Identifying What is Pinot Noir and What is Not

Pinot Noir aromas and flavours

Pinot Noir aromas and flavours (Image courtesy

What flavours and aromas can be attributed to the Pinot Noir grape, what are not?  The next step in the BC Pinot Noir Review is to build a database that contains the aromas and flavours I detected in each wine through the tasting notes, but I need to separate out the aromas and flavours that are not from the Pinot Noir grape.  What kind of aromas and flavours could that be?  The characteristics that come from oak barrel fermentation and/or aging.

Oak and Wine

What aromas and flavours does oak impart?  It depends on where the oak originates, with the two major categories being Europe and the United States, and the level of toast for each barrel.

All barrels are charred (aka toasted) by fire to some degree, to release some of the oils in the oak and impart toasted flavours to a wine.  Snooth wrote a very good article on oak and toast, and provided the following characteristics between American and French oak barrels (to read the full article on oak and toast by Snooth click here).

American Oak Toast Profiles:

  • Light Toast/Medium Toasts = Coconut, Vanilla, Brown Sugar, and Cinnamon
  • Medium +/ Heavy Toasts = Toasted Marshmallow, Caramel, and Cloves bordering on coffee

French Oak Toast Profiles:

  • Light Toast/Medium Toasts = Vanilla, Baking spices, and Cedar
  • Medium +/ Heavy Toasts = Roasted Coffee, Tobacco, Smoke, and Charcoal

I do have these types of aromas and flavours in my tasting notes, so you will not see them in the BC Pinot Noir aroma and flavour database. All we want are the flavours and aromas from the grape

Classic Pinot Noir Aromas and Flavours

Now that we know what to exclude from the BC Pinot Noir database, what are classic aromas and flavours for the Pinot Noir grape?  For Pinot Noir, and wines from all other grapes, there are three types of fruit aroma:

  • Primary aromas that come directly from the characteristics of the grape variety (e.g., strawberries, green apples, black currants, etc.)
  • Secondary aromas that are produced during fermentation, when the sugar is turned into alcohol (e.g., butter, brioche, etc.)
  • Tertiary aromas are produced in reaction with air during ageing (e.g., spices, coffee, leather, hazelnut, vanilla, etc.) (some can be barrel related)

Pinot Noir typically exhibits red fruit characters, such as strawberry and raspberry, but also may show cherries and blackberries. You may also get earthy characteristics such as mushroom, wet leaves, and leather. Warm spice notes such as cinnamon, cloves and tobacco.  A more formalized table of aromas and tastings from is:

Fruit: cherry, strawberry, raspberry, ripe tomato
Floral: rose petal, violet
Spice: sassafras, rosemary, cinnamon, caraway, peppermint
Herbal: rhubarb, beet, oregano, green tomato, green tea, black olive
Terroir:  mushroom, earth, barnyard, truffle, leather, meat

Through the development of the BC Pinot Noir aroma and flavour database, it will be interesting to see which ones do show up more frequently than others, as well as if certain aromas and flavours, such as rose petal show up only with certain soil types, or maybe only in the cooler, regions in BC.  I’m looking forward to finding this out, and hope you are too.  Stay tuned as the database is compiled and further analysis ensues.