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Pinot Noir Wine Aromas Decrypted

The aromas of a Pinot Noir wine are complex. Contrary to other grape varieties like Chardonnay, Pinot noir wines reveal several varietal aromas.

My recollection - from my Burgundian experience - is an explosion of fruity and floral aromas whenever I had the chance to taste a bottle of a famous Côte de Nuits.  

I have often heard grape growers call Pinot Noir, the "heartbreaking" variety. That's true; it takes a lot of love to grow a Pinot Noir vineyard. The grape berries have thin skin, making them sensitive to disease. Although mostly grown in cool climate regions, the grapevines do not resist well to frost. 

 It takes a lot of care to get a decent crop of fruits at the end of the growing season. Nonetheless, grape growers and winemakers love this variety because it produces wines with complex aromas.

Researchers from Tasmania and Canada published a research review in May 2020. Their work brings us an in-depth description of the aroma compounds identified in Pinot Noir wines, along with explanations of their origins.

Over the years, scientists have identified hundreds of aroma compounds in Pinot Noir wine.

However, only a few compounds impact the flavor we can experience in the finished wine. We can't detect them because they are present at a concentration too low for being perceived by our olfactory receptors, our smell detectors!

There are three possible origins of wine aromas; they can come from:

  • The grape variety, extracted from the berry skins.
  • The alcoholic or malolactic fermentation.
  • Bottle aging.

Typical Pinot Noir Wine Aromas from the Grape Variety

The researchers identified six aroma compounds issued from the grape berries. While I could give you the chemical names, I prefer to describe them in terms of what you may perceive in a Pinot Noir.

In this review, we learn that the vineyard's location has an impact on the grape flavor and, later, the wine. In Burgundy, the vineyard site determines the wine appellation. It gives the wine label a village appellation or a prestigious Grand Cru designation.
The soil, the micro-climate, and the vine exposition condition what the Pinot Noir aromatic potential. 

The water status of the vineyards will lead to the production of different aromas. "Wines from" low "water status zones were characterized by more intense" black currant, "" beetroot, "and" earthy "aromas plus acidity, but less intense" floral "and" spicy "aromas and" earthy, "" red fruit , "and" spicy "flavors."

My viticulture professor at Dijon University taught me that high-quality wines are made from stressed vines. I guess it depends on the wine style you like.

Other viticultural practices, such as leaf removal, crop yield restriction, and canopy management, also affect the aroma of the finished Pinot Noir wine.

Typical Pinot Noir Wine Aromas from fermentation

We learn in this review that the yeast selected to ferment the grape sugar into alcohol may favor the production of certain aromas. Commercial yeast producers do select yeast for this specific ability. 

The impact of malolactic fermentation (MLF) is not clear based on this review. In some studies, the MLF leads to undesirable aromas like "musk" or "undergrowth." Other publications report the enhancement of the fruity aromas after the MLF. 

Similar to the alcoholic fermentation, the bacteria selection plays a role in the type of aromas produced.

Typical Pinot Noir Wine Aromas Due to Aging

An aged Pinot Noir is delicious, from my Burgundian experience. However, you have to be patient. Most Burgundian wines need ten years of cellaring before they can please our palates. The Pinot Noir wine from New World wine regions, like New Zealand or Oregon, tends to be made for earlier consumption.

Take-aways

As stated in my introduction, the Pinot Wine Aromas are complex.

That was a lot of information to remember. That's why I created a free resource for you to download. You will find the aromas reviewed in this article, plus I added tips to prepare the aromatic references needed for you to practice. My goal is for you to feel confident identifying these aromas, next time you have a glass of Pinot Noir.



Literature cited

Rocco Longo, Anna Carew, Samantha Sawyer, Belinda Kemp & Fiona Kerslake (2020): A review on the aroma composition of Vitis vinifera L. Pinot noir wines: origins and influencing factors. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition

Published: 4 June 2020

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