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All about Pinot Noir

All about Pinot Noir

It’s complex, captivating and temperamental, but Pinot Noir is arguably the world’s most popular light-bodied red wine.

By Fresh Living

Introducing a classic

As the days become shorter and the night air starts to carry a slight nip, it makes sense to transition from a crisp, chilled Chardonnay to a warm, welcoming Pinot Noir. The name Pinot Noir is derived from the French words meaning ‘pine’ and ‘black’ – a reference to the pine-cone shape of the bunches and their berry colour. The grape has been referred to as the ‘heartbreak grape’ because it can produce both the most delectable and the most disappointing wines. While still red wine is the classic version, Pinot Noir rosé and Pinot Noir sparkling wine demonstrates the versatility of this noble grape.

Adding a Pinot Noir to your table demonstrates a commitment to elegance, quality and style.

Origin story

France’s Burgundy region is home to the best Pinot Noirs, but South Africa’s finest is produced in the cooler-climate regions on the Cape South Coast, as well as Stellenbosch, Robertson and Paarl in the Western Cape. Growing this varietal is extremely challenging since the skin of the grape is very thin and the grapes are tightly clustered, making it susceptible to temperature fluctuations, as well as sunburn, rot, fungus and mildew.

While the first Pinot Noir was produced by the Muratie Wine Estate in Stellenbosch, this spirited red wine only came into its own when Tim Hamilton Russell from Hamilton Russell Vineyards in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley had a vision that would elevate the wine and give it a modern definition of success.

Flavour profile

Loaded with red fruits like raspberries, cherries, plums and cranberries, it’s a fruit-forward wine. There are distinct earthy flavours inspired by wild mushrooms and truffles, and exotic spices like cloves and allspice, which contribute to the large bouquet of aromas. In some varieties, notes of hibiscus and rose petal add to the subtle perfume, and if the wine has been aged in French oak barrels, expect a slightly smoky flavour.

Taste profile

There are a number of factors that influence the taste of this wine. Cooler climes produce a lighter wine, while growing this varietal in warmer regions creates a deep, full-bodied wine. It’s medium-dry with a bright acidity, so drinkers can expect the tannin level to be lower than a bold Cabernet Sauvignon. The juicy red fruits add levels of flavour instead of sweetness, and since most of the sugar is converted into alcohol, you can expect the ABV to fall in the 12–15% range. The wine is heavily influenced by the terroir, which refers to not just the soil, but also the vineyard aspect (which direction it faces) and altitude. A notable quality is the long, smooth finish, which leaves a lingering impression sip after sip after sip.

Food pairing

The general rule of thumb when choosing a wine to accompany a meal is to pair similar flavours, for example a juicy red steak with a full-bodied red wine, or a light summer salad with crisp Sauvignon Blanc. Pinot Noir is elegant, fruity and bright, so its perfect match is light red meat such as duck, lamb or ostrich. Dishes with a mushroom and herby base like risotto or pasta are elevated by the Pinot’s inherent earthy flavours.

Buy like a pro

Use this easy ‘vine’ guide to purchasing your next bottle of Pinot Noir.


The beauty of this wine is that it isn’t limited to meat dishes. Pinot Noir pairs well with salmon and other fatty fish, as well as venison and gamey poultry.


Small production quantities and growing challenges contribute to the slightly higher price tag, but it’s worth the outlay.

New World Red

Produced outside the traditional ‘Old World’ wine-producing countries – like France, Italy, Germany and Spain – this wine is at the forefront of contemporary winemaking.


Adding a Pinot Noir to your table demonstrates a commitment to elegance, quality and style.