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The complex aromas of a Pinot Noir wine

Complex aromas make a Pinot Noir wine unique. Scientists have identified hundreds of aroma compounds, but not all have an impact. Let's find out.

Published: 27 May 2020, revised August 18, 2021

The aromas of a Pinot Noir wine are complex. Contrarily to other grape varieties like Chardonnay, Pinot noir wines express typical varietal aromas.

My recollection of my Burgundian experience is an explosion of fruity and floral aromas whenever I had the chance to taste a bottle of a famous Cote de Nuits.  

I have often heard grape growers call Pinot Noir the "heartbreaking" variety. 

That's true; it takes a lot of love to grow a Pinot Noir vineyard. 

  • The grape berries have thin skin, making them sensitive to disease. Although primarily grown in cool climate regions, the grapevines don't resist frost well.
  • It takes a lot of care to get a decent crop of fruits at the end of the growing season. 

Nonetheless, grape growers and winemakers love this variety because it produces wines with complex aromas.

New insights on Pinot Noir Aroma.

Researchers from New Zealand and Canada published a research review in May 2020. Their work brings us an in-depth description of the aroma compounds identified in Pinot Noir wines, along with explanations of their origins. 

Over the years, scientists have identified hundreds of aroma compounds in Pinot Noir wine.

However, only a few of them impact the flavor we can experience in the finished wine. We can't detect them because they are present at a concentration too low for being perceived by our olfactory receptors, our smell detectors! 

There are three possible origins of wine aromas; they can come from:

  • The grape variety, extracted from the berry skins.
  • The alcoholic or malolactic fermentation.
  • Bottle aging.


Typical Pinot Noir Wine Aromas from the Grape Variety.

The researchers identified six aroma compounds issued from the grape berries. While I could give you the chemical names, I described them on this table by analogy of products you know.

Typical Pinot Noir Aroma from the Grape Variety

This review confirms the importance of the vineyard's location, impacting the grape flavor and the wine. 

The vineyard site determines the wine appellation in Burgundy. It gives the wine label a village appellation or a prestigious Grand Cru designation. 

The soil, the micro-climate, and the vine exposition condition the Pinot Noir aromatic potential. 
The water status of the vineyards will lead to the production of different aromas

  • "Wines from "low" water status zones were characterized by more intense "black currant,"  "beetroot," and "earthy" aromas plus acidity. 
  • But they were less intense in "floral" and "spicy" aromas, "earthy," "red fruit," and "spicy" flavors."

My viticulture professor at Dijon University taught me that high quality wines are made from stressed vines. I guess it depends on the wine style you like.

Other viticultural practices, such as leaf removal, crop yield restriction, and canopy management, also affect the aroma of the finished Pinot Noir wine.


Typical Pinot Noir Wine Aromas from fermentation.

We learn in this review that the yeast selected to ferment the grape sugar into alcohol can favor the production of certain aromas. Commercial yeast producers  select yeast for this specific ability. 

Typical Pinot Noir Aromas from Fermentation

The impact of malolactic fermentation (MLF) is not clear based on this review. In some studies, the MLF leads to undesirable aromas like "musk" or "undergrowth." Other publications report the enhancement of the fruity aromas after the MLF. 

Similar to alcoholic fermentation, bacteria selection plays a role in the type of aromas produced.  

Typical Pinot Noir Wine Aromas due to Aging.

Typical Pinot Noir Aromas from Aging

 An aged Pinot Noir is delicious, from my Burgundian experience. However, you have to be patient. Most Burgundian wines need ten years of cellaring before they can please our palates.The Pinot Noir wine from New World wine regions, like New Zealand or Oregon, tends to be made for earlier consumption.

===> You can learn more on aromas of aged wines in one of my other articles.Check it out here.


Take-aways and a free guide.

As stated in my introduction, the aromas of Pinot Wine are complex.

That was a lot of information to remember. 

That's why I've created a free resource for you to download. You'll find the aromas reviewed in this article. I added tips to prepare the aromatic references for you to learn and practice. 

Next time you have a glass of Pinot Noir, I want you to feel confident to identify these aromas.

Download the free guide Wine Aromas Essentials | Pinot Noir
Click the image or the link below.

Download my free resource: The Typical Aromas of Pinot Noir Wines 


Rocco Longo, Anna Carew, Samantha Sawyer, Belinda Kemp & Fiona Kerslake (2020): A review on the aroma composition of Vitis.vinifera L. Pinot noir wines: origins and influencing factors, Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition.

Categories: wine aroma, wine style

Isabelle Lesschaeve

Principal, Blog author, and Wine Tasting Coach

Internationally renowned wine sensory scientist, Isabelle demystifies wine tasting and helps serious wine lovers sharpen their tasting skills and tasting notes in a supportive community.

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