Having just spent time in Burgundy, France, sampling some of their superb pinot noir offerings, I decided to find out more about one of the “parents” of our very own pinotage. And then I discovered this interesting article on pinot.
Pinot is a little bit misunderstood. Recent findings have shown that all Pinot varieties are not just related but are, in fact, the same! Time to get to the bottom of the story of Pinot, an ancient grape that has boggled us for centuries.
As it happens, Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris are not just related, they are the same. Each variety can be grouped under an overarching variety simply called ‘Pinot’ with each variation being mainly identified by their color.
If you’ve seen the recent book, Wine Grapes, perhaps you’ve stumbled across the Pinot pages. The book cites DNA testing on grapes to confirm that Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc are actually all just mutations of the same variety. Ampelography (studying grape vines) has shown that there are six primary clonal variations:
The reason for all this variation is because Pinot is super old, over 1000 years old. And while it seems odd that Pinot Noir is such a mutant grape, it’s been shown that over a long period of time these things just happen. In fact, if you look at other really old grape varieties, such as Muscat Blanc (a.k.a. Moscato), you’ll find that it has a lot of variation too. For example, there is a red Muscat grape!
Mutations and crossings with other grapes aren’t a bad thing, in fact this is what brought us Cabernet Sauvignon (and pinotage), which is a natural crossing of Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc that happened in the 1700s.
FACT: There are over 1,000 registered clones of Pinot.
The great obsession with Pinot Noir was first documented in the 1300s as a side note to people’s general distaste for the other grape varieties growing in the Burgundy wine region of France. At the time, vineyards were grown in Clos which are walled vineyards. It has been suggested that Clos were erected to control disease and isolate vines. This theory makes sense because it was during the height of the black plague that walled monasteries and Clos were being created.
One of the earliest mentions of Pinot Noir was a complaint about a harvest worker who failed to separate the Pinot Noir grapes from the other wine grapes during the harvest. Most likely, the worker was beaten on the back for this offense, the standard punishment of the era.
We talk a lot about clonal selection when it comes to Pinot Noir. This is because winemakers have come to realize that the different clones result in both different quality levels and tastes in wine. Some clones of Pinot Noir make bold and robust wines while others are pale-colored but offer the most amazing floral aromas. There are over 40 different clones of Pinot Noir documented in the Catalogue of Grapevine Varieties and Clones, and about 15 of these clones are popular throughout the world because of their quality.
Popular Pinot Noir Clones
To give you a snapshot of a few of the popular clones, here are some great descriptions created by Melville Vineyards in Sta. Rita Hills:
FACT: Clonal diversity is better. Top Pinot Noir producers in Burgundy believe that a blend of several clones is better, not only for making great wine, but also for preserving diversity in the vineyard.
A pink-skinned grape that has such a large range of potential flavors that it’s notoriously one of the hardest wines to “blind” taste in sommelier exams. Pinot Gris has a much harder-to-track history because it had so many names over the last millennium. What we do know about it is that the Pinot Gris berries range quite a bit in color, from a pale pinkish to a deep purple, similar to Pinot Noir.
Since Pinot Gris is made like white wine, it has long been known as a white wine. However, if you were to leave the skins on during the fermentation for a while, you’d end up with a true rosé wine
Pinot Gris has great potential in the modern wine world because it can be crafted into a wide diversity of styles.
Three Main Styles of Pinot Gris
The least talked about variety of the top three mutations of Pinot is Pinot Blanc. Pinot Blanc is perhaps the wine that we imagine great Pinot Grigio to be: light, fruity and with lots of mouth quenching acidity. Despite the potential in this fine wine, it’s still not very popular. Fortunately, for the time being, this also means that Pinot Blanc offers some of the most exceptional value of all the Pinots. You can find this wine mostly in Italy, Germany, Austria and France.
(Source: Wine Folly)