The Perfect Pinot Noir Food Pairing: Choosing the Right Wine Style for Your Meal

Pinot Noir food pairing allows plenty of creativity.

If you’re looking for the perfect Pinot Noir food pairing, consider serving your wine with fresh vegetables or a mild cheese like Brie. Photo Credit: Pexels CC user Garrett Morrow

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Pinot Noir is one of the most versatile wines to pair with food—from fresh spring vegetables to rich paté, you can serve this wine with a huge range of dishes. In fact, when I’m invited to a dinner party or bring my own wine to a restaurant, I very often take along a Pinot Noir, especially if I’m not sure what dish is going to be served. The wine’s perfect balance of bracing acidity, sweet fruit, and complex aromatics make it a joy to drink on its own or paired with nearly any dish.

However, as versatile as Pinot Noir is, you still need to consider your wine’s body and flavor profile if you want to bring out the individual flavors and complexity in the wine. Light-bodied, full-bodied, and aged Pinot Noir each have a different flavor profile and different qualities that the right food pairing can help highlight. By following this guide to the ideal Pinot Noir food pairing for each style of this wine, you can allow every bottle to show its full potential.

Light-Bodied Pinot Noir Food Pairing

If you’re drinking Pinot Noir from cool regions like Alsace or planning to open a young, approachable Burgundy wine, pick lighter dishes to serve with it. While many of these wines are delicious and worth drinking young, pairing them with food can be a challenge, as their delicate flavors and soft tannins are easily overpowered by strong flavors. When I plan to order a glass of Pinot Noir at a restaurant, I generally look for lamb, pork, or mushroom dishes because these complement almost all Pinot Noir styles. However, on a few occasions, the wine I received was lighter-bodied than I expected and didn’t pair well with the dish I ordered. If you’re ordering wine at a restaurant, ask the sommelier or server about the alcohol content in the wine, as this is an indication of body; light-bodied Pinot Noir typically has between 11 and 12.5 percent alcohol, while full-bodied Pinot Noir usually has at least 13.5 percent and sometimes more than 14 percent alcohol by volume.

You’ll want to avoid serving pork or beef with light-bodied Pinot Noir and opt for the more subtle flavors of chicken or rabbit instead.

Here are a few excellent Pinot Noir food pairings for light-bodied styles:

  • Fish and Seafood: Salmon and lobster have a rich flavor but are not too heavy, allowing them to contrast with but not overwhelm delicate Pinot Noir. Moreover, the bright acidity in the wine will enliven and elevate the flavors of fatty fish.
  • Fresh Vegetables: Pairing wine with asparagus, peas, or Brussels sprouts can be a challenge, as these vegetables all have strong flavors. Light-bodied Pinot Noir is one of the few wines that pair well with most vegetable dishes. When paired with naturally sweet vegetables, likes peas or tomatoes, Pinot Noir’s acidity can balance sweetness. On the other hand, if the wine has notes of strawberry or sweet cherry, then it makes a great foil to slightly bitter vegetables like Brussels sprouts or broccoli. Make sure to choose an unoaked Pinot Noir with low tannins, as tannic or oaky wine will taste bitter or metallic when paired with certain vegetables like Brussels sprouts and asparagus.  
  • Charcuterie and Cheese Platters: For parties or tasting events, light Pinot Noir goes well with thin slices of ham and mild cheese, such as goat or feta. If your wine is fruit-forward in style, then you can pair it with a tangier or sharper cheese. If your wine is more acidic and floral, choose a sweet, mild Gouda.
  • Poultry or Rabbit: You’ll want to avoid serving pork or beef with light-bodied Pinot Noir and opt for the more subtle flavors of chicken or rabbit instead. Serving these with cream-based sauces helps to balance out the acidity of a young Pinot Noir and can highlight the wine’s fruit flavors.
  • Paté: A rich paté or terrine can taste too heavy when paired with a very full-bodied red wine. Lighter, younger Pinot Noir vintages will brighten the dense, sweet flavor of paté.

I usually serve light-bodied Pinot Noir when I need to elevate a heavy, rich dish. It’s like adding a spritz of tart lemon juice to a creamy soup. However, you need to be a bit cautious with your food pairings—the dish you serve with a light Pinot Noir shouldn’t be so rich that it overpowers the wine completely.

Full-Bodied Pinot Noir Food Pairing

A few months ago, one of my friends decided to serve a bottle of 2015 Aubert with salmon. He had paired Pinot Noir with salmon many times before and loved how the two complemented each other. However, he didn’t consider that Aubert makes an especially intense, concentrated Pinot Noir. When he served the wine alongside the salmon, it overpowered the fish completely, and in hindsight, he wished he had paired it with his favorite porchetta recipe instead.

The best food pairings for a very bold Pinot Noir are rich meat dishes and creamy cheese, as these can stand up to the wine’s intensity.

Although Pinot Noir naturally pairs well with most foods, either by complementing or contrasting with the dish, you do have to keep the wine’s intensity and tannins in mind when you serve full-bodied styles for dinner or a tasting event. Bold Pinot Noir can be quite tannic, especially if it is age-worthy and still young. Moreover, wines made during years when the weather was hot tend to be fuller bodied and more intensely concentrated in fruit compared to those made in colder years.

The best food pairings for a very bold Pinot Noir are rich meat dishes and creamy cheese, as these can stand up to the wine’s intensity. Here are a few pairing options you might consider for a bolder Pinot Noir:

  • Lamb or Pork: Even the richest Pinot Noir has bright acidity, making it the perfect foil for the richness of lamb or pork. Earthy Pinot Noir wines are excellent with lamb or pork dishes prepared with fresh herbs.
  • Lean Beef: Beef also pairs well with a bright, bold Pinot Noir; however, to make the most out of this pairing, choose lean cuts of meat. Beef with too much fat in it may overpower the subtler flavors of the wine.
  • Poultry: Chicken can easily get overpowered by a big Pinot Noir, which is why it’s best either to cook the poultry in the same wine you plan on serving or accompany it with a rich or creamy sauce that will stand up to the wine. Coq au vin is a great choice, but only if you have more than one bottle of the same wine and feel comfortable cooking with it.
  • Gorgonzola or Brie: A platter with rich, creamy cheeses like Gorgonzola, Camembert, Morbier, or Pont L’Eveque will pair beautifully with Pinot Noir. Avoid serving cheese that is drizzled in honey, as the intense sweetness may make your Pinot Noir taste more bitter or acidic by comparison.
  • Mushrooms or Truffles: Any dish using mushrooms or truffles will pair well with Pinot Noir because these ingredients bring out the earthiness in the wine. Even the most fruit-forward Pinot Noir wines often have some earthy qualities that you may want to highlight.

If you want your wine to be the star of the event, keep all of your dishes as simple as possible. Rustic meals or those cooked using traditional French techniques often pair best with bold Pinot Noir.

Pairing Food with Aged Pinot Noir

You’ve waited almost 20 years to drink a bottle of 2002 Marcassin—but what foods should you pair with it? There’s much more pressure to find the perfect Pinot Noir food pairing when you’re serving an aged wine. You’ll also want to keep in mind that aged Pinot Noir will taste earthier and more complex than young vintages, which will affect which foods pair best with it.

The occasion will also dictate which type of food you should serve with your aged wine.

The ideal pairings for a Pinot Noir that is more than ten years old are gamey poultry or amuse-bouches that are topped with truffle shavings or truffle oil. Game dishes like pheasant or squab are light, yet they also have a greater complexity of flavor than chicken or turkey. Likewise, anything flavored with truffles will bring out the earthy flavors in the wine. However, my personal favorite food to eat with aged Pinot Noir is a soft, mild cheese; the cheese has just enough flavor to excite the palate between sips of wine. The occasion will also dictate which type of food you should serve with your aged wine. If you’re opening the wine for a special anniversary dinner, then gamey poultry is an excellent pairing. Likewise, if you’re bringing the wine to a tasting event or party, then small appetizers or cheese will be most appropriate. And finally, if you want to write accurate tasting notes for the wine, it’s best to serve it on its own, without any food accompaniment.

Finding the Best Pairing for Every Occasion

It’s probably clear that in order to find the perfect Pinot Noir wine and food pairing, you’ll need to know what the wine tastes like. If you don’t, take into consideration the way it’s traditionally made in that region and read critics’ and colleagues’ tasting notes. For example, Oregon Pinot Noir is usually elegant and complex, much like traditional Burgundy; you might seek it out when you’re looking for a wine to complement a complex, earthy dish. By contrast, Pinot Noir from Napa is often sweeter and more fruit-forward, pairing best with acidic foods that balance out some of the wine’s sweetness. While the diversity and variety of Pinot Noir can make it more work to find the ideal food pairing for this wine, it also means it’s possible to find a delicious Pinot Noir wine for almost any occasion and any food.

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