It’s a red wine grape native to France and the wine made from that grape.
(It’s also totally different than the white grape and wine called pinot grigio aka pinot gris.)
Smaller producers — who have smaller amounts of grapes to look after — mostly harvest by hand and sort good, usable grapes from bad ones by hand. Bigger, more commercial producers harvest with tractors and have machines that sort the grapes. Such mechanization can hurt quality.
In 2004’s Sideways, the protagonist Miles, played by Paul Giamatti, spends a lot of time ragging on merlot and praising pinot noir. In its wake, Merlot sales fell and pinot sales — and prices — rose. This phenomenon was named the “Sideways Effect” by academics. This inflation is bad news for budget-conscious pinot lovers.
Namely: ones from Burgundy, France. In a count of the 50 most expensive wines on earth that Wine Searcher did last year, 36 of them were Burgundian pinot noirs. The most expensive sells for an average $15,000 a bottle.
Winemakers make red wine by first pressing wine grapes to make grape juice and then “steeping” the grapes’ skins in the juice. Pinot’s thin skins make her a light- to medium-bodied wine and light in color. She also has low tannins that are often described as “elegant.” (Tannins are astringent compounds that dry out your mouth the way a persimmon does.) All this makes pinot delicate, compared to other reds. To top it all off, pinots can have many, subtle flavors, ranging from earthy to fruity.
In addition to Burgundy, pinot favors very particular spots in the New World like Oregon; parts of California like Sonoma and Santa Barbara; and Marlborough and Central Otago, New Zealand.
Buying super-cheap pinot noir is like buying super-cheap leather or super-cheap caviar — so far from the real deal that it’s not even worth it. (In fact, there’s no pinot noir Two Buck Chuck, testament to the fact that pinot’s just hard to produce at such large volume and for such a low price.)
Australian Shirazes like Woop Woop, Argentinian Malbecs like Trumpeter, and Californian Zinfandels like Ravenswood are all red wines that can be surprisingly good at $15 or less.
Evolution (left) from Oregon, Wild Rock from New Zealand, and A by Acacia from California all capture that delicate and complex pinot noir spirit. Each shouldn’t cost more than $17.
If you have reason to spend $17 or more on a bottle of wine, pinot is a great way to go. Don’t be afraid to ask wineshop employees which pinot they’d recommend you buy at a particular price point; they’ll have the best idea of their own stock.