Is Pinot Noir Red or White? The Definitive Answer (Finally)

Aug 24, 2022
Is Pinot Noir Red or White? The Definitive Answer (Finally)
Sarah Idle
Sarah Idle
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Ah, the eternal question: is pinot noir red or white? Although the answer is both, arm yourself with far more impressive stuff than that, including pinot noir grape facts and the difference between red and white pinot noir.

Whether it’s a pub quiz or someone’s annoying partner trying to impress, resign yourself to the fact that the question ‘is pinot noir a red or white wine?’ will come up at some point in your life. Now, if you instantly think ‘it's red of course’ - hard same. 

But, spoiler alert, we'd both be wrong. Read on to find out everything you need to know about pinot noir, including white pinot noir, and then wipe the floor with your next pub quiz opponents.

Is pinot noir red or white?

The answer to the question is pinot noir a red or white wine is… it’s both!

The longer answer is that the pinot noir grape is really versatile. Because they’re quite translucent (they retain a lot of water while they’re on the vine), pinot noir grapes can be used to make both red and white wines. 

What is pinot noir?

Pinot noir is a grape and also a type of wine that’s made entirely from those grapes. The words pinot noir are French, with pinot meaning ‘pine’ (for the pine cone-shaped clusters the grapes grow in) and noir meaning ‘black’ (for their dark hue). Pinot noir grapes are one of France’s oldest grapes. They can trace their heritage back to monks in Burgundy over 100 years ago. 

How’s this for versatility: pinot noir grapes are used to make 4 types of single varietal wine. This is a fancy way of saying the wine is 100% pinot noir grapes. The 4 types are:

Which means the real question isn’t ‘is pinot noir red or white wine’, but ‘is pinot noir red, rosé, white or sparkling wine’? And the real answer is: it’s all! 

That’s not the end of pinot noir’s versatility though, here’s a good fact for your next dinner date: pinot noir is 1 of the 3 official grapes of champagne. (The other 2 grapes are chardonnay and pinot meunier.) 

3 things to know about pinot noir grapes

To really impress your friends / family / person you’re trying to date / annoying colleague, you need to go beyond the basics of ‘is pinot noir white or red’. That’s where these 3 facts come in.

  1. Pinot noir grapes are really fussy

They don’t grow everywhere. In fact, they only grow in a small range of ideal temperatures and conditions and they’re notoriously temperamental and difficult to cultivate. Pinot noir thrives best in chalky soil or clay and in dry climates with cool nights and warm days. Top pinot noir producing countries are France, Germany, Austria, Italy, the USA (California especially), Australia, Chile, New Zealand, and South Africa. 

  1. Pinot noir grapes grow really fast

They have a short growing season of around 100 days. Other grapes take up to 8 months to grow. 

  1. Pinot noir grapes are really delicate

Pinot noir grapes are thin-skinned and more susceptible to disease than other grapes - they’re especially vulnerable to rot and fungus. 

About red pinot noir

Pinot noir is one of the world’s most popular red wines. This might be because it has less tannins than other red wines, so it tastes complex and fresh straight from the bottle. It’s interesting that it has such universal appeal though, because its flavour depends on where the grapes are grown and their growing conditions.

Californian pinot noir contains notes of sweet black cherries, vanilla and clove. Yet French pinot noir tastes earthier, with more notes of mushroom and the forest floor. 

Tasting notes:

  • Fruity - strawberry, cherry, raspberry, and blackberry.
  • Earthy - mushroom and leather.
  • Spicy - cinnamon, cloves and tobacco. 

About white pinot noir

If you’re wondering what the difference between pinot noir wine red or white is, let’s start with how they’re made. 

The red winemaking process includes a skin contact stage (or fancy word: maceration). This is when the grape skins are steeped in the fermented grape juice, so colour and tannins are extracted from the skins. The longer the red wine sits in this skin contact stage, the darker it is. But skip this stage and just press and ferment the juice of pinot noir grapes and you get much clearer juice - or white pinot noir. 

The second difference is that white pinot noir is much rarer than red pinot noir. Not much of it is made.

Tasting notes:

  • Fruity - lemon, orange, apple, pear, peaches and red berries.
  • Sweet yet spicy - honey and ginger. 

When it comes to whether pinot noir white or red is tastier, compared to red pinot noir, white pinot noir doesn’t taste very full-bodied. But it’s heavier and richer than other white wines, especially sauvignon blanc or pinot gris. Where red pinot noir generally tastes more like berries, white pinot noir has a more fruity (especially apple, pears, lemon and lime) taste.

related reading

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

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