July 9, 2010

The Holy Grail of Pinot Noir: All Roads Lead to Burgundy (Part One)

This post is part of a series that I will be writing about over the next week leading up to the Pinot Noir Twitter Tasting and Smackdown that was organized by two wine blogger extraordinaires, WineTonite and SuburbanWino. The Pinot Noir event is designed to be an appreciation of all things Pinot Noir from the various places where Pinot is grown. I have decided to write a bit about my favorite Pinot Noir from Burgundy.

Part I

Pinot Noir has become an increasingly debated grape in wine circles over the last 5 years or so. For various reasons, some driven by popular media and press, Pinot Noir has become a hot grape. In the United States, wineries in both California and Oregon have been cranking out great Pinot Noir for years. Some, like the Hanzell  and Williams Selyem wineries in California, produce Pinot Noirs that are truly age-worthy and world class wines.

That being said, the motherland for Pinot Noir is Burgundy, France. While there are debates to be raged about whether all Pinot Noir aspires to be Burgundian Pinot Noir, the fact remains that hills and slopes of Burgundy have a history with the Pinot Noir grape like no other region.

Consider this podcast from the folks at GrapeRadio, in which Jacques Ladiere, winemaker at Louis Jadot since 1970, discusses history of Pinot Noir in Burgundy. Are you aware of the fact that vineyards in Burgundy, such as the Grand Cru vineyard, Bonnes Mares, have been producing Pinot Noir grapes since 2,000 years before Christ! Considering that fact, what else can I say that matters? There's a history in the hills and vines of Burgundy that can't be reproduced or imitated by machine or man.
So, what is one to do with this rich history of grapes and land? And, how can others hope to compete with the beauty, power, and elegance that great Burgundy offers? I don't know the answer to that question, and quite frankly, I don't think there is an answer.


  1. thanks, DWAFD! I agree that Burgundy is the front-runner here.

    The only barriers I see for this region is that the price points keep many from enjoying the best of Burg, the complicated AOC system (particularly in Burg), and the proliferation of cheap "Pinot/Syrah" that has perhaps damaged and bamboozled the average American palate.

    We'll see what happens!

  2. Right on. Red Burgundy is clearly in its golden age. After decades of indifferent work in hallowed place names, even the negoces are doing the right thing by their terroir. Agree with Joe that the classification is complicated for just about everyone.

    Here's a pretty easy way to look at it (Sylvain Pitiot, the genius behind Clos de Tart, told it to me during a very lucky one-on-one with him in the vineyard years ago): the classification essentially goes from low to high, so the closer you are to sea level, the more ordinary the terroir is, hence communal and villages. As you move up the slopes, you get to premier cru and as you approach higher ground, you'll get to grand cru. Of course, there are exceptions, but for the most part a look at a map bears this simple system out. It won't do much for pronunciation issues, but it lends a bit of order to the AOC chaos.

  3. Joe,
    Thanks for the comments. I hear you on the price points. It's tough, initially, to be moved by Burgs in the sub $30 range. But, the deals are there to be had by looking at lesser villages and AOCs. Grand Cru is another story...

    Thanks for the visit and dropping some more knowledge on us. I too struggled with the classifications, but once you get it with a little study, it makes sense. Planning to visit the homeland next summer. Can't wait.

  4. I've yet to really give the region a shot, as yes, I have a new world leaning palate when it comes to reds. For me, I just find the wines in the $30 and under range to be difficult to drink, compared to California, Oregon and New Zealand.

    Honestly, the region I really want to explore more is New Zealand, as I find their combination of freshness, tart red fruit flavors and lower alcohol (under 14% usually) to be enjoyable, especially in this gawd-awful heat.

  5. Agreed on NZ, Kevin.

    Todd, I'm familiar with the hill reference as well, and it does simplify a bit. However, to again complicate the matter, I've read that the valley floor is the communal AOC stuff, the mid-slope is the Grand Cru, and the tops of the hills are the Premier Cru stuff. Or, as I learned: wine for the priests (flat), wine for the Pope (mid slope), and wine for the Cardinals (hilltops).

  6. Complicate would be an understatement, to be sure. There are so many exceptions, that general rules are barely that.

  7. Hey Guys,
    A great interactive digital map of the Cotes D'Or I got turned on to a while back...

  8. Here is another source for maps of the individual appellations, and there is other useful stuff on the site.


    A Burgundy primer can be found at


  9. Thanks Peter. More great resources.
    Dig the maps at Burgundy Report.