What is Pinot Nero wine? Italian Grapes, Flavor, Character, History, Pairings

Pinot Noir is a red wine grape now dominant in Burgundy and popular around the world. Pinot Noir grapes aroma is cherries, red berries, and stewed fruit.

By Lucie Robson
Mar 23, 2022
tagAlt.Pinot Nero Infografica

Pinot Noir wine (grapes) in 30 seconds

  • Pinot Noir is a black grape that makes dry red and traditional method sparkling wines.
  • In Italy, it mostly grows in Lombardia followed by Trentino-Alto Adige, Friuli, and Veneto.
  • It displays sour red cherry, medium tannins, and medium to high acidity.
  • Mature Pinot Nero develops mushroom, forest floor, and gamey notes.
  • Oak adds tobacco, smoke, white pepper, and spice.
  • This wine usually has 11.5 to 13.5% alcohol.
  • Pinot Nero appears as part of a blend in sparkling Franciacorta.
  • This grape accounts for just over 10,000 acres in Italy.
  • It appears in DOC and DOCG wines.
     

What is Pinot Noir wine?

Pinot Nero, known internationally as Pinot Noir, is an iconic grape that comes from Burgundy in France. It’s an ancient cultivar that’s spawned about 40 mutations. Pinot Nero is thin-skinned and early budding plus it ripens early and it needs meticulous care in the vineyard to grow successfully. Pinot Nero doesn’t do well in warm climates where it becomes jammy and loses its definition. For this reason, in Italy, it only appears in cool spots in the north and in hot wine-producing countries across the New World, in the more temperate zones.


Wherever it appears, Pinot Nero is notoriously difficult to cultivate and vinify. However, such is its appeal that vignerons are willing to take on the risks associated with this grape to produce fine, haunting wines.

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What are the characteristics of Pinot Noir?

Pinot Nero produces light and fruity to complex, mature reds and is also used in traditional method sparkling wines like Franciacorta from Lombardy. Dry Italian Pinot Nero tends to have a deeper color than Burgundy and slightly higher alcohol.

The Premier and Grand Cru wines of Burgundy are among some of the world’s most costly, but Pinot Nero is also produced at lower-level appellations that offer very good quality.

 

What does Pinot Noir taste like?

Youthful Pinot Nero is light to medium ruby with flavors of sour red cherry. Maturation develops forest floor, game, and signature mushroom notes while oak adds cloves. When it’s produced in more temperate, sunny climes, flavors are more concentrated. Wherever it hails from, Pinot Nero displays a timeless elegance and good acidity.

 

Italian Pinot Nero can display smoky, peppery notes with tobacco. Sparkling wine like Franciacorta typically displays ripe fruit, dried flowers, and almond notes. Owing to its distinct flavor and structure profile, Pinot Nero needs careful food pairing but, when it’s served with the right dishes, the match is bellissimo!

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Are there different types of Pinot Noir?

Pinot Nero is rarely blended because it’s so difficult to grow and produces low yields, a fact that makes it unsuitable for mixing. As a varietal, it’s made in dry styles that range from bright, youthful, and fruity to complex, layered, earthy wines.

 

Franciacorta sparkling wine comes in five sweetness levels that tend toward the dry end of the scale. The driest is Zero dosage and the sweetest (although still pretty dry) is Demi-dec.
 

What food does Pinot Noir pair with?

Pinot Nero  is a mid-weight wine so it’s best to match it with dishes of medium power. Its high acidity means avoiding anything sweet as this component unpleasantly highlights tartness. Acidity in food brings out body and fruitiness so recipes featuring tomato are a good pair for Pinot Negro.  Franciacorta pairs well with fatty foods as the acidity and fizz cut through fat. It’s also perfect as an aperitif. 

 

 Pinot Nero Food Pairing 

  • Appetizers: Shrimp cocktail; pâté; charcuterie; cheese and breadcrumb-stuffed mushrooms.
  • Entrées: French game dishes with light creamy sauces; Beef Wellington; mushroom risotto; lobster; Coq au vin; salmon and tuna; grilled asparagus and spring greens; roasted chicken; pasta with tomato sauces; beef bourguignon. 
  • Dessert: Dark chocolate mousse; dark chocolate-covered strawberries/ cherries.
  • Cheese: Goat’s cheese; Brie; Gorgonzola; mild blue cheeses; smoked cheeses.  
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What are the main Pinot Noir regions of Italy?

In Italy, the north of the country is the source of top-tier Pinot Nero with Trentino, Alto Adige, Veneto, Friuli and Lombardia the most renowned areas for this classic grape.

 

In the first four areas, Pinot Nero is made under DOC regulations while Franciacorta in Lombardia has DOCG status.The coolness of these climes is ideal for this fussy grape’s cultivation. 

 

Where does the best Pinot Noir come from?

Pinot Nero  (or Noir) goes back many centuries in Burgundy but its name only started to appear in winemaking records in the middle ages. Religious orders developed winemaking techniques during these times in France laying the foundation for modern-day vinification. 

 

In Italy, this iconic cultivar first made an appearance in Alto Adige around 1830 where it was first known as "Bourgogne Noir" then "Blauburgunder". 

 

The name gradually adapted to the local language and today this varietal is called Pinot Nero and Pinot Negro. Admired around the globe by both vintners and wine consumers, beyond Europe Pinot Nero has an excellent reputation in Oregon Valley, USA, Martinborough and Central Otago, New Zealand, Los Carneros and Russian River Valley in California. It’s also cultivated in the cooler spots in Chile and South Africa.

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How is Pinot Nero made?

Pinot Nero needs careful treatment in the vineyard because it’s vulnerable to frost and rot, especially in its home of Burgundy. Vinification is also meticulous with gentle maceration so as to enhance the color of the wine and extract sufficient tannins. Winemakers usually prefer to use whole-bunch pressing for Pinot Nero  as this protects its delicate aroma and flavor features and results in a purer wine. Fermentation can take place in stainless steel for bright fruit or oak for structure and tannins. If the wine is destined for aging, it will spend some months in oak for the addition of smoke, tobacco, and spice.

 

Franciacorta is a traditional method sparkling wine meaning it’s undergone two fermentations, one of which is in bottle. This prestigious winemaking method also includes lees aging, a process that adds brioche notes to wine as well as body.

 

What kind of wine is similar to Pinot Nero?

  • Bardolino, Italy.
  • Beaujolais, France.
  • Valpolicella, Italy.
  • Zweigelt, Austria.
  • St. Laurent, Austria.

Fun facts

  • Pinot Nero is nicknamed the “Heartbreak Grape” because of how difficult it is to grow. 
  • It’s the most expensive varietal wine globally.
  • It’s one of the grapes in Pinotage. Cinsault is the second variety.
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