A Pinot weekend

IMG_0390There is apparently a saying that God made Chardonnay, the Devil made Pinot Noir – or it was CabSauv the Deity made – whatever. The Devil made Pinot Noir. No not really.

The variety has some relation to Savagnin, how is uncertain. It is old, and mutates a lot. Wikipedia is wrong: it was not mentioned by Columella in his tutorial for Roman agriculturists, “De Re Rustica”. According to another of those books I read and then misplace it was first mentioned in the proceedings from a judicial court in Burgundy in the 14th century – a hired hand uprooted a Pinot vine and the owner became so infuriated he killed him. (It might be pointed out that according to OLD Burgundian law, uprooting somebody’s vines was a capital offence, but that was some 6-700 years earlier.)

Tasting with Munskänkarna, eating after, and, a day later, having supper with dear friends at “Mat & Vin” in Malmö, we chalked up 7 PNs last week end.

2012 Chambolle Musigny (Roux P & F) SEK 369 Cherry nose, nicely rounded on palate, too expensive.
2011 Schubert Marions Vineyard PN (NZ) SEK 319 Screams New Zealand at the top of its voice. Nice, but expensive-ish.
2011 Philip Kuhn Vom Kalsteinfels Pinot Noir Pfalz SEK 299 Dominated by a nice mocha tone from the barrels, which overshadows the PN character.
2011 Savigny-Champ-Chevrey (Tollot-Beaut) SEK 292 Oddly mute, light notes of cinnamon and cardamom on the nose, not well balanced, disappointing (I like a good Savigny-lès-Beaune for its fresh fruit which was very much lacking here). We visited Tollot-Beaut in 2009 and I was thoroughly underwhelmed. This wine did not raise the producer in my opinion.
2013 County Line PN Russian River USA SEK 293 Crushed strawberries, jammy, I would guess high in alcohol. Took it at first for a good Chilean PN. Not really my kind of PN, particularly not at that price.
2014 Bourgogne Rouge Labouré-Roi SEK 107 Definite bottle variation with some having obvious volatile acidity, others giving impression of secondary fermentation in bottle, and some being OK budget red Bourgs.
2012 Blauburgunder “Dechant” Weingut Bründlmayer (Kamptal, Austria) SEK 195 Highly satisfying PN with typical red berry nose, smooth and silky, and a steal at the price. Best wine this week-end.

Today, while the standard of PN is going up in New Zealand, the prices tend to follow. Perhaps it is not possible to make good PN at affordable prices – unless you are in Austria, apparently. Admittedly, that is for a given definition of ‘affordable’.

Château Lamery

Neige Tilleuls
Vinterbild

I don’t really remember where the suggestion came from. A friend of someone out on social media. WE were going to Bordeaux and (surprise) wanted to visit some wine producers – this one was, apparently, biodynamicist, into natural wines, and, good. Never heard of him though he has at times been imported to Scandinavia byt Rosforth & Rosforth, a bastion of ”natural wines” in Copenhagen. Whatever.

Intellectually, we were aware that a ‘chateau’ in Bordeaux could look just about like anything, but, we had just visited Pichon Longueville, Cordeillan Bages, and Suduiraut, and seen Cos d’Etournel from the outside so, we were perhaps still expecting some small towers and similar … However.

Arriving, we found a yellow house with red carpentry and a nice garden – special mention, a bottle of Roundup left on a gravel path, not really indicating biodynamicity, nor, really, bio at all, in any way. The house was very nice and well-kept, so, we were completely ready to accept it as a ‘chateau’. There was a non-descript gray shed attached.
A sprightly elderly gentleman appeared and informed us that the person we were looking for was his son, and that he would arrive shortly (we later learned that the gentleman in question was 90+, which was difficult to believe – he also had a girlfriend).

Biodynamic culture

So, our host arrives. And it becomes clear that, after all, the yellow half-timbered house is, in fact, not the chateau, but, the shed is. He explains that he has taken over the vineyards from his father, who used to sell the grapes to a negociant, and he had immediately started the conversion to biodynamics. With a certain pride he explains that, the last year his father ran the vineyard, the yield was 65 hl/ha – the next, after he started the conversion process, it fell to 16.

He also explains that the bottle of Roundup is, in fact, his father’s. That there is a sort of discontinuity in how things are managed. (Meanwhile, the old gentleman rolls out a sort of mini-tractor lawn mower and starts mowing grass, keeping close to us, and appearing curious).

We were shown around the vineyard (mostly red, all the usual suspects expected in Bordeaux, but also including Malbec). He showed uLa vasque vive en actions the compost heap, various implements to vivify watery solutions and do the homeopathic remedies, the cow’s manure that had been matured in a cow’s horn and had to be kept in a double walled wooden box isolated with peat, a small glass jar of silica kept in a recess in the wall facing … East? Can’t Silica turned in the right directionremember. He showed us his barriques, all of a certain age – I asked him whether he used any new oak, to which he replied, “Do I look like I could afford new oak?” Well, no. I asked him also about keeping temperature in the shed. This got him close to laughing and he Cured cow's manureanswered, Oh yes, in winter we keep 0 degree and in summer 25 … He had an old wine press and a cistern for collecting the wine must – an octogenarian lady friend of his had so far managed to fall down it twice, luckily without any great harm done to her.Barriques

So. On to tasting the wine, and of course I would not have discussed this wine maker if it had not been for the fact that it (Autrement 2011, Vin de France) was good. Not Chateau Margaux good, just – good.

Did not taste very much like Bordeaux, more like Cahors, perhaps because of the Malbec, perhaps because the Cahors I drink rarely are oaked to a notable degree. It had not been accepted as a Bordeaux by whoever accepts such things, because of a certain ”nail polish smell”, which had since disappeared completely.

The produceHow it will stand the test of time I know not, I have a bottle in my cellar, promise to tell you in a few years. If you are in any way interested in ‘natural’ wines, and if you are interested in seeing biodynamic stuff actually being used, maybe you should book in a visit at Ch Lamery. The owner speaks English, having had a career in hotel & restauration.

I have written about this producer on the CriteeqVieux Pressoir web site which is hereby recommended to your attention.

Website

Jacques BROUSTET
Château Lamery
Respect de la Nature et du Terroir – Biodynamie-Vin Naturel
2 route de Gaillard
33490 SAINT PIERRE D’AURILLAC

 

… the M-word. Finished.

My basic assumption is that a word is used to convey information. If a word is used in an uncommon situation, it should be possible to explain it. If it is not explainable, it does not convey information. If a group of people use the same word and are in agreement of using it, but cannot explain what the word means, their agreement is meaningless, because, how do they know they agree?
I found this Swedish thesis. It’s unfortunately, in Swedish, but, the author, quoting various wine celebrities (Goode and Easton to name the first mentioned), lists the following as mineral aromas: earthiness, petroleum, kerosene, rubber, tar, smoke, stone/steel, lime stone, flint, and wet wool. Oh dear. That is quite a list. It roundly sums up things that in no other circumstances would be considered minerals, e g, wet wool and rubber, and things that, simply put, do not smell (stone, flint, lime stone). It adds things that are less than well-defined such as ‘smoke’. Smoke, as in, smoke from an open fire, differs in smell contingent on what burns. Firwood smoke and birchwood smoke do not smell the same. Burning plastic normally gives a very pungent smoke, that has little in common with smoke from birchwood.
Anyway, by admitting the alleged smell of substances that do not normally occur in bedrock as ‘mineral aromas’, the expression has lost all sense.

Another, again Swedish, text with a fair amount of vehemence claims that, if you do not accept that the ‘minerals’ directly influence the grape juice and resulting wine, you have renounced on the concept of terroir (which is a non sequitur), but, if you do, you may “drink the meagre limestone mountain, the white chalk, the hard granite, and the flakey sunburnt shale”.  Unfortunately, limestone and chalk are both calcium carbonate, an odorless substance, while granite is a composite of quartz (SiO2) and feldspar (various silicates) which are also odorless, while shale is in most cases, yes, odorless. If these things smell, it is because of what has precipitated on them.

Going back to the Swedish thesis, a test is made where a group of professionals taste two wines, blind, one of which allegedly is mineral, one is not. They do identify the mineral one as mineral – they are then interviewed on their perception of minerality (hint: they do not agree). Thesis concludes that wines with high acidity, from Northern, poor (as in, not fertile) vineyards, are more likely to be considered mineral, and, a lack of fruit, particularly exotic fruit. Also, the concept of minerality in wine is a mark of quality (that seems legit – in no report have I seen ‘mineral’ expressed as a pejorative).

This is when I stumble on a real, scientific method, deep dive into what might be minerality. A Spanish group has worked on 17 wines, considered to be mineral, and made actual analyses on what might be the compounds in them that give the expression of mineral. Not only that, they have then used this information and tweaked alcoholic beverages, using the same compounds, and investigated these (using two groups of tasters) for their expression of minerality.

This was interesting: dividing the prime suspects into three groups, “Routine parameters”, “Pre-fermentative aromas”, and “Aging aromas”, a total of twelve substances were grouped. Of these, high acidity, SO2, and succinic acid, made up the first group.  Does this in any way relate to terroir? Answer, in my opinion, is yes. Terroir is not only the bedrock on which the vineyard rests. Terroir is, and here I will quote “Gouttes des Dieu”, “earth, heaven, and man”. I don’t think the incumbent Chapoutier is the only one to say so, but, “without man, there is no terroir”. Succinic acid certainly is dependent on both local traditions (degree of turbidity in the fermenting juice), local yeast, and available nitrogen in the fermenting juice. Less nitrogen, more succinic acid, apparently, all else being equal.
The article also gives credence to Hugh Johnson’s hypothesis, that minerality is related to SO2.  I found the book, by the way, but then misplaced it again.
The remaining compounds are all carbon based substances, esters, alcohols, others. Some come from the unfermented juice, some apparently derive from cellaring. While doubtless the soil and climate will influence the content of aromatics in the grape juice, none of these can be traced back to pieces of rock in the ground. None of them.

While I really like the way the researchers have gone about their work, I would prefer that somebody who knows his/her statistics look into the methods used, and the sample sizes. It would of course be even better if somebody independently tried to reproduce the results.

I, for my part, will henceforth refer to a taste enhancing, final salinity, on the tongue, as ‘mineral’, with the tacit assumption that what I really taste is succinic acid.

As for the olfactory sensation of minerality, I will bow to Dubourdieu’s usage.

Finished with the M-word.