Pinot Noir is a wine chameleon—it evolves in response to its surroundings, taking on an entirely new personality in every terroir. This light-bodied red wine variety is extremely sensitive to even the slightest changes in climate, which is why there’s such a notable difference between New-World Pinot Noir and Old-World Pinot Noir. While New-World Pinot Noir is often fruit-forward, heavily oaked, and extracted, Old-World Pinot Noir is generally more delicate, acidic, and earthy. Placed side-by-side, a refined Burgundian wine like 2016 Domaine Trapet Chambertin tastes like a completely different variety than a powerful Californian Pinot Noir like 2010 Peter Michael Pinot Noir Ma Danseuse.
However, you’ll notice more subtle differences as well when you compare New-World Pinot Noir vs. Old-World Pinot Noir. Learning what styles of Pinot Noir are made in each region of the world will expand your understanding of this variety and help you find the perfect bottles for your collection. In this guide, we’ll walk you through the differences between New-World Pinot Noir and Old-World Pinot Noir, including specific regional styles you should know.
Comparing New-World Pinot Noir Vs. Old-World Pinot Noir
The reason that Pinot Noir from the New World tastes so different from Old-World Pinot Noir is that this grape variety is tremendously finicky. It’s native to wine regions with cool temperatures and limestone-rich soils and thrives under these conditions. The limestone in the soil effectively drains excess water when the weather is cool and wet (common in areas where Pinot Noir grows natively, such as Burgundy), preventing the fruit from becoming too diluted. The resulting wine is often high in acidity due to cool temperatures, but still concentrated in flavor due to excellent soil drainage.
Most New-World Pinot Noir producers use cultured yeast, which produces fruity, cleaner-tasting wines.
However, in regions that aren’t naturally as cool as Burgundy (such as California or New Zealand), Pinot Noir takes on a bolder personality. Greater exposure to sunlight in areas with little rain produces a sweeter, rounder, and fuller-bodied Pinot Noir.
Beyond these basic differences, a number of other qualities set New-World wines apart from Old-World wines, including:
- Blends: In the Old World, Pinot Noir is rarely blended with anything else because producers want to preserve the variety’s pure flavors. In the New World, Pinot Noir is occasionally blended with other grapes like Malbec or Syrah to balance out the acidic fruit and give the wines greater concentration. This isn’t always clearly marked on the label—in California, producers can say that wine is Pinot Noir even if it only contains 75 percent of this variety in the blend.
- Color: Old-World wines are generally lighter in color than New-World ones. This is because the wine is naturally less concentrated (although there are many exceptions and Pinot Noir darkens in color as it ages).
- Oak: Old-World producers are conservative with oak aging and these wines spend far less time in oak barrels, on average, than New-World wines. New-World wines tend to be heavily oaked, which gives the wines additional flavors such as vanilla and baking spices.
- Complexity: Old-World producers primarily use natural or wild yeasts, which give the wines earthiness and deeper complexity. By comparison, most New-World Pinot Noir producers use cultured yeast, which produces fruity, cleaner-tasting wines.
- Tannin and acidity: Old-World wines have firmer tannins and taste more tart, particularly in their youth. New-World wines tend to be more approachable within the first few years of release because the tannins are softer and the acidity is lower.
- Alcohol by volume (ABV): Old-World Pinot Noir is generally much lower in alcohol (about 12 to 13 percent ABV) than New-World Pinot Noir (about 13 to 14 percent ABV—sometimes as high as 15 percent).
While the differences listed above are generally true, there are no absolutes when it comes to New World Pinot Noir vs. Old-World Pinot Noir, since every terroir and producer is different. For one thing, the New World covers a massive and diverse global territory, including:
- New Zealand
- South Africa
- And all other regions outside of Europe
Likewise, the Old World refers to every winegrowing region in Europe, particularly Burgundy, Germany, and northern Italy for still Pinot Noir. Because these regions are so diverse, it’s impossible to talk about the differences between New-World Pinot Noir and Old-World Pinot Noir without also discussing the subregional differences within each territory.
The Flavor of Pinot Noir Varies by Subregion
If you’ve ever had a top-quality Oregonian Pinot Noir like 2016 Beaux Frères The Beaux Frères Vineyard Pinot Noir, you’ll know that not all New-World wines are bold and hot. Regions like Oregon’s Willamette Valley and California’s Sonoma Valley are much cooler than many other wine regions in the New World. As a result, the Pinot Noir made in these areas has more in common with Burgundy than it does with Napa Valley Pinot Noir.
Pinot Noir from Burgundy is light-bodied, earthy, acidic, and refined, with brilliant ruby coloration.
To get a better understanding of the differences between New-World Pinot Noir vs. Old-World Pinot Noir, take a look at some of the most notable subregional styles below:
New-World Pinot Noir Subregions
|Region||Tasting Notes||Wines to Try|
|Willamette Valley, Oregon||Light-bodied, bright, acidic, and fruity.|
|Sonoma, California||Medium- to light-bodied, deep in color, and complex, with vanilla flavors.|
|Napa Valley, California||Medium-bodied, powerful, complex, and dark in color with heavy oak flavors.|
|Central Otago, New Zealand||Medium- to full-bodied, very dark in color, with intense flavors of cherry and baking spices.|
|Argentina (areas around Rio Regro)||Medium-bodied, with black cherry flavors and heavy baking spices.||
Old-World Pinot Noir Subregions
|Region||Tasting Notes||Wines to Try|
|Burgundy, France||Light-bodied, earthy, acidic, and refined, with brilliant ruby coloration.|
|Ahr, Germany||Light-bodied and fruity, with flavors of plum and a hint of earthy mushroom.||
|Northern Italy||Light- to medium-bodied, rich, and dark red in color, with complex earthiness.|
Using this chart, you can seek out wines that match your own preferences or you can explore some offerings from regions you’ve never tried before.
How to Choose the Best Pinot Noir for Your Collection
There isn’t just a difference in flavor between New-World Pinot Noir and Old-World Pinot Noir. The aging potential and value of these wines also differs. Grand cru and premier cru wine from Burgundy is the most valuable and age-worthy Pinot Noir in the world. You can keep these wines for 15 to 20 years or more and many are worth thousands of dollars on the secondary market. By comparison, Pinot Noir from Ahr, Germany, and northern Italy are less valuable and age-worthy (the best wines age for ten years or more, but most are meant to be drunk young).
Pinot Noir from Argentina and Central Otago in New Zealand is bold and fruit-forward, so it drinks best when young.
In the New World, Oregon, Sonoma Valley, and Napa Valley make the most collectible and age-worthy Pinot Noir. These wines aren’t as valuable or age-worthy as those from Burgundy, but you can still find wines from top producers that will age beautifully for 15 or more years. Pinot Noir from Argentina and Central Otago in New Zealand are less popular among collectors, as these are still relatively new wine regions. These wines are also bolder and more fruit-forward, so they drink best when they’re young.
If you’re looking to resell your collection for a profit, then focus on top-rated wines from Burgundy, Oregon, and California. If you don’t plan on selling your wine, then it’s worth trying Pinot Noir from Argentina, New Zealand, Germany, and northern Italy as well. It might take a little hunting, but with so many styles of Pinot Noir to choose from, you’ll find the perfect bottle that will make your heart sing.
Whether you are starting your high-end wine collection or adding to an established portfolio, Vinfolio is your partner in buying, selling, and professional storage. Contact us today to get access to the world’s finest wine.