Thursday, June 26, 2008

Red Burgundy = Pinot Noir

Coat of arms of the second Duchy of Burgundy and later of the French province of Burgundy
I have been writing about food so much that I almost forgot that this blog started out being more focused on wine. This past Sunday the Confrérie des Vignerons de Saint-Vincent de Mâcon (formal wine group to which I belong) held their June event at Burdigala in the Sellwood neighborhood in Portland. Tastings in this group are set up around a theme and this month it was Red Burgundy. Actually to get specific it was old, really good, Red Burgundy.
In Layman's terms Red Burgundy = Pinot Noir grown in the Burgundy region of France. The French City of Beaune is to Pinot Noir what the Vatican is to Catholicism. I will confess that even with what I consider to be a broad wine knowledge my understanding of the Burgundy region of France is sketchy at best. For more than 10 centuries the Burgundy region was under the powerful control of Benedictine and Cistercian monks. Through painstaking labor they cleared and planted much of the exceptional vineyard sites that today produce some of the most primal and haunting wines in the world. The monks kept meticulous records and made notes regarding soil type, sun exposure, what grapes produced well under what conditions. My own theory is that since these guys were literate (not that common in the middle ages) and they weren't getting laid, they had a lot of energy to channel. Ultimately, their pain has been our gain.
After the French Revolution, much of the church holdings were sold to private parties

The bitch of these wines is that Pinot Noir is a harsh mistress. While she can deliver a wine you will never forget,
she is notorious for being inconsistent from vintage to vintage and even from bottle to bottle. Many wine experts (lets use the lay term "geeks") will tell you that much time and money has been wasted on chasing this wine "Holy Grail". Producers are generally the best indicator or quality as is the vintage. Do however keep in mind that a spectacular, mind blowing wine one night may turn into something weak and insipid if you opened it the next night.
Pinot Noir is a fast ripening grape that need cooler weather to ripen slowly. When Pinot Noir has a long growing season this grape when vinified will express the place it comes from almost better than any other grape (German Riesling is in the same small ballpark).
Okay, enough of the cork-dork talk, lets get to some wine tasting (ahem,drinking) notes and a brief explanation about quality levels of Burgundy wine.

At the bottom of the pyramid is
Bourgogne Rouge (Pinot Noir) and Blanc (Chardonnay). Bourgogne Rouge & Blanc account for approximately 52% of the wine produced in Burgundy. Next are the Village Wines which are a step up in quality and account for 35% of the wine produced in Burgundy. The grapes for these Village wines come from a smaller, more well-defined place. The names of the village-Beaune, Pommard, Meursault, Chambolle-Musigny, etc. will appear on the label.
The next designation is
Premier Cru, these wines make up about 11 % of the total production in Burgundy. These wines are all what is called single vineyard wines. The specific vineyard name will appear on the label after the village name. An example would be Beaune (the village) Clos de la Mousse (the vineyard).
At the top of the pyramid is the
Grand Cru designation. These wines are also single vineyard wines and the vineyard sites are so famous that some villages have actually hyphenated their name to include the vineyard. Chambolle-Musigny used to be called just Chambolle until the name was appended to add the name of its most famous vineyard. These wines are made in tiny quantities (think $$$) and the total production of Grand Cru wines make up about 2% of the wines produced in Burgundy. There are only 33 Grand Cru vineyards in Burgundy and the wines that come from these sites can fetch thousands of dollars per bottle.

We tasted 9 wines and the line up included:

2003 Mercurery, Domaine del la Croix Jacquelet, Faively (Village Wine)
Tart Cherry fruit with tart acidity. The mid-palate was balanced and this had a nice finish.
Even though this was a village wine this was the most expensive bottle we tasted.

2003 Savigny Les Beaune narbantons, Mongeard Mugneret (Premier Cru)
Toasty, almost burnt sugar (think creme brulee') nose, concentrated fruit that was very well balanced. This bottle was also slightly corked-f***.

2003 Nuit St. Georges Clos du Marechale Faiveley (Premier Cru)
Floral nose with mouth coating beefy tannins. This wine would go well with a rare steak.

1990 Beaune Clos du Roi, tollot-Beaut (Premier Cru)
Toasty floral nose with smokey sweet fruit and a tart almost citrus marmalade quality. This was my favorite wine of the night.

1986 Vosne Ronamee Les Chaumes, Daniel Rion (Premier Cru)
Barnyard nose with some toasty character. The acidity was at the tipping point and the wine was showing almost all mineral and no fruit. Another note I had was that this wine had almost a whiff of Durian (since I had an opportunity to actually eat one the previous evening)...sweetish, barnyardish essence.
Yeah, this is a crappy picture, but we were literally tasting in a basement with candles for lighting.
The second flight were consisted of four Grand Cru wines. Quick note, the name of the producer is shown after the name of the wine (village/vineyard/producer). As noted above the Grand Cru wines are difficult to come by and you probably don't want to crack these out if you friends are going to add 7-up to make a wine spritzer.

2001 Charmes Chambertin, Mommessin
Feminine nose with a very rich cherry fruit component. Silky finish.

1998 Pommard les Vignots, Leroy
Perfume nose, sweet fruit, good balance and a nice finish.

1997 Latricieres Chambertin, Faiveley
Sweet fruit and perfume on the nose, nice balance and a nice finish.

1997 Mazis Chambertin, Pilippe Naddef
Earth and game on the nose. Tart fruit and good mouthcoating tannins. Long finish. This one needs to see some bottle time in a cool, dark place.


Heather said...

Oh, how I wish I had room in my brain for these things. The food just takes up too much space! :P

I like seeing the wine stuff here, Norm. You have a gift.

Norm Schoen said...

You have too little faith. Your palate is way more well developed than you realize. I will invite you (and Scott) to one of these tastings soon.
: )

Janet said...

Thanks for the wine experience, Norm, though I would much rather have tasted them then read about them. ;-)

I heard about durians on a trip to Thailand. And though I never tried them, I was led to believe that while they smell disgusting (in fact, they were banned from being eaten in certain places), they taste divine.

Anonymous said...

Burgundy Wine“The wines from Bourgogne boast a longer history than any others.”
Here are some key dates in the long winegrowing history of Bourgogne, listed in chronological order.

312: Eumenes’ Discourses: oldest known documented reference.
1115: Clos de Vougeot Château built by monks from Cîteaux.
August 6, 1395: Duke Philip the Bold (1342-1404) publishes ordinance governing wine quality in Bourgogne.
1416: Edict of King Charles VI setting the boundaries of Bourgogne as a wine producing area (from Sens to Mâcon).
November 11, 1719: Creation of the oldest mutual assistance organisation, the "Société de Saint Vincent" in Volnay.
1720: Champy, Bourgogne's oldest merchant company was founded in Beaune and is still in business today.
1728: The first book devoted to the wines from Bourgogne, written by Father Claude Arnoux, is published in London.
July 18, 1760: Prince Conti (1717-1776) acquires the "Domaine de La Romanée", which now bears his name.
1789: French Revolution. Church-owned vineyards confiscated and auctioned off as national property.
October 17, 1847: King Louis-Philippe grants the village of Gevrey the right to add its name to its most famous cru – Chambertin. Other villages were quick to follow suit.
1851: First auction of wines grown on the Hospices de Beaune estate.
1861: First classification of wines (of the Côte d'Or) by Beaune's Agricultural Committee.
June 15, 1875: Phylloxera first detected in Bourgogne (at Mancey, Saône-et-Loire).
1900: Creation of the Beaune Oenological Station. April 30, 1923: Founding of La Chablisienne, Bourgogne's first cooperative winery.
April 29, 1930: A ruling handed down by the Dijon civil courts legally defines to the boundaries of wine-growing Bourgogne (administrative regions of Yonne, Côte-d’Or, and Saône-et-Loire, plus the Villefranche-sur-Saône area in the Rhône).
December 8, 1936: Morey-Saint-Denis becomes the first AOC in Bourgogne.
October 14, 1943: Creation of Premier Cru appellation category.
October 17, 1975: Crémant de Bourgogne attains AOC status.
Jully 17, 2006: Creation of Bourgogne's 100th appellation: “Bourgogne Tonnerre”.
You can more information on the burgundy wine in: