Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir) is one of the oldest grape varieties in the world and is grown in many wine regions around the globe. Pinot Noir makes fascinating wines, usually with delicate yet complex flavours.
In this post, let's explore not only Pinot Nero but also its 'mutant' family (Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio and Pinot Meunier) ... and its 'friends' from all over Italy, like Monica (found in Sardinia); Ruche and Freisa (Piedmont); Franconia and Schiava (Trentino); Terrano (Friuli) ; Gaglioppo (Calabria) and Nerello Mascalese (Sicily).
Create your own personal PINOT Family and Friends wine tasting list by browsing the collection here: https://onceuponavine.sg/collections/pinot-family-and-friends
PINOT NERO (PINOT NOIR):
This famous grape is also called Pinot Noir but for Italians and lovers of Italian wine it’s Pinot Nero. The name refers to its dark colour (Noir/Nero meaning black) and it’s tightly clustered fruit that forms ‘pine-cone’ shapes (from the word for pine trees).
Pinot Nero is a notoriously difficult grape to grow - the thin skins being highly sensitive to harsh winds or frost, as well as rot or other diseases - and can be equally challenging for winemakers in the cellar. Despite this (or perhaps because of this) wines from the Pinot Nero grape can be some of the most awarded and respected; a tribute to the hard work of the farmers and winemakers. Pinot Nero has been called a "minx of a vine" by wine critic Jancis Robinson and pioneering winemaker André Tchelistcheff declared that "God made Cabernet Sauvignon whereas the devil made Pinot Noir”. However, it produces some of the most popular wines and referred to as "sex in a glass" by master sommelier Madeline Triffon.
Similarly to the climate in France’s Burgundy area (the home of Pinot Nero), the Trentino region of Italy offers ideal conditions for Pinot Nero to thrive, with sunny days and cooler nights plus good ventilation from the mountain breezes. Expect a light to medium-bodied, complex wine from Pinot Nero. It’s very common to notice a vegetal (or ‘farmyard’) aroma and look out for different fruit aromas – from strawberry or raspberry to cherry – depending on the vintage. Try a light Pinot Nero wine with roast chicken or fatty fish or for a bolder wine pair with duck and casserole or stewed meats.
The Pinot family....
PINOT BIANCO (PINOT BLANC):
This international grape, called Pinot Blanc in France and many other wine producing countries, is a genetic mutation of the Pinot Nero/Noir variety. It was a parent grape, along with Riesling, in the creation of Manzoni Bianco. It is a popular choice for northern Italian vineyards and in the German-speaking parts of Trentino-South Tyrol it goes by the name Weissburgunder.
The vinification of Pinot Bianco is often similar to Chardonnay and can result in similar wine characteristics. Unsurprisingly it is common to find blends that feature both Pinot Bianco and Chardonnay. Expect a full-bodied white wine with floral aromas and hints of apple or citrus fruit.
PINOT GIRGIO (PINOT GRIS):
Named for its grey colour (or Grigio in Italian) this grape can actually be a range of colours from black to white and is commonly used to create light, stone coloured wines but it’s also popular for crafting orange wines. It’s believed that Pinot Grigio’s origins, again as the name suggests, are linked to the Pinot Noir/Nero grape variety. Pinot Grigio is a popular variety throughout Italy but features prominently in the northeast regions.
The wines from Pinot Grigio are usually dry and light to medium-bodied. Typical fruit flavours include apple, pear and lemon. Pinot Grigio often features a hint of minerality, which is perhaps one reason for the popularity of this grape; Master of Wine Olivier Humbrecht asserts that “good minerality makes one salivate and want to have another sip or glass or bottle”. Pinot Grigio is best consumed young. Light foods such as seafood or chicken are ideal for pairing with this popular wine.
Pinot Meunier is perhaps most famously one of the three main varieties used in the production of Champagne, but it usually took a back seat to the other noble varieties (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay). Recently things are starting to change, as Pinot Meunier is gaining recognition for the body, richness and floral notes that it can contribute to a blend.
Wikipedia explains that "it is a chimeric mutation of Pinot: its inner cell layers are composed of a Pinot genotype which is close to Pinot noir or Pinot gris; the outer, epidermal, layer is however made up of a mutant, distinctive, genotype. ... It gets its name and synonyms (French Meunier and German Muller meaning miller) from flour-like dusty white down on the underside of its leaves."
The Pinot friends....
This rare grape is only found on the island of Sardinia. There has not yet been any definitive conclusion, by ampelographers (people who study grape vines), to determine the relatives of Monica. It shares some similarities with its neighbour vines like Bovale (Graciano) but really it's a wine that has to be tried to be understood ;-) Expect a nose reminiscent of Pinot with raspberry and earthiness; the palate is typically low tannin and med/high acidity, often with notes of stewed fruit and slight tart cherry! Delicious with red pasta.
Little known outside of Italy’s Piedmont, the Ruche grape is a hidden gem. It is a very rare grape and is grown in just a few places - mainly in a limited area around Castagnole Monferrato, north-east of Asti. In fact, Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato remains one of Italy’s lowest production varietal wines. Italian wine critic Luca Maroni has called it “one of the rarest grape[s] in the world”.
Ruche has been likened to Pinot Nero/Noir and its wine can be reminiscent of great Burgundy wines. Specifically, wines from the rare Ruche grape have been described as offering the structure of a Nebbiolo and the texture of Pinot Noir. Expect a light coloured, medium-bodied wine, with a pronounced bouquet and soft tannins. Look for notes of wild berry and some peppery spice on the nose. Pair a Ruche wine with slow-cooked beef, cured or roasted meats and cheese. Ruche can be a great choice for a mixed group, appealing to both serious and casual wine drinkers.
For an exquisite interpretation of the Ruche grape, don’t miss OPERA PRIMA – a very special wine by Piedmont’s award-winning Ferraris estate, created in memory of the current winemaker’s grandfather and the winery’s founder – Martino Ferraris.
This endemic red grape variety is at home in Italy’s north-west region of Piedmont. It can be found in parts of Piedmont’s Turin province, but it’s most widely planted in the Langhe area (famous for producing Barolo and Barbaresco wines) as well as the Monferrato hills, which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in mid-2014.
As with many obscure, endemic varieties, the Freisa grape was almost lost to extinction but a few passionate producers continue to nurture this little known vine!
Freisa grapes typically produce pale red wines. It displays soft floral notes and a velvety palate. It's naturally high acid levels make it a great food pairing option. it also makes it an excellent option for blending with other varieties, especially Barbera and Nebbiolo.
This grape variety is more commonly planted in Germany, under the name Blaufränkisch or sometimes known as Limberger. It is also cultivated in other parts of Europe (in Slovakia as Frankovka, in Hungary as Kékfrankos and Bulgaria in Gamé - but no relation to the similar-sounding Gamay). It thrives in these cooler climates and is well-suited to mountain vineyards. Given this preferred terrain it’s no wonder that it turns up in north Italian wines, especially those from Friuli-Venezia Giulia but also some from the nearby mountainous estates of Trentino-South Tyrol.
Franconia grapes produce lively wines, usually fruity and with a peppery nose. Franconia is popular in blends and depending on the other varieties can work well as a wine to age. As to be expected, it pairs well with Germanic or rustic, mountain fare, such as casseroles and stews.
In German vineyards this red grape is called Trollinger, but in Italy it’s Schiava and often known as Vernatsch – its South Tyrol name and a location where this vine truly thrives. The meaning behind its different names is interesting, with the German-speaking vitners using a Latin word for ‘local’ or ‘little known’ (vernaccia) while the Italian-speaking winemakers taking an old word for ‘slave’ (slav/slavic). However you name it, this is a special grape with incredible potential that’s been largely kept to a small number of north Italy wineries. In the Trentino-South Tyrol region this grape is among the most important red grapes for winemakers, and it's been a popular choice for cross-breeding.
Schiava vines produce pale red grapes that benefit from long sunny days to ripen. As with many delicate vines, this grape’s potential as a wine very much depends on the soil and the climate, which means those passionate winemakers who aspire to present Schiava wine at its best, will often limit production in bad harvest years or skip a vintage if necessary. Schiava wines have been praised by winemakers for their “uncomplicated drinkability” and “eminently quaffable” nature. They are usually dry yet fruity wines and also quite elegant, especially those produced along the Dolomites of Trentino where the sunshine and mountain breeze offers ideal conditions for the grape to flourish. Pair this juicy wine with a risotto or mountain-style meat stew. Try it with a Thai dish, such as green curry or green papaya salad with chilies. Varietal wine from the Schiava grape tends to be light-bodied with soft, smokey notes and hints of strawberry.
This rare red grape has a long history and is referenced in literature as far back as the 14th century. The Terrano grape may have originated in Slovenia and become popular in nearby Croatia, but many years ago it also crossed over into Italy. Today the Terrano grape can be found in estates close to the Slovenian-Italian border, situated in Italy’s Friuli-Venezia Giulia region and specifically in the Carso area. In fact, it is a popular choice for Carso wineries and makes up 70% of the Carso Rosso DOC wine. It can also be found in parts of Emilia-Romagna, where it is known as Cagnina and is usually produced as a sweet wine. Ampelographers (botanists who specialise in the identification and classification of grapevines) speculate that Terrano is part of the Refosco family of grapes, although there is some confusion over this point since many grape varieties have become known by a general family name when really they share a geographical area instead. In this case, the Refosco label has been used to refer to grapes native to parts of west Slovenia, north-west Croatia and north-east Italy. As with so many grape species, exact genetic makeup and family connections are still pending. Terrano prefers to grow in iron-rich soil, giving it a unique character that hints at iron in terms of colour and also flavour, making it ideal for vineyards located in the Friuli/Slovenia/Croatia area.
The colour of Terrano is typically dark, often an inky purple. Look for a brighter purple on the rim. Expect a medium body wine with moderate tannins yet higher acidity. Terrano displays notes of sour cherry, blackberry and cranberry with some smokey aroma too. Pair Terrano with high-acidity food, such as a tomato sauce dish, to balance the naturally sour quality of the wine.
Sicily is home to a few key endemic vines and Nerello Mascalese is a leading grape. This noble variety is sometimes referred to simply as Nerello (unlike Nerello Cappuccio which is usually shortened to Cappuccio). Both the Nerello varieties are thought to share some lineage with Sangiovese. There is also some evidence that Nerello Mascalese may be related to Mantonico Bianco, an ancient Calabrian grape.This may connect it to another Calabrian variety called Gaglioppo. It’s thought that Nerello Mascalese originated near the city of Catania, on Sicily’s east coast overlooking the Ionian Sea. It was named after the Mascali area, close to Catania. Nerello Mascalese thrives on the volcanic slopes of Mount Etna, ripening quite late in the season and producing fruits high in acidity.
Wines from the Nerello Mascalese grape are typically full-bodied and elegant, with a complex structure. Look for summer berry flavours, often strawberry. Nerello Mascalese is used in blends, such as in the Faro DOC wines that combine both Nerellos with Acitana, but it also makes an excellent varietal wine. Nerello Mascalese based wines pair well with mature cheese and meat dishes.
Now to taste?
Start creating your own personal PINOT Family and Friends tasting list here: https://onceuponavine.sg/collections/pinot-family-and-friends or scroll down for some highlights from the collection!
Start off exploring some sparkling wine made from Pinot Nero, or a Pinot blend.
= 100% Pinot Nero (blanc de noirs), Champagne-style sparkling (aka Metodo Classico) from Oltrepo Pavese in Lombardy by historic castle estate, Castello di Cigognola. Fine perlage. Aromas of yeast and wild strawberries. Creamy and lively, with an almost salty note.
= 100% Pinot Meunier, Champagne-style sparkling from Dolomite mountain legends Pojer & Sandri. Crisp, dry and elegant. Notes of red apple, wild berries and a hint of pastry (apple turnovers?).
= Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Champagne-style sparkling (aka ESW, aka English Sparkling Wine) from highly-awarded Sussex estate, Ridgeview. Elegant notes of redcurrant, lavender and brioche. Pair with wild strawberries, bread-based canapes or salmon dishes. Recent tasting notes say "a sophisticated Eton Mess with notes of summer fruit, cream and meringue!"
Move on to some 100% Pinot Nero RED wines.
= 100% Pinot Nero, from Dolomite mountain family winery Pravis. This is a great 'intro' to the way this grape expresses itself in the north of Italy. The mountain climate is perfect for maintaining Pinot's bright acidity as well as red fruit notes. A bright and fruity nose (wild raspberry, strawberry, maraschino cherry and some dark plum) with some brambles and touch of sweet spice.
= 100% Pinot Nero, from Burgundy clones, by Pojer e Sandri (also available as a MAGNUM). Fermentation in wooden vats, then ageing in small oak barrels for a year. Further ageing in the bottle for 12 months before release. A rich and complex nose, with red fruit aromas (raspberries, cherries) and some darker fruit creeping in (blackberry, plum), as well as floral notes (rose hip, dark rose petals), some spicy tobacco, plus a hint of earthy, forest floor. An elegant palate, with bright acidity and soft tannins, ending with a savoury minerality, and a very long finish. Enjoy with dark poultry (duck, pigeon) or just by itself as a beautiful meditation wine. If you crave classy Burgundy without the crazy prices, this is the wine for you!
Now let's explore some more wines from the Pinot FAMILY.
= 100% Pinot Grigio, made as a 'ramato' style (some skin contact) which results in a lovely copper hue and a richer taste than the 'simple' PG wines you may be used to drinking. It's a great pairing for Asian dishes.
= Pinot Bianco and Chardonnay blend. This is one of our all time favourites in our 300+ collection of artisan Italian wines... and we've had the pleasure of tasting it across many vintages (going back to at least 2009). Fermentation and aging in small oak barrels for 6 months in contact with the lees. Further ageing in stainless steel and bottle, for 2 years, before release. On the nose, aromas of ripe, yellow apples, lemon curd, summer flowers, toasted nuts and vanilla. On the palate, a richness and complexity with great structure. Bright and lively, balanced by a round finish. Dangerously quaffable. Sip and enjoy on its own to savour its complexity and charm, or pair with dishes like roast chicken Sunday lunch, grilled fish or a creamy risotto. The flagship white from this cult winery should be on every wine lover's wishlist! It excites every palate, punches above its weight with the classiest of Burgundies, and if you can bear to part with it, an awesome gift bottle!
Finally, let's explore some wines from the Pinot FRIENDS.
= 100% Monica, this wine has bright red fruit notes and a nice structure without feeling 'heavy' so we often recommend this as a 'first red of the night' wine! On the nose - red fruit with a hint of sweet spice. On the palate - dry, soft and balanced. A cheeky little vino, great with sticky BBQ ribs.
= 100% Ruche, this is a perfect starting place to explore this rare grape. It's floral and fruity with a lingering finish. It's also one of my top picks to pair with duck pancakes!! To experience the grape as a richer style of wine, don't miss the chance to taste it's 'big brother' Opera Prima.
= 100% Freisa, this wine has a big hit of strawberry aroma (which gives the grape its name). This version by Barolo producer Brezza is a typical style of Freisa and will suit wine lovers looking for a light to medium red. If you're ready to try something heavier, try a bottle of Arvele by Cascina Gilli (flagship producer for the Freisa grape).
= 100% Franconia (aka Blaufrankisch), by Pravis. This is a refreshing style of red. It's bright and lively with a fruity nose of fresh red cherries, plus a hint of wild blackberry and sweet liquorice; a nice mix of both red and black fruit; forest floor notes like wet leaves and brambles - imagine a forest walk after rain; very quaffable!
= 100% Nerello Mascalese by Pietraolce. This is a perfect place to start exploring the key red grape of Etna. Much like a Pinot Nero, this wine balances red fruit and dark flower notes with a touch of earthiness. Some versions of Nerello Mascalese (like some Pinot) can be more tannic. If you prefer something heavier try the Contrada Santo Spirito or the very special old vine Vigna Barbagalli.
Browse the complete PINOT Family and Friends collection here: https://onceuponavine.sg/collections/pinot-family-and-friends
P.S.: Some winemakers like to recommend a MUSIC PAIRING for their wines ...
Well, as I write this blog post I'm hearing the words "Pinot ... Pinot and friends" to the tune of "Jacob and sons" from 'Joseph and the technicolour dreamcoat'! ;-)
FACTS ABOUT PINOT NERO
Where is Pinot Nero grown?
Pinot Nero is grown in various wine regions, including Burgundy in France, Trentino in Italy, Oregon and California in the United States, and Marlborough in New Zealand. These regions provide the ideal climate and soil conditions for the grapes to thrive.
What are the flavour profiles of Pinot Nero?
Pinot Nero is known for its elegant and nuanced flavours. It often exhibits notes of red fruits such as cherry, raspberry, and strawberry. The wine can also have earthy undertones, with hints of mushroom, forest floor, and truffle.
Why is Pinot Nero considered challenging to grow?
Pinot Noir is considered challenging to grow because it is a delicate grape variety. It requires specific conditions to reach its full potential, including cool climates, well-drained soils, and careful vineyard management. The thin skin of the grapes makes them susceptible to disease and rot.
How does Pinot Nero pair with food?
Pinot Nero is a versatile wine that pairs well with a variety of foods. Its acidity and moderate tannins make it a great match for dishes such as roasted chicken, grilled salmon, and mushroom risotto. It also complements soft and creamy cheeses.
Is Pinot Nero age-worthy?
Pinot Nero can be age-worthy, especially those from top-quality vineyards and vintages. With proper cellaring, many Pinot Nero wines develop more complexity and depth over time.
Done with reading? Time to start drinking?
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