Tasting Notes: Pinot Noir (Burgundy vs. Sonoma)

“So if I asked you about art, you’d probably give me the skinny on every art book ever written.  Michelangelo, you know a lot about him. Life’s work, political aspirations, him and the Pope, sexual orientations, the whole works, right?  But I’ll bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You’ve never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling.”

-Robin Williams to Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting


I read a lot about wine – I mean, a lot. But learning about wine only by reading books reminds me of Robin Williams’s beautiful lakeside soliloquy in which he implores (a young) Matt Damon to go out and actually experience the world. And so it goes with wine – one of the best (and definitely most fun) ways to learn about wine is to taste it. However, this is a little different from drinking wine . . .

Tasting Notebook
Old Reliable: Tasting Notebook

To me, tasting wine means that I’m taking the time to actually evaluate it and assess all of its unique characteristics.  On the other hand, drinking wine means I’m just kicking back and enjoying it.  The differences between the two  are actually quite stark.  And while I do a good degree of both, when I’m really trying to expand my wine knowledge I sit down with my trusty tasting notebook and put pen to paper to capture my thoughts.

WSET Grid 1
WSET Level 3 Tasting Notes

Since I’ve been on the WSET path for the past year or so, my tasting notes generally follow their prescribed format – which I freely admit falls on the clinical side of evaluation. And while I completely agree with their premise that consistent and objective tasting notes are ideal for learning about wine, I’m never going to truly remember a wine based on notes like “medium+ acidity” or “clear, pale lemon.” For that reason I also like to add my own thoughts on the wine . . . where was I, what did it remind me of, what was I eating with it, etc.

When doing tastings at home, I often enlist Hubs to be my personal wine steward and set me up with a blind tasting. This way, I don’t have any preconceived notions about what I’m tasting and can just do some “mindful drinking” of what’s in the glass in front of me.  Ideally, I taste a couple of wines side by side because it’s much easier for me to pick up differences (or similarities) when comparing wines as opposed to just tasting one wine in a vacuum.  As an added bonus, I then have the benefit of having TWO bottles to choose from after I’m done with my tasting.  🙂  I should also add that while my tasting “goal” is not necessarily to accurately identify each of the wines tasted blindly, the truth is I always smile when I do get them right (I imagine that’s the same for everyone!).

Recently I did such a tasting with two distinct Pinot Noirs (Old World vs. New World) when deciding which would pair best with my mom-in-law’s delicious Coq a Vin that she was preparing for a family dinner.  Sitting in my in-laws sunny, lush Southern California backyard I was joined by my father-in-law, “T-Bone”, for the tasting.  Yes, my 75 year-old father-in-law’s nickname is “T-Bone”…and yes, he’s as awesome and quirky as you might imagine (he once informed me that he stopped drinking Merlot because it is “too purple”).

Domaine Gille 2012 Nuits Saint Georges 1er Cru ‘Les Cailles’, Bourgogne. (13% abv)

  • Color: Pale ruby, tending towards garnet
  • Aromas: Roses that are just starting to wilt, cranberries, earthy cherries, fall leaves
  • Palate: Medium- body, medium+ acidity, medium- tannins.  Additional flavors of tea, spice and an almost cedar-like note.
  • My Thoughts: Very delicate wine – honestly, borderline too thin right now. I’m sure I opened this too early and it would’ve benefited from at least a few more years of age.  I guessed this was the Burgundy due to the color and dominate flavors of earth & spice with the fruit taking a backseat.  I liked this wine, but probably would’ve loved it in a few years.  And interestingly, out of the two Pinots, this was T-Bone’s favorite!  (Sidenote: One of my 2018 goals is to introduce my in-laws to new wines since they gravitate almost exclusively towards California Cabernets and Chardonnays).
  • Technical Bits: Domaine Gille has been passed down from generation to generation since the 1500s.  Their vines currently range from 45-80 years of age.  Soil is stony limestone.  All grapes are hand harvested.  Natural fermentation.  Aged for 18 months in oak (1/3 new).

Hanzell 2014 ‘Sebella’ Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, California. (13.7% abv)

  • Color: Pale ruby, bright
  • Aromas: Fresh flowers, slightly sweet fruits – raspberries, red plum, hints of Dr. Pepper
  • Palate: Medium bodied, medium+ acidity, medium (close to medium+) tannins.  I’m picking up sweet cherries and some black pepper here too.
  • My Thoughts: This wine was brighter and more ruby colored, possibly indicating a younger wine. A definite sweetness here that the other wine didn’t have. With all the fresh, ripe fruit oozing out of the glass, I was confident this was the California Pinot.  And while I don’t usually go for wines with this degree of sweet fruit, this wine just smelled yummy . . . tasted it too.
  • Technical Bits: Hanzell Vineyards was founded in 1957 by James D. Zellerbach after he’d spent extensive time in Burgundy.  Focus is on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  Aged for 10 months in French oak (25% new).

The end result was that we drank both bottles with dinner so the pairing turned out to not be of much consequence – both were delicious!  And, I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised by my enjoyment of the Sonoma Pinot and T-Bone’s of the Burgundy. 🙂

Chablis AOC

One of the most memorable wines I’ve ever had was a bottle of Chablis with my Dad. I was 22, my Mom had just passed away, and he and I sat on my bedroom floor with a sleeve of saltines, a hunk of Tillamook cheddar, a bottle of Chablis and we went to town.

Oh yeah, and it was this kind of Chablis:

carlo-rossi-chablis_1

Note that I said this was a “memorable” wine, not one of my favorites. 🙂

I’ve obviously learned since then that this jug-juice was, in fact, NOT truly Chablis. It was a blend of various white grapes from somewhere in California.  True Chablis hails from the Northern edge of the Burgundy region in France and is made with 100% Chardonnay grapes.

Unfortunately, there are still some wines on the market labeled “Chablis” that have nothing to do with the actual Chablis region in France, or even with the Chardonnay grape.  Why is this??

Well . . . in 2006, an agreement between the United States and the European Community on Trade in Wine addressed the use of certain “Semi-Generic” designations on wine produced outside of the specific European country where the wine designation originated (i.e. terms such as “Chablis”, “Champagne” and “Port”).  The Agreement states that while no new wines may use these geographical terms incorrectly, wine brands that already use these terms are “grandfathered in” and are allowed to continue this (IMO) misleading, butchering use of the geographical term.

Unlike the jug-juice, true Chablis has been crafted and perfected over thousands of years – since the Romans introduced vines to the region.  The area has survived two major World Wars (heavy bombardment destroyed many vineyards), the phylloxera epidemic and numerous winter freezes.  In fact, the entire 1957 Chablis vintage was wiped out due to frigid weather.

Chablis is grown on specific soils that exist only in certain, small pockets of Europe that were formed over 150 million years ago. It’s this soil, and the region’s northerly location and climate, that give Chablis its unique characteristics and make this Chardonnay taste unlike anything else in the world: electric and racy, full of minerality and flintiness, with citrus and salinity.

Chablis has earned its name, and the use of it by any other type of wine is complete misappropriation – even though it’s technically “legal.” :-/ I’ll get off my soapbox now, and send you to the outline on Chablis.

Oh, and I’ve made plans with my Dad to share a bottle of 2014 Montée de Tonnerre next time I see him . . . he’s 86 years old now, so every bottle with him is memorable. 🙂Dad

 

 

Vougeot AOC

Exactly one year ago, my hubs and I were in France for two weeks trying to cram in as many of my favorite wine regions as we possibly could. We did amazingly well – visiting Champagne, Burgundy, Beaujolais and both the Northern and Southern Rhône. And while I loved each of these places, I would honestly put Burgundy at the bottom of my list.

It certainly wasn’t the wines of the region – in fact one of my favorite bottles of the trip was a Pernot Belicard Puligny-Montrachet (and a Bouvier Gevrey Chambertin was up there as well). Rather, it was the overarching pretentious attitude that seemed to permeate the region. Granted, we were staying at a 5 star hotel with a Michelin starred restaurant just outside of Beaune. But while I can swing 5 stars America style – the French take it to a whole new level that’s just way outside my comfort zone. :-/

That being said, there were definitely moments when I felt like I was experiencing the real Burgundy . . . like when we pulled off the side of RN74 to watch some workers busy at harvest, or wolfed down Beef Bourguignon at a small, crowded little bistro in Beaune.   These experiences were much more memorable than the fancy schmancy hotel or restaurant with a menu full of items I couldn’t pronounce or identify WTF they were when they were served.

So perhaps it’s rather ironic that I recently joined the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin – a group described as “an exclusive bacchanalian fraternity of Burgundy wine enthusiasts.” Just typing that makes my eyes roll it sounds so incredibly pretentious.

Historically, the Confrérie has consisted of older, wealthy, white men (shocking, I know). My “liberal and casual” local chapter was looking to add more women and younger people. Since I can’t remember the last time my 44 year old self was included in the classification “younger people” – I was intrigued. And having access to a cellar full of Burgundy wines doesn’t hurt either. 😉

The Château du Clos de Vougeot is the headquarters of the Confrérie, so I figured I should know something about this area prior to my official “knighting” ceremony – fascinating history of this place, here’s the Vougeot outline.

And P.S. – so far, what I’ve seen of my fellow Chevaliers is a bunch of wine loving individuals who don’t take themselves too seriously. And I’m at least a decade younger than most of them. 🙂