Pinot Noir: Satan’s Grape

Written for in September 2016.

The Dean of American winemakers – André Tchelistcheff – once wrote that “God made Cabernet Sauvignon whereas the devil made Pinot Noir”.  Jancis Robinson has volunteered similar sentiments in the 21st century, calling Pinot Noir a “minx of a vine”.  Yet Pinot Noir remains the most popular red grape sold by Pop Up Wine here in Singapore, and the 10th most planted wine varietal on the planet.  What do Tchelistcheff and Robinson mean?

Compared to other varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir is a thin-skinned grape making it more prone to frost, powdery mildew and other vulnerabilities.  It also has a tendency to produce tightly packed clusters of grapes which make it susceptible – via trapped moisture – to several vinicultural hazards such as Grey Rot.  Pinot Noir is a difficult variety to cultivate and transform into fine wine: it requires diligent, expensive, canopy management.


These wine making challenges are one reason Pinot Noir tends to be around ten dollars more expensive, per bottle, than Chardonnay or Shiraz.

In Germany, Pinot Noir is known as Spätburgunder which translates to “late Burgundian” in English, and is a clue to the grapes believed origins in Burgundy, France.

All red Burgundy is made from Pinot Noir: Beaujolais, while geographically part of Burgundy, is normally considered a separate wine region.  Burgundy produces some of the world’s most famous wines, and most of the most expensive.  For example, 1986 Henri Jayer Richebourg Grand Cru currently has an average price of $20,864 per bottle.  Prestigious appellations include Gevery Chambertin, Vougeot, Vosne-Romanée, Nuit-Saint-Georges, Aloxe-Corton, Beaune, Pommard and Mercurey.

“Nothing makes the future look so rosy as to contemplate it through a glass of Chambertin.” Napoleon Bonaparte.

Burgundian Pinot Noir generally has complex fruit and develops forest floor flavours as it ages.

To the north of Burgundy, Pinot Noir is also grown in the Champagne region of northern France where, together with Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier, it is used to make Champagne.

New Zealand is one of the top non-Burgundian sources for Pinot Noir.  Central Otago, Martinborough and Marlborough are all strong regions for the grape, with producers there receiving a great deal of international acclaim.  Central Otago is the world’s most southerly wine region.  It typically produces intensely fruity Pinot Noir.

Pinot Noir’s popularity has increased dramatically since the release of Sideways in 2004, with this superb description of the grape by its protagonist Miles (played by Paul Giamatti) a major reason.  The year the film was made, 70,000 tonnes of Pinot were crushed in California – by 2014 this figure had reached 250,000 tonnes.


Pop Up Wine, Singapore have a wide range of French and New Zealand Pinot Noir available.  And the Australian Giant Steps 2013 “Sexton Vineyard” Pinot Noir, which was the voted “top Pinot Noir” by an ANZA tasting panel earlier this year.

J., 13/9/16


One thought on “Pinot Noir: Satan’s Grape

  1. Great post! I love the quotes from Tchelistcheff and Jancis Robinson as well. I live in Napa Valley and we grow a lot of Pinot grapes here and in neighboring Sonoma County. I was also up in Oregon last week and had some of their pinot (much different from California). You may be interested in our wine county blog:


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