In January I was in Milan and I attended another wine tasting event organized by the local chapter of the Italian Sommelier Association: whenever I can, I participate in these events because they are very well organized and the association often signs up producers or interesting personalities in the wine world, which make these gatherings entertaining and always educational.
This time the event revolved around an international grape variety and a wine that is the bread and butter of fellow wine blogger Jeff, AKA the drunken cyclist: if you know Jeff and follow his excellent and entertaining wine blog (and if you do not, I think you should) you know that I refer to Pinot Noir, a wine/grape variety of which Jeff is definitely an expert. On the contrary, I am no expert of Pinot Noir, although I like good Pinot Noirs from Burgundy, the US and Italy (Alto Adige) and I particularly like the grape variety in the context of a good Champagne or Classic Method sparkling wine such as a good Franciacorta. If Jeff reads this post, he may weigh in and share his thoughts on the subject.
Anyway, the guest of the event was Prof. Moio, an Italian agronomy professor who spent a few years in Burgundy (admittedly the “purest” region in the world for growing Pinot Noir) to research Pinot Noir and particularly its varietal (or primary) aromas and its fermentation and aging (AKA secondary and tertiary) aromas as well as their perception by the human brain from a chemical standpoint. It goes without saying that, considering the area in which it was performed, no research would ever be complete without a fair share of practical testing in the field! 😉
Jokes aside, he presented the findings of his chemical research which, leaving aside some very technical stuff, were pretty interesting. I will pass on just a few points that I found noteworthy (you will notice a few technical wine terms – if in doubt, please check out our Wine Glossary):
- As you may know, the main part in a grape berry where primary aromas reside is the skin (hence some white wine producers nowadays make their whites undergo a short maceration phase so as to maximize the extraction of terpenes, the molecules that are mainly responsible for the varietal aromas of wine)
- The research conducted by Prof. Moio isolated four molecules that are present in the skins of Pinot Noir grape berries and are responsible for the main varietal aromas of Pinot Noir: these molecules release scents reminiscent of cherries and red berries
- The release of the aromatic molecules of wine (a specific type of esters is one of the main carriers of aromas) is faster in wines with lesser structure and conversely slower in more structured wines that have a greater dry extract: this is the chemical reason why Grands Crus (which tend to be more structured and therefore release aromas at a slower pace) tend to have a longer finish than generally less concentrated Appellations Communales
- The human brain categorizes those molecules that carry one single scent (for instance, pineapple) associating them with a sort of “image” to be able to recognize that same scent on future occasions; however, when different molecules carrying different scents (for instance, pineapple and peach) are present at the same time (as is often the case in wine) then one of two things may happen: either the brain tells the two different scents apart correctly and associates them to the correct “mental images” or it combines the two scents together generating a third and different “mental image” (say, apricot) – according to Prof. Moio, this is why different people who sniff the same glass of wine may have different perceptions of its aromas.
But enough chemistry now, and let’s move on to the best part of the event, that was obviously the wine tasting part! What we did was a horizontal tasting of eight different Pinot Noirs of the 2008 vintage, all of which came from the Cote d’Or (the best area in Burgundy for growing Pinot Noir) and specifically four of them came from Cote de Nuits (the northern part of Cote d’Or) and the other four from Cote de Beaune (the southern part of Cote d’Or).
Clearly, this tasting had no scientific meaning, especially because different winemaking styles (and therefore the secondary and tertiary aromas that derive from the winemakers’ choices) influenced the final bouquets of the wines that we got to sample. However, it was a nice way to introduce us to certain producers and appellations and to show us a sample of Pinot Noirs coming from the two subzones of the best area in France (and admittedly the world) for that kind of wine.
Jumping to the, like I said, non-scientific conclusions of our tasting experience, it was apparent from the limited sample we got to try that, among the eight wines that we tasted, Pinot Noirs made in Cote de Beaune tended to retain more distinctly the varietal aromas of Pinot Noir compared to the wines made in Cote de Nuits where secondary/tertiary aromas of fur tended to be more evident and sometimes to overwhelm the delicate red berry varietal aromas. My personal ratings of the eight wines I tasted that night seem to by and large confirm that conclusion as the Cote de Beaune wines generally fared a little better than the Cote de Nuits ones.
Just for clarity, I am by no means implying that therefore Cote de Beaune Pinot Noirs are better than Cote de Nuits Pinot Noirs (where 24 out of 25 of the Grands Crus can be found): all I am saying is that, among those 8 wines that I tasted, I happened to personally like the Cote de Beaune Pinot Noirs a little better than their Cote de Nuits counterparts (although, as you will see, I liked the Gevrey-Chambertin Pinot Noir of the Cote de Nuits quite a bit).
To finish up this long post, these are my favorite wines among the eight 2008 Pinot Noirs that we tasted (along with their approximate prices in the US):
1. Volnay, Domaine Marquis d’Angerville (Cote de Beaune) ~ $70
By far the best of the eight, at least to me, with aromas of blackcurrant, red berries, cherry, and hints of tobacco and fur. In the mouth it had good structure and it was smooth and tannic, perfectly balanced and with a long finish. Outstanding
2. Aloxe-Corton, Domaine Tollot-Beaut “Les Vercots” Premier Cru (Cote de Beaune) ~$50
Nice bouquet of blackcurrant, red berries, licorice, hints of menthol. In the mouth it had good structure and concentration and it was noticeably tannic. Very Good
3. Gevrey-Chambertin, Domaine Trapet Pere et Fils (Cote de Nuits) ~$55
Nose of blackcurrant, redcurrant, fur, soil, tobacco, violet. Tannic and balanced in the mouth. Very Good
4. Chambolle-Musigny, Domaine Bruno Clair “Les Veroilles” (Cote de Nuits) ~$90
In the nose this wine started very subdued and it took a while for it to open up nicely into a bouquet of blackcurrant, red berries, violet, slight hint of fur. In the mouth it had plenty of structure and concentration, along with tannins that still felt quite aggressive, suggesting that it would be best left aging a while longer. Good
5. Chassagne-Montrachet, Domaine Bruno Colin “La Maltroie” Premier Cru (Cote de Beaune) ~$75
The nose of this wine did not convince me completely, as tertiary aromas of oak and tobacco were predominant and tended to overwhelm the primary aromas of red berries. In the mouth, however, it proved to be a solid wine, smooth, tannic and with a long finish. Good
I will not mention the remaining three wines we tasted as honestly I was unimpressed and I would not recommend buying them.
Have you had a chance to try any of the Pinot Noirs mentioned above? If you did, what do you think about them?