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Burgundy vs. New World Pinot Noir

Rather than hijack an existing thread I thought I'd use the following comment from zin1953 as a platform for discussion:

*There are any number of California Pinots that are made in the "big, full-bodied, 'in-your-face' style." I typically call this "Pinot-as-Syrah," but I have been repeatedly taken to task for that description by the winemakers who make their Pinots in this style, by the consumers who like this style, and by certain wine critics with reputations pinned to a 100-point scale.

It clearly is a style which I do not personally enjoy, but many people seem to like it, so . . . .

In the case of Sineann, Peter follows a model for his Oregon Pinot Noir that is more typically followed by California wineries like Loring, Eno, Siduri and others, rather than more "traditional" styles of Arcadian or Navarro in California, or most other Oregon producers . . . let alone Burgundy.*

I hear much about traditional Burgundy vs. New World (in particular, California and to a lesser degree Oregon) Pinot Noir. The discussion primarily focuses on New World PN being, as zin puts it, "Pinot-as-Syrah" or, "big, full-bodied, in-your-face style" - in implicit or explicit contrast to Burgundian Pinot being more restrained, elegant, subtle, etc.

What I find puzzling is that in reading reviews of some of the most highly regarded Burgundies (and I should note that my knowledge of great Burgundies is mostly vicarious, while I've drunk a good bit of California and Oregon Pinot Noir), the descriptions would seem to suggest that the Burgundies are often equally full-bodied, etc. as the New World wines.

Here's a test. I'm going to post excerpts from reviews of top Burgundies (mostly grand crus) along with several New World Pinots. Say what you will about point ratings, but let's assume that a professional wine reviewer gives a reasonably on-point description of the wine (yes, I know this assumption may be criticized). Without cheating, who can guess which are the new world wines and which are Burgundy?

#1 - "Very deep color. Huge aromas of jammy, candied black cherry, blackberry, boysenberry and spice, extremely charming. An opulent, full-bodied, full-throttle [wine], concentrated and packed with ripe tannins and bright acidity, with a long, lingering finish."

#2 - "An amazing wine, rich, opulent, riveting style, with layers of black cherry, blackberry, cola, sassafras and hints of mineral, pebble and sage. Deeply concentrated, long, rich and persistent, with flavors that coat the palate. Firmly tannic, too, giving it great structure."

#3 - "A fruit bomb, this is packed with cassis, plum, violet and mineral notes with freshness and extremely fine tannins. It builds and builds on the palate with intensity and vibrance."

#4 - "Amazing depth, richness and purity of fruit, this is dense and muscular yet deftly balanced, with tiers of plum, black cherry, blueberry and pretty hints of framboise, chocolate and rye. Both creamy and thick, it's mouthcoating and long, rich and persistent on the finish."

#5 - "Inky purple, fresh and compelling, with blackberry and violet aromas and flavors. If you close your eyes, Syrah comes to mind for a moment, but the tannin structure is different. Supple and silky before the fine tannins take over, this will require patience to reap the full rewards."

#6 - "Simply delicious, with wonderful aromas of sandalwood, exotic spices and a rich, vibrant core of juicy black cherry, blackberry, wild berry and boysenberry fruit that's enlivened by vivid acidity yet displays a wonderful density that gives it a long, intricate aftertaste."

#7 - "Blockbuster Pinot that remains elegant. Thick in texture, black in color, it delivers much character--earth, red berry and ripe-tasting blackberry, spices--in a blend both modern and traditional. So clean, so pure, so attractive."

#8 - "Subtle and graceful. Remarkably generous with its many layers of flavor, offering currant, raspberry, cherry, violet and mineral notes that keep echoing as the finish sails on and on. Tannins are present but should polish up with time in the cellar. "

#9 - "Big-structured, muscular, with good amount of fruit, there is also plenty of wood tannins and toasted oak here. Very dense, and with time might turn out just fine. Meanwhile, the sweet, ripe fruit wins you over."

#10 - "Lithe, supple and expressive, offering layers and layers of white pepper-accented currant and cherry, with a mineral note that adds depth and distinction. Broad and open-textured, lasting beautifully on the finish against superfine tannins."

Answers will be posted in later today.

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  1. Frodesnor,

    I won't venture to take your quiz (altho I'm curious to see the answers!), but the primary differences I've noticed between Cali Pinots and Burgundy are:

    1) French wines tend to have more floral notes, while cali wines tend to be more fruity.

    2) Cali pinots sometimes lean towards darker black fruits, while french ones are more likely to be red-fruited.

    3) Burgundies have higher acidity and minerality, making them more balanced in my mind. It's possible I just haven't tasted it yet, but I've yet to find a Cali pinot with the bright white mineral core that i find so appealing in burgundy.

    4) Burgundies are more likely to have barnyardy, earthy, animal, bloody or mushroomy flavors. It sounds gross, but well-placed it can add a really wonderful dimension to the wine.

    5) Cali Pinots are more likely to be over-oaked.

    There are exceptions to all these, but I think these are pretty standard generalizations. So the issue isn't full-bodiedness as much as balance and relative lightness.

    NB: I enjoy Cali Pinots from time to time, but I'm definitely biased towards burgundy.

    ETA: One more key difference: Cali Pinots are more approachable when younger and fade faster than burgundies, most likely due to the extreme fruitiness.

    1. I think those quotes say more about the writers than the wines.

      Here's another review of #1 that I think leaves no doubt as to where it's from: "Dark red appearance. Pencil, leather and tree bark on the nose. Fat and flowy, but incredibly light and elegant. Wonderfully complex bouquet. Multi-dimensional in the mouth, and packed with ripe tannin. Great finesse to this wine. Very long finish. This should turn out top-notch in about 10 years."

      5 Replies
      1. re: Robert Lauriston

        "Fat and flowy.. incredibly light?" Now if you were to describe people that way, someone would think you are nuts. How can someone be fat and light at the same time? "The man is really fat, yet he is stunningly light." Lol.. "Very dark yet light color."

        1. re: monkuboy

          I'm not offering that as a model of wine writing, just as tasting notes that are to me utterly unambiguous as regards whether it's Burgundy or New World.

        2. re: Robert Lauriston

          >>> I think those quotes say more about the writers than the wines. <<<

          I agree.

          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            FWIW, quotes come from four different reviewers.

            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              Two more far less ambiguous notes...

              Full ruby-red. Impressively pure nose of raspberry, strawberry, minerals, oriental spices and sexy oak. Superripe, lush and highly concentrated; already very expressive in the mouth, thanks to its utterly silky texture and wonderfully fine tannins. Explosively long and youthful on the back end. Consistently pure and fine from start to finish. (ST)

              The medium to dark ruby-colored [] has sweet, tangy raspberry, black currant, candied cherry, leather, and spice aromas. This medium to full-bodied wine is harmonious, refined, and powerful. It is expansive, magnificently delineated, and feminine []. Its flavor profile is crammed with an assortment of super-ripe red and black fruit laced with vanilla beans. It has loads of sweet tannin that can be detected in its admirable finish. (PR)

            2. Frodnesor,

              I'm not sure what you are trying to prove, if anything. Some California Pinot Noirs are very Burgundian in style (e.g.: Arcadian, Navarro, Mout Eden Vineyards); others are more in the "Pinot-as-Syrah" camp -- though if I had any sense, I would have written "Pinot-as-Shiraz" . . .

              Conversely, some Burgundies (Dominique Larent, for example, and to a limited extent, Perrot-Minot) may -- in their youth -- resemble more of a "in your face" CA PN than your classic (e.g.) Pommard or Gevrey-Chambertin. INdeed, I've always found Laurent's wines to be "upside-down" -- the higher up the appellations you go, the less tipicity the wines exhibit, and the more the wines exibit "Laurent." In other words, I can rarely tell his Bonnes-Mares from his Grands-Echezeaux, but telling his Gevrey-Chambertin from his Vosne-Romanee or Nuits St.-Georges is much easier as the wines are much more typical of their origin rather than typical of their maker.

              3 Replies
              1. re: zin1953

                Not trying to prove anything. I haven't drunk enough Burgundy to have my own source of information by which to compare; indeed, that's why I reach out for thoughts from others here. Rather, just trying to explore my own puzzlement as to why New World Pinot is so often criticized for being "big, full-bodied and in-your-face" when those same characteristics seem to be ascribed to some of the most highly regarded of the top grand cru Burgundies.

                Is anyone going to try? (Hint: there's no Arcadian, Navarro, Mount Eden, Dominique Laurent, or Perrot-Minot).

                1. re: Frodnesor

                  Too tricky! I might be willing to take on a blind taste test, but not a blind tasting notes test :)

                  Without knowing who the writers are, it's difficult to determine how their palates would receive the different wines.

                  1. re: oolah

                    Agree the only real way to do it is blind tasting - regretfully I have little opportunity to taste most of the Burgs, blind or otherwise.

              2. OK, since nobody has the courage to try (OW = Old World, NW = New World):

                #1 - "Very deep color. Huge aromas of jammy, candied black cherry, blackberry, boysenberry and spice, extremely charming. An opulent, full-bodied, full-throttle [wine], concentrated and packed with ripe tannins and bright acidity, with a long, lingering finish."
                DOMAINE DE LA ROMANEE-CONTI LA TACHE 1999 (OW)

                #2 - "An amazing wine, rich, opulent, riveting style, with layers of black cherry, blackberry, cola, sassafras and hints of mineral, pebble and sage. Deeply concentrated, long, rich and persistent, with flavors that coat the palate. Firmly tannic, too, giving it great structure."
                KOSTA BROWNE SONOMA COAST KANZLER VINEYARD 2004 (NW)

                #3 - "A fruit bomb, this is packed with cassis, plum, violet and mineral notes with freshness and extremely fine tannins. It builds and builds on the palate with intensity and vibrance."
                MEO-CAZUMET CLOS DU VOUGEOT 2003 (OW)

                #4 - "Amazing depth, richness and purity of fruit, this is dense and muscular yet deftly balanced, with tiers of plum, black cherry, blueberry and pretty hints of framboise, chocolate and rye. Both creamy and thick, it's mouthcoating and long, rich and persistent on the finish."
                DOMAINE ALFRED EDNA VALLEY CHAMISAL VINEYARDS CALIFA 2004 (NW)

                #5 - "Inky purple, fresh and compelling, with blackberry and violet aromas and flavors. If you close your eyes, Syrah comes to mind for a moment, but the tannin structure is different. Supple and silky before the fine tannins take over, this will require patience to reap the full rewards."
                J. FAIVELY CORTON CLOS DES CORTONS FAIVELY 2003 (OW)

                #6 - "Simply delicious, with wonderful aromas of sandalwood, exotic spices and a rich, vibrant core of juicy black cherry, blackberry, wild berry and boysenberry fruit that's enlivened by vivid acidity yet displays a wonderful density that gives it a long, intricate aftertaste."
                DUMOL SONOMA COUNTY GREEN VALLEY RYAN 2003 (NW)

                #7 - "Blockbuster Pinot that remains elegant. Thick in texture, black in color, it delivers much character--earth, red berry and ripe-tasting blackberry, spices--in a blend both modern and traditional. So clean, so pure, so attractive."
                G. ROUMIER BONNES MARES 1999 (OW)

                #8 - "Subtle and graceful. Remarkably generous with its many layers of flavor, offering currant, raspberry, cherry, violet and mineral notes that keep echoing as the finish sails on and on. Tannins are present but should polish up with time in the cellar. "
                BEAUX FRERES WILLAMETTE VALLEY BEAUX FRERES VINEYARD 2003 (NW)

                #9 - "Big-structured, muscular, with good amount of fruit, there is also plenty of wood tannins and toasted oak here. Very dense, and with time might turn out just fine. Meanwhile, the sweet, ripe fruit wins you over."
                CLAUDE DUGAT GRIOTTE-CHAMBERTIN 1999 (OW)

                #10 - "Lithe, supple and expressive, offering layers and layers of white pepper-accented currant and cherry, with a mineral note that adds depth and distinction. Broad and open-textured, lasting beautifully on the finish against superfine tannins."
                SHEA WILLAMETTE VALLEY SHEA VINEYARD ESTATE 2004 (NW)

                3 Replies
                1. re: Frodnesor

                  well since you posted the answers already, how about idenifying the 4 reviewers?

                  1. re: ibstatguy

                    All from Spectator. The more recent burgundy reviews were from Bruce Sanderson, the 99's from someone else ("PM"?). The California reviews were James Laube, the Oregon Harvey Steinman.

                  2. re: Frodnesor

                    Re #8: I don't think I've ever had a Beaux Freres PN that I would classify as "subtle"!!!

                  3. Hi Frodnesor,

                    I'm totally with you on the Old World, New World distinctions. We are just taking our first steps into the world of Burgundy (thank you Zin1953!) and I find it extremely confusing.

                    My solution is to drink more!