Reds - 2002 Burgundy Wine Tasting
Now for the red Burgundy wines - created from the pinot noir grape. John explained that "pinot noir is the most difficult grape to make into a wine. It rots very easily on the vine, creating green, nasty flavors. In comparison, Zinfandel is very forgiving."
Most Burgundian wines are the red wines. This wine style can be hard for newbies to get a handle on, because inexpensive ones tend to be bad while expensive ones are really good. A newbie won't want to spend the money on a great wine, but will get a poor impression from the less expensive versions. Coupled with this, because the market is very strong in the UK, and there is such a low quantity of wine to begin with, the wineries find no real need to press their case in the US.
Burgundy wines tend to be expensive because there are so few of them, and demand is so high in non-US parts of the world. The wines also tend to cost more because the winemakers often have to throw out a fair amount of bad grapes to be left with the few quality grapes. This makes vintages difficult in general, becuase the region depends on a single type of grape vines. If the pinot noir grapes have trouble, the wineries have nothing else to fall back on. Compare that with Bordeaux, which at least has three types to blend with.
John mentioned that pinot noir and salmon is the classic pairing. He called this the "classic test" for a restaurant, since both can be done very well or very poorly. If you order both together, you can get a true sense of the quality of the restaurant and its wine cellar.
Some feel a pinot noir is lighter than a cabernet, and John explained that this might be true if both were of the $10 variety. But a rich, expensive pinot noir is easily much heavier than a cheaper cabernet. It all depends on the quality of the wine.
John talked about how the tiny plots can have large differences in flavor. For example, vines against a stone wall will get shade, and the grapes will taste different from the center aisles in the sun. In the US, all of those grapes would be tossed together and made into a single wine. In Burgundy, the two sets of vines could easily be owned by completely different wineries. The sections of grapes will each be made into its own wine and the distinctive flavors will come out fully.
John spoke at length about aging and pinot noir. Pinot Noir is a grape known for its soft tannins vs the coarse tannins in other red wines. As a result, pinot noir ages differently than other reds tend to. In a pinot noir, as the tannins fade and the wine ages, the delicate notes become more easily sensed.
In general, when a wine ages, it needs tannins, alcohols, acidity, and chemical compounds in fruit to age well. In other red wines that age, the wines begin too tannic and must release that with age to be drinkable. A wine that's young is as if "somebody's shoved a tennis ball in your mouth," said John. On the other hand, a pinot noir can be drunk young *and* old. In addition, winemakers are "better at making young wines now that are actually drinkable."
Wine understanding has gotten better for consumers in general. John explained how in old days a wine list would just say '1920 pommerol' - the region name alone without any vineyard or chateau mentioned. Bad and good were lumped together in one pile. Nowadays consumers know which wineries are good and which are bad, and can pick and choose what is best to drink.
As an example of aging issues, John talked about the English and sparkling wines. "England ages Champagne forever," he said with a smile. "The wine turns into sparkling walnuts without the sparkle. This dull wine goes very well with English food."
We talked a bit about the off flavors often associated with red Burgundies. North Burgundy is known for its 'barnyard' flavor - the 'aroma of shit in wine', as John aptly put. A famous taster in France once said 'all great Burgundies smell of shit'. However, these wines we tasted were from south Burgundy and do not have that aspect. Instead, the flavors we found were more of light fruit.
John talked about mercaptains - a sulfuric smell in wines that are a defect in wine. That off flavor is different from the barnyard taste that comes from the soil or dirty barrels. As we talked more about aromas in wine, John said that for $2,000 a winery can do a wine evaluation. This test will break down a bottle of wine into its components, just like a DNA test. Wineries sometimes do this to evaluate their wines. The test identifies hundreds of compounds in a given wine.
The Tasting Notes of the Red Burgundies
2002 Burgundies - Basics
2002 Burgundies - Whites
Wine Review Listing