Pinot Noir

After the movie Sideways dramatically increased awareness of Pinot Noir in 2004, sales increased by 30 percent. Boom times continue for the source grape of some of the world’s greatest red wines and finest Champagnes.

Pinot Noir is French for “pine” and “black,” a reference to the tightly clustered, pine-cone shape of the dark-purple grape bunches. Pinot Noir is the principal grape of France’s Burgundy region, where it is made into some of the world’s highest quality wines. The U.S. also is a major producer; best come from the Willamette Valley in Oregon and California’s Sonoma County and Santa Barbara County (where Sideways was filmed, and where San Angelo native Fess Parker has a winery featured in the movie).

Some are surprised Pinot Noir is used to make Champagne, usually blended with Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. All wine grape juice is clear when pressed; wine turns red because of contact with grape skins during fermentation. White wines have little or no skin contact, reds have skin contact.

If you watched Sideways, you know Pinot Noir is famously difficult. Highly reflective of its terroir (place where the vines grow), Pinot Noir grapes from different places can have dramatically different tastes. It also is very sensitive to fermentation methods. Winemaker André Tchelistcheff wryly commented: “God made Cabernet Sauvignon; the devil made Pinot Noir.”

Pinot Noir tends to be light to medium in body, making it an ideal wine for large Thanksgiving and Christmas turkey-based meals.


• Mark West Pinot Noir. Great value from Sonoma. $12

• Fess Parker Pinot Noir. Solid, consistently well made from Santa Barbara; nice long finish. $20

• Bouchaine Carneros Pinot Noir. True berry taste; elegant, balanced; superb finish. $28