Okay…seems like an oxy-moron for a title, right? After all, Burgundy — at least red Burgundy — is made from Pinot Noir.
So what’s up?
Well, after drinking a 15 year old Premier Cru Burgundy with Easter dinner this past week (the ’99 Maranges ‘Clos Roussot ‘ by Doudet-Naudin), it left me wondering about the relationship between the grape and how it expresses itself.
I admit to not drinking a lot of Burgundy. It is expensive – sometimes frighteningly so – and can be extremely variable in quality. I have had a few great ones over my wine lifetime (the memories of an ’83 Echezeaux and ’83 Clos de la Roche still bring tears to my eyes), but also more than a few disappointments.
The flavours are also not always in my style. Earth, herbs and mushrooms often dominate the dark cherries, and cedar/oak can sneak in, along with strong tannins when the wines are young. If and when the tannins resolve and everything comes together, Burgundy can be amazing (as in the above wines), but it can also taste dried out to me.
Before I go further, I should say I enjoyed the Maranges! While still tannic and not on the fruit-forward side, it was complex and in amazing shape for 15 years old. It also went extremely well with the prosciutto, goat cheese and pesto stuffed leg of lamb I prepared!
But I couldn’t help compare it in my mind to the new world Pinot Noirs from California, Oregon and here in BC. Ripe red and black cherry fruit can explode out of the glass, along with tantalizing vanilla overtones (can you tell I like it?). True, some can be almost too ripe, taking on an almost candied taste. But the best – like Kettle Valley’s Hayman Vineyard and Blue Mountain’s Reserve – add in enough earthy/herbal and even mushroom flavours to make them very complex, particularly after 5 – 8 years.
I bet if you served a good Burgundy blind next to one of these wines, the average wine drinker would think they are made from completely different grapes.
I’m not saying one is better than the other (although my guess is more people would pick the new world version).
The point is how different they taste and what that means for what people expect when they buy ‘Pinot Noir’.
The wineries in Burgundy have been making that style for over a thousand years and — after Bordeaux – it might be the wine world’s most respected wine. So I am definitely not saying they should change!
But what does that mean for modern consumers, most of whom will never be able to taste the best wines from Burgundy, and instead may judge them based on average –or less than average — versions?
In their minds, I think the definition of ‘Pinot Noir’ will be what comes out of the new world. And that may have interesting consequences – including for Burgundy producers – should they then proceed to Burgundy in the future