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Teach Yourself

Become a Pinot Noir Expert with These 12 Wines

Our cheat sheet to this iconic grape — across regions and price points

Vicki Denig By April 5, 2022
Pinot Noir grape vines and sign
Pinot Noir grape vines in Gibbston valley in Otago, South Island of New Zealand. Photo by chameleonseye/iStock.

Beloved by collectors, consumers, and industry folk alike, Pinot Noir is one of the most prized grapes in all of viticulture. Planted across the globe, this noble grape is known for producing wines all over the style and profile spectrum, from light-bodied and fruit-forward to medium-bodied and robust — and whether your budget is $20 or $2,000, there’s no doubt that the perfect bottle of Pinot is out there just waiting to be discovered.

The best way to unlock the variety is to try it. Below is a cheat sheet of Pinot Noir, along with a list of 12 bottles that will demonstrate the variety’s flexibility in the glass.

Quick Facts

  • Origin: Burgundy, France.
  • Key regions: Burgundy, California, Oregon, and Otago, New Zealand.
  • Grape characteristics: Thin skins, tight clusters, pine cone-shaped bunches.
  • Acid and tannins: High and low, respectively.

Key Pinot Noir Regions

Although Pinot Noir originated in the French region of Burgundy, where it remains the main red variety today, the grape has also become a key player in a handful of other wine regions around the globe, including but not limited to California, Oregon, and parts of New Zealand, Germany, Canada, and beyond. 

Burgundy

Pinot Noir from Burgundy, its home, produces some of the most coveted — and expensive — wines in the world. Burgundy is deemed the most sought-after region for producing terroir-reflective Pinot Noir in the world. 

California

In terms of quantity, American Pinot Noir is most widely cultivated in the state of California. Here, the grape has found a home both in the North Coast region of Sonoma, as well as in the Central Coast sub-AVAs of Monterey and Santa Barbara

Willamette Valley, Oregon

Oregon’s Willamette Valley has become a home away from home for Pinot Noir. Many Burgundian winemakers have flocked to the region, thanks to its similar latitude, soil types, and climate conditions. Over the past few decades, Pinot Noir has become the state’s signature red grape variety. 

New Zealand

Pinot Noir is cultivated across the Southern Hemisphere countries, including Argentina, Chile, and Australia. However, the grape has arguably found its greatest level of success in New Zealand, where it thrives in the cool-climate, coastal regions of Nelson, Hawke’s Bay, Marlborough, and Central Otago. 

Germany

Known locally as Spätburgunder, Pinot Noir was brought to Germany by the Burgundians in the fourth century. Due to climate change, it is performing outstandingly well, particularly in the Ahr Valley, and becoming increasingly important in Germany. It is well established throughout Germany’s wine regions and does particularly well in Baden, Pfalz, Württemberg, and the Ahr. There is also excellent Spätburgunder to be found in Austria.

Note: Pinot Noir is also a key variety in the sparkling wine-producing region of Champagne. Despite its imperative role within this region, this guide is focused on still, red wine expressions produced from the grape. 

12 bottles to try:

France

bottle of Domaine de Montille Bourgogne Rouge

Domaine de Montille Bourgogne Rouge 2019 (~$39)

Domaine de Montille is spearheaded by the vibrant and dynamic Étienne de Montille, who has been at the helm of the family business since the mid-1990s. Under De Montille’s oversight, all farming was switched to organic and biodynamic early on, making the estate one of the early Burgundian pioneers of these farming styles. The estate’s Bourgogne Rouge is crafted with just as much attention to detail as higher-appellation wines in their line-up. Expect a firm yet fresh expression of Pinot Noir with solid concentration and structure. 

bottle of 2019 Domaine du Pelican Pinot Noir

Domaine du Pélican Jura Pinot Noir 2019 (~$45)

Founded in 2012 by renowned Burgundian vigneron Guillaume d’Angerville, Domaine du Pélican began by vinifying standard Jurassien varieties — Poulsard, Trousseau, Chardonnay, and beyond — then eventually added this varietal Pinot Noir cuvée to the lineup in 2018. Fruit comes from rocky limestone-over-marl soils from vines aged 10 to 45 years. The wine ages in a combination of Burgundian barrels and vats with no new oak, so as to maintain the wine’s energetic and refreshing nature. For Burgundy lovers looking for something new, this wine is a great place to start. 

Germany, Austria, and Italy

bottle of Enderle & Moll - Pinot Noir Basis 2019

Enderle & Moll Basis Baden Pinot Noir 2019 (~$25)

In recent years, Enderle & Moll has made waves across Germany’s Pinot Noir-producing scene — even renowned wine writer Jancis Robinson has deemed them a cult producer. Founded in 2007, this forward-thinking estate has pioneered low-intervention winemaking from its early days. Their vines are some of the oldest planted to Pinot Noir in all of Baden. Farming is done organically and biodynamically, and all work is done by hand. The estate’s signature style focuses on site and vine age rather than ripeness; over the past 15 years, Enderle & Moll has expanded their lineup to include a handful of single-vineyard Pinot Noir bottlings, which are aged in Burgundian barrel — some even sourced from Domaine Dujac — and are bottled unfined and unfiltered. 

bottle of Wieninger Pinot Noir Select

Wieninger Vienna Weinviertel Pinot Noir Select 2017 (~$32)

Situated in the heart of Vienna, Wieninger is a family-owned and -operated estate that focuses on biodiversity, nature, and biodynamic farming. The estate dates back to 1905, and over the past century, has grown to encompass 129 acres across the city region. Their Pinot Noir Select grows in sandy-loam soils, is vinified in steel, and ages for 18 months in French oak prior to being bottled with low levels of sulfur dioxide. Expect a bright and savory wine with defined cool-climate characteristics and well-integrated tannins. 

bottle of Alois Lageder Pinot Noir Alto Adige

Alois Lageder Alto Adige Pinot Noir 2019 (~$21)

Trentino-Alto Adige is one of the most unique wine-producing regions in the world. Although technically Italian, the region shares a border with Austria and Slovenia, rendering it a cultural melting pot for language, food, and wine. Viticulturally, the region’s proximity to the Dolomites creates a distinct mountain influence in wines from the area, and Alois Lageder’s wines are no exception. The Lageder family has been cultivating vines in Alto Adige for over 150 years. Now spearheaded by Alois, the estate spans 457 acres of organic, biodynamic, and sustainably-farmed fruit. This herbaceous, acid-laden wine is a perfect gateway to the region’s unique and remarkable style of wines. 

United States

bottle of Hirsch 'Bohan-Dillon' Pinot Noir 2019

Hirsch Vineyards Bohan-Dillon Sonoma Pinot Noir 2019 (~$37)

Dave Hirsch is one of the great pioneers of Sonoma viticulture. An early adopter of California Pinot Noir, he planted numerous vineyards across the marine-influenced sites of the Golden State’s coast. Bohan-Dillon is his homage to the exceptional village-level wines of France. This cuvée is made mostly with Hirsch fruit, with a smattering of grapes coming from the nearby Hellenthal Vineyard. Expect a wine with bright acid, soft tannins, and immediate drinkability, yet also the capacity to age — that is, if you have the patience. 

bottle of Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir 2020

Au Bon Climat Santa Barbara Pinot Noir 2020 (~$18)

Pioneered by the late Jim Clendenen, Au Bon Climat has been producing Pinot Noir in Santa Barbara County since 1982, long before the grape was deemed fashionable in the Golden State. Contrary to the ripe and fleshy style that took hold during the decades to come, Clendenen remained focused on crafting refreshing, acid-driven wines with restrained levels of alcohol, and this entry-level Pinot Noir is no exception. Today, the wine remains one of the greatest California Pinot Noir values on the market. 

bottle of Cooper Mountain Pinot Noir 2018

Cooper Mountain Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2018 (~$24)

Although Willamette Valley Pinot Noirs are slowly but surely beginning to climb in price, Cooper Mountain wines remain quality-focused and budget-friendly without ever sacrificing quality. The estate has been certified organic since the 1990s, and today, also farms biodynamically. Now under the oversight of the dynamic Barbara Gross, the wines are reaching even new levels of excellence. Expect an earthy, fruit-driven wine marked by pleasant acidity and a long, lingering finish. 

bottle of Dr. Konstantin Frank Old Vines Pinot Noir

Dr. Konstantin Frank Old Vines Finger Lakes Pinot Noir 2019 (~$19)

Dr. Konstantin Frank is credited with making the Finger Lakes wine region what it is today. After receiving his Ph.D. in viticulture in Ukraine, Frank moved from eastern Europe to upstate New York during the mid-20th century. Since his early days, Frank believed in the region’s potential for crafting high-quality wines from Vitis vinifera — and today, the wines are better than ever. The estate’s Old Vines Pinot Noir comes from vines planted in 1958, making them the second oldest plantings dedicated to the variety in America. Drinking this wine is like savoring a piece of American viticultural history. 

Australia, Argentina, and New Zealand

bottle of Millton - La Cote Pinot Noir 2018

Millton Vineyards La Cote Gisborne Pinot Noir 2018 (~$33)

Founded by James and Annie Millton in 1984, Millton Vineyards’ wines have become some of the most beloved and respected bottles by industry and consumers alike. After working winery stints abroad, the pair returned to their native New Zealand and replanted a handful of their family’s vineyards to create their eponymous domaine. In 2009, Millton Vineyards became the first winery in the Southern Hemisphere to receive biodynamic certification through Demeter. Today, the estate remains a benchmark winery for Pinot growers, New Zealand wineries, and Southern Hemisphere-based estates everywhere. Expect a refreshing, fruit-driven wine with firm tannins and supple structure.

bottle of Moorooduc - Estate Pinot Noir 2018

Moorooduc Estate Mornington Peninsula Pinot Noir 2018 (~$32)

Based in the cool-climate area of Mornington Peninsula in the Australian state of Victoria, Moorooduc is a family estate located just one and a half hours south of the city of Melbourne. The family planted their first Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vines back in 1983, and today, produce all of their wines from these same organically-farmed, dry-farmed sites. Their estate Pinot Noir is medium-bodied, fresh, and shows a completely distinct flavor profile — not quite Old World reminiscent, yet not at all stereotypical New World. For a happy medium between the two extremes, look no further than this bottle. 

bottle of Bodega Chacra "Barda" Pinot Noir

Chacra Barda Patagonia Pinot Noir 2020 (~$24)

Chacra is the passion project of Piero Incisa della Rocchetta of the famed Super Tuscan estate, Sassicaia, in Italy. After falling in love with the region’s unique topography, Rocchetta founded Chacra in Patagonia’s Rio Negro Valley back in 2004. Most of the estate’s vines are very old, with some planted nearly a full century ago. Today, all farming is done organically and biodynamically. Barda is a single-vineyard wine that transmits this unique area of the world from grape to glass, thanks to its responsible farming and meticulous vinification techniques. Added bonus, the wines are also made in conjunction with famed Burgundian vigneron Jean-Marc Roulot.