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Pinot Noir Pairings: dos and don'ts

Pinot Noir Pairings: dos and don'ts

If you're looking for what food to pair with a glass of red Pinot Noir, take a look at our ultimate guide. And beware the wrong pairings!

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Could any grape variety of fine wines be as versatile and elegant as Pinot Noir? You would certainly be hard put to find one. But what is the best food to pair with Pinot Noir?

This ancient varietal, originally from Burgundy, is now one of international standing. It can boast more than one thousand cultivars of which the most widely known are Pinot Blanc, Gris, and Meunier. Despite being a red grape variety, in actual fact, the vinification of Pinot Noir goes in three main directions: red wines, Spumante sparkling wines, and Champagne. Here, we shall be discussing its reds.

It is widely grown throughout France, Switzerland, Germany, and Austria – where it is known as "Blauburgunder" - as well as in California and South Africa, Australia, Argentina, and New Zealand. In Italy, when it is used to produce red wines, it is grown in Trentino-Alto Adige, Oltrepò Pavese, Veneto, Friuli, and Tuscany. Pinot Noir is also used to produce one of the world’s most precious wines, Romanée-Conti Grand Cru, on sale at "just" 11,000 dollars a bottle.

Pinot Noir represents the quintessential “fruity” aroma. Scents of raspberry, cherry, blackberry, wild strawberries, and blackcurrants develop in the glass and can even be perceived by the least expert “noses”. Slightly tannic-heavy, yet well orchestrated and lingering are the adjectives which aptly describe its character. In its younger versions, it regales floral nuances of rose and violet, while more mature wines recount refined notes of leather, tobacco, and spices.

The noblest versions have hints of lavender, ginger, pink pepper, jasmine, and mint. It is always possible to distinguish aromatic herbs, scents of olive and fennel, but above all the earthy notes of leaves, coffee and truffle.

Harmonious pairings

  • We can learn from New Zealanders who pair this wine with all sorts of lamb dishes, but especially with the more gourmet interpretations, subtly tasting and rich in the herbs reflected in this wine. A rack of lamb, for instance, flavored with thyme or licorice is an ideal excuse for uncorking a well-structured Pinot Noir.
  • Balsamic vinegar is an ingredient that often reveals a difficult character when in the presence of wine. Fillet of beef or first courses dressed with sauces or reductions containing balsamic vinegar are perfect because the sweet and sour component of the vinegar marries the fruity component of Pinot Noir to add further depth.
  • Pinot is a wine that loves the flavors of the undergrowth, so we can happily pair it with dishes of blueberries, juniper, mushrooms, Jerusalem artichoke, porcini, and truffles.
  • Dishes with citrusy notes. Pinot Noir often regales reminiscences of citrus fruits and orange peel. We can exploit this element to pair it with dishes containing citrus fruit, such as duck à l’orange and fennel, chicken marinated in citrus fruit juice, rabbit in orange sauce.
  • Meats such as pork and most poultry love to pair up with a young and delicately-flavored Pinot Noir with its palate cleansing effect. Perfect with roast chicken.

Contrasting pairings

  • Umami. Recipes involving tea marinades, soy sauce and miso, savory dishes and the earthy flavors to be found in meat broths and soups, miso, consommé, roast meats and so on. Umami mitigates the taste of tannins and enhances sweetness and flavor, so it pairs up very well with tannin-rich wines.
  • Foods that are intricately but not excessively spiced, tending towards piquancy, as in Indian cuisine, which makes use of such ingredients like coriander, ginger, cinnamon, and cumin. These spices can also be identified in the aromas of Pinot Noir. The same applies to the fried foods and lightly spiced dishes of Asian cuisine which team up well with its tannins; the freshness of this wine compensates and helps cleanse the palate when served with Chinese dishes, many of which certainly make an unsparing use of fat while, at the same time, its lean structure does not overpower the hints of ginger, Sichuan pepper, and cloves used to flavor many of these foods.

Wrong pairings

  • Barbecued or grilled foods do not make for an ideal pairing: too many flavors, too many spices. Let’s not put Pinot to task with extreme flavors, such as glazed or smoked meat. It might even stand up to it, but its delicate charm would be overshadowed so, for this purpose, choose a good Cabernet instead.
  • Be aware of bitter-tasting foods which disagree with tannins, such as radicchio, olives or rocket leaves.
  • Like all red wines, Pinot cannot stand excessively sapid ingredients or poorly balanced dishes.
  • The sulfur content in broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage alters the taste of wine and is truly devastating in the case of Pinot Noir.


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