French Pinot Noir: Here’s Everything you Need to Know

Aug 29, 2022
French Pinot Noir: Here’s Everything you Need to Know
Sarah Idle
Sarah Idle
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Whatever burning question about pinot noir you’ve got - what it is, what it tastes like, what colour it is, how to serve it, the best pinot noir wine regions, even how to pronounce it - we’ve got the answer.

Is there anything the French can’t do? Whether it’s their incredible bread and pastries, their in-built sense of style or that accent - no, there’s really nothing they can’t do, especially when it comes to wine. French pinot noir is some of the world’s best (and most expensive).

Learn more about what makes French pinot noir so special, what it tastes like and what Burgundy has to do with it (spoiler alert: it’s a French winemaking region and widely considered the home of pinot noir).

What makes French pinot noir unique? 

Two things make pinot noir from France unique: soil and climate. Both of these ensure that the wine making regions in France produce amazing pinot noir grapes. 

Oh, and France also has a long winemaking history, especially pinot noir. Pinot noir is one of France’s oldest grapes, grown hundreds of years ago by monks in Burgundy. What does this mean? That pinot noir from France is expertly and lovingly crafted from decades of experience. 

In terms of the soil, if you go back around 200 million years, you’ll find France was part of a large, tropical sea. Over time, the seabed became limestone soils. These soils are behind the trademark zesty minerality of French wines, especially pinot noir.

Finally, France has a cooler climate which the fussy pinot noir grape really enjoys.

Basically, France combines heritage, the perfect soil and the ideal climate to create some of the world’s finest pinot noir.

What does French pinot noir taste like?

Because France has a cooler climate than other pinot noir wine regions, French pinot noir is delicate and light-bodied. Rather than bold, heavy flavours, you’ll catch the citrusy taste of orange peel and the fruity taste of cherry. You might also notice a smooth and sweet chocolate flavour.

Is Burgundy pinot noir?

No - Burgundy is one of the French pinot noir regions. It’s often thought of as the home of pinot noir because pinot noir is the primary red wine grape grown in Burgundy. 

If you hear someone talking about ‘red Burgundy’ or ‘Bourgogne Rouge’, they’re talking about pinot noir that’s produced in Burgundy. 

French pinot noir wine regions 

The best French pinot noir regions are:

  • Burgundy.
  • Loire Valley.
  • Champagne.
  • Alsace.
  • Languedoc-Roussillon.

Burgundy

The birthplace of pinot noir, Burgundy focuses on 2 main grapes: pinot noir (obviously) and chardonnay. Burgundy winemakers believe that the terroir (fancy way of saying the natural environment where a wine is produced, including things like the soil and climate) is ideally suited to pinot noir grapes, helping to bring out their elegant, aromatic and complex flavours. If you’re into investing, pinot noir from Burgundy can sell for some of the highest prices in the world. 

Tasting notes:

  • Bright red fruit.
  • Dark fruit, including blackberry and cherry.
  • Spices.

Loire Valley

The Loire Valley makes the most of the pinot noir grape. Thanks to its cooler, damp and oceanic climate, pinot noir is often used in blends of pinot noir rosé and sparkling wine. But it’s used for red pinot noir too where it’s known for being light-bodied.

Tasting notes:

  • Dark fruits, especially cherry and blackcurrant.
  • Red fruits, including raspberry.
  • Savoury and earthy.

Champagne

Burgundy might be the most well-known French region for pinot noir, but the Champagne region has the largest production of the grape. That’s because pinot noir grapes are blended with chardonnay and pinot meunier grapes to create champagne and other sparkling wines. In the Champagne region, they’re not used to make red pinot noir.

Tasting notes:

  • Fruity, including peach, cherry and citrus.
  • Cream.
  • Savoury, like almond and toast.

Alsace

Alsace is mainly a white wine region. Pinot noir is the only red grape grown in Alsace - it makes up just 10% of the plantings. However, the pinot noir grape has been planted here since the Middle Ages, thanks to its mild temperatures and plenty of sunshine. 

Tasting notes:

  • Bright red fruit, including cherry, strawberry and raspberry.
  • Light-bodied and rustic.

Languedoc-Roussillon

With its Mediterranean climate and varied terrain, Languedoc-Roussillon is the ideal home for pinot noir grapes. Pinot noir from Languedoc-Roussillon is produced under the IGP (Indication Géographique Protégée) Pays d’Oc appellation. Put simply, Pays d’Oc refers to a geographic wine-making region of France, of which the Languedoc-Roussillon is part, and includes 58 grape varieties winemakers are allowed to grow. Pinot noir is the fourth most grown grape in the region.

Tasting notes:

  • Soft minerality.
  • Ripe red and black fruits.

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