Pinot Noir is often hailed for being utterly delicious, but it also happens to be one of the most versatile wine grapes in the world. This single red grape variety can be transformed to create not just red wine, but white, rosé, and sparkling wine as well. How is this possible? It all comes down to the winemaking methods and the production processes that determine this little grape’s fate.
White Pinot Noir
If you were to cut open a Pinot Noir grape, you’d see that the flesh (the pulpy part) is actually a pale greenish yellow color. It’s actually the skins of the grapes that dye the juice a beautiful red hue, so if you want to produce a white wine with red grapes – the skins have got to be removed ASAP. This is the secret to white Pinot Noir (aka “Vin Gris”)
Of course, the red skins of grapes start dying the juice really quickly so winemakers work extra fast, usually opting to harvest on a cool morning and get the grapes to the cellar and pressed as fast as possible. The wine press used to make white Pinot Noir is a special pneumatic press (this style of press is used for white wine making) which crushes the grapes but filters off the skins and seeds. The remaining juice typically has a lovely, deep golden color.
Red Pinot Noir
Red Pinot Noir uses the red winemaking process. Wines become red because the fermenting juice is left in contact with the skins. In the production of red wines, rather than putting the berries through a press to remove the juice from the skins right away, the berries instead are crushed, breaking the skin to release the juice, which is fermented all together. The alcohol then acts as a solvent extracting the darkly colored anthocyan pigments out of the skins, turning the juice red. In addition to color compounds, the wine also gains other flavors and tannins from the skins. Tannins are flavorless, but add to the wine's body in addition to a slight astringent bitterness.
Rosé Pinot Noir
Making Rosé is all about timing. The longer the skins are in the juice, the darker they dye the wine. Rosé wine is a middle ground between white wine and red wine. Made from red grapes, the wine is left to have some contact with the skins so it can absorb a bit of color but the skins are pressed off well before fermentation has completed. Typically, a rosé wine will be left on the skins between a few hours, for a light style with a pale salmon hue, to up to 24 hours, where it develops a richer, strawberry light red tint. The more contact allowed and the darker the wine, the more it will show the characteristics of a red wine in body, flavor as well as tannin structure.
Sparkling Pinot Noir aka Blanc de Noirs
Start with white Pinot Noir and then ferment it again to make blanc de noirs. To make sparkling wine, you essentially take a specially formulated wine (using perfectly underripe grapes that produce more acidity) and ferment it again in bottles so that the carbon dioxide can’t escape and it pressurizes the bottle, carbonating the wine. You can find Blanc de Noirs made all over the world, and almost always, Pinot Noir is the grape used for this wine (the other is a Pinot variant called Pinot Meunier).