatile and crosses between fish, beef, and poultry easily.

Food Pairings:

  • Fish (salmon is a fantastic pairing, and also goes with white fish easily.)
  • Meat (steak, chicken, duck, burgers)
  • Grilled & roasted veggies

Cheese pairings:

  • Gruyere
  • Brie
  • Camembert
  • Swiss