Why do so many grapes have Pinot in their names?

By / Magazine / July 11th, 2018 / 6
… And if I like one Pinot, will I like them all?

Not to get all X-Men on ya, but … they’re all mutants and Pinot is the Wolverine of the bunch. You see, the vine has been around for centuries, and over time hundreds of variations have sprung up in the wine world. Each has exchanged a piece of the original DNA as an identifier that has manipulated its personality (best reflected in each grape’s hue) into something different.

Does that mean you’ll dig them all? Ah, maybe. Though they all may share the same DNA profile, Pinot grapes come in a wide variety of colours and flavours. It’d be like assuming that if you’re into Johnny Cash, you’re going get your groove on listening to the stylings of Johnny Rotten. But I digress.

Let’s start with a round of definition. In French, Pinot translates to pine. As they hang, the grapes cluster together with a tubby top and taper their way down to a slimmer bottom. Visually they resemble, you guessed it, a pinecone. It’s the one trait all the variations share.

The Noir sport (a fancy term for mutation) is arguably the most revered of the Pinot family (on the red side at least). Its celebrity status, however, doesn’t mean it got the berry rolling by giving birth to all the rest. When it comes to Pinot’s precise origins, the only thing scientists can agree on is that pinecone-like cluster thing. What it may lack in lineage placement, Noir more than makes up for in attitude. It’s not just the pickiest Pinot, when it comes to taking root it’s one of the finickiest grapes growing.

While nowhere near as well-known as Noir, Pinot Meunier gets to share the spotlight in France’s Champagne where they both help make much of the region’s best bubblies. Meunier does get its name on some labels, especially in some New World countries who’ve recently discovered its solo charms.

On the white side, Grigio is hands down the most popular Pinot. Having rocketed to fame out of Italy’s Veneto region at the twilight of the last century, Grigio is now grown just about everywhere, including France and New Zealand where it goes by Gris (which refers to its grey colour).

Out on the Pinot fringes is Blanc. Once more common, its current strongholds are northern France, Italy, Germany, Canada and a few countries in Eastern Europe. Give one a try, give all the mutations a try. If you like one, don’t stay mute — tell your friends.


Fresh, funny and down-to-earth, Peter Rockwell is the everyman's wine writer. Born in Halifax, Nova Scotia he's worked in the liquor industry for over 30 years and has written about wine, spirits & beer since graduating from the School of Journalism at the University of King's College in 1986. His reviews and feature articles have been published in Tidings, Vines, Occasions, Where and on Alliant.net to name a few; he has been a weekly on-air wine feature columnist for both CBC-TV and Global Television and his wine column 'Liquid Assets' appeared weekly in two of Nova Scotia's daily newspapers, 'The Halifax Daily News' and 'The Cape Breton Post.' Today Peter's irreverent answer man column 'Bon Vivant' appears each month in Tidings Magazine and his weekly 'Liquid Assets' column is published across Canada in editions of the METRO newspaper. When not drinking at home, and at work, Peter travels the globe looking for something to fill his glass and put into words.

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