Wine Talk

Snooth User: napagirl68

Burgundy vs. CA Pinot Noir... Let's get ready to rumble!!

Posted by napagirl68, Mar 2, 2011.

Soo... based on some other threads, the topic of Burgundies vs. CA pinots has arisen.  I, being a French virgin, would love to hear more about burgundies.  They are NOT my expertise at all... and to be honest, I have only tasted one, and it ended up being oxidized (sommelier agreed). 

My expertise tends to lie with Northern California coastal pinot noir, and to some extent, Willamette, OR pinot noir.  I, personally, do not tend to enjoy central coast CA, and most Santa Barbara Pinot noirs.  I know nothing about French "pinots" or Burgundies. 

So for my personal experience, I would characterize the pinots I prefer from NorCal coast/Willamette OR as low alcohol (13-14%), almost clear, pale red in color, an earthy, perhaps a tad of barnyard nose; perhaps a tad of coffee on the nose.  Taste- bright red fruit- cherries, currants, perhaps a bit of raspberry, followed by depth of spices, often asian spices.  Also a bit green.  That is perhaps simplistic, but it is what I taste.  These tend to be the pinots I like best.

Interesting point- many people I know who LOVE big zins and syrahs HATE the type of pinot I prefer.  Just an observation.

So what do others prefer?  How do Burgundies differ?  What are some good ones to try (not too hard to acquire)?



Reply by dmcker, Mar 2, 2011.

Don't have a lot of time right now, but to lob an easy initial salvo, here's an offer from BPWine that is well worth considering. I like the label, both pinot (though definitely not from Burgundy) and chard, and would be curious about your reaction. I also think Stefan's going-off a bit on the joys of an aged Chambertin is pertinent to this discussion.



Dear Oenophile,

Pinot Noir. Good God, it's a thing that can bring a tear of joy to your eye. Last night, among others, I had a 1964 Chambertin from a relatively unknown producer that was so profound, so brilliantly balanced, with that unknowable ethereal lightness married to such power and complexity, you must ask yourself how it is all possible. What magic, what voodoo, what genius singularity is going on? Aliens? God? Buddha? Jah? We'll probably never know, but thank goodness we get to partake of it from time to time.

Anyway, you are probably thinking "this guy has been hanging out with Charlie Sheen". Not true. I also tasted a crushingly good pinot from Oregon, that if you buy and cellar for 5 years, or a decade, or 3 decades, will likely blow your mind, too. We scored a few 6-packs and it will be gone in flash...2008 in Oregon, from this vineyard, is a total no-brainer. Here's why:

  • Ken Juhasz, celebrated pinot/chard Burgundian-influenced winemaker of Auteur

  • The tremendous, brilliant, incredible 2008 Oregon vintage (have you seen the press?)

  • The tremendous, brilliant, incredible and legendary SHEA vineyard, HYDE for the chardonnay

  • BPWine's small allocation and whoppingly good price.

  • The head-snappingly great quality - amazing, delicious wines that will knock you out of your boots, especially if you give them some cellar time. Don't miss them!

2008 Auteur Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir $59.99! (best price in the country! average online price is $68!)

2008 Auteur Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay $44.99!

The Pinot: Think rich, bold and dark but razor sharp. Bright red (cherry, black cherry) and purple fruit, cola, damp forest earth, beautifully long and supple, great structure, intense and complex.

The Chard: classic, Burgundian, tons of mouth-watering lemon-lime, citrus, green apple, lemon creme, killer acidity and freshness, hazelnutty oak notes, very long, fresh and terribly delicious.

We're super stoked on these wines...don't miss them..! The winery will run out in a flash...arrives in one week or less! --Stefan


Reply by napagirl68, Mar 2, 2011.

Dmcker... I saw this... I get his emails.

Thank you, but more curious about the Burgundies.  When you get some time, I'd like to hear what you think I might like...

Reply by JonDerry, Mar 2, 2011.

I'm pretty much in the same boat, in search of very good Burgundies in the $30 - $50 price range if they exist.  If I have to go higher, i'd go for something $100 if it was a real stand out. 

I've never tried to like a wine so much as Pinot Noir and had such a high failure rate at the same time...simply cannot extract any ounce of enjoyment out of an average Pinot.

Only two i've liked have been ($30) Domaine Carneros - 2007, and this is one that has to open up and be finessed to hit that 90-91 level.  The best i've had was a 2006 Whitcraft Aubaine Vineyard (San Luis Obispo - $60). The first and only time i've tasted Pinot that bursted with flavor, it was like tart blackberry pie. 


Reply by Stephen Harvey, Mar 2, 2011.

Pinot - NG I suspect you may have created a monster

The intersting aspect of Pinot is that nearly every winemaker you meet wants to make a pinot.  It seems that creating a great pinot is the ultimate expression of the winemakers art and craft.

The grape is a pig to grow, fickle, temperamental and nearly as unstable in the winery.  Its a bit like dating a neurotic, psychotic who suffers from delusions of grandeur and every known phobia in the psychologists handbook.

Pinot as a wine is like the excerpt from the Nursery rhyme - Sugar and Spice - "when she is good she is very very good but when she is bad she is rotten"

Australian Pinot has only really started to evolve into a worthwhile vinuous experience in the last 5 years.  The committed Pinot makers such as Stephen George from Ashton Hills freely acknowledges that it has taken well over 10 years just to get his vineyards producing fruit that he is beginning to be satisfied with.  Phillip Jones from Bass Phillip is generally regarded as our standout Pinot maker and his location in Leongatha in very southern Victoria seems to be one of those unique sites which produces great fruit and he regularly turns out outstanding pinot which at the top of his range is a single vineyard wine.

There is no doubt that Burgundy is the pinnacle, every pinot maker of serious pinot wine has embarked on their pilgimage to the Mecca of Pinot and absorbed the tradition of making great pinot.

But there plenty of Burgundy that is crap and seriously unointeresting crap.  But as Dmcker rightly points out when it is good it deserves every wine wanky adjective that has been written.

I have yet to and one day aspire to trying a Domaine de la Romanee Conti Pinot, even if it is from its "lesser" appellations.  Hopefully I at least get to try a La Tache or the much fabled DRC itself, this is a single vineyard wine that is its own appellation

Hopefully Dmcker or GDD or someone can desribe a DRC experience My best and it was an outstanding experience was with a 1999 Domaine Armand Rousseau Premier Cru Clos St Jacques. Closely followed by a 2002 of the same The wine was a stunning expression of the earthy, meaty savoury style that sets great Pinot apart from other wines.  This is definitely a wine you need to drink using the Dmcker style of letting it evolve in the glass for a good while. But these wine come at a price, to get an excellent premier or grandcru vineyard burgundy from a great vintage starts in the $100's
and quickly hits the stratosphere where DRC is around Euro3-4000 per bottle for current vintage. My limited experience with US Pinot has generally been pretty good and I certainly have no qualms in recommending them to my wine drinking friends.  NZ Pinots are made in a far more fruity driven style which is a very different expression of Pinot than Burgundy and even Aussie and US Pinot.  Pinot traditionalists tend to dismiss the style but in its own way it is an interesting expression of Pinot but it is not at all like a burgundy. Pinot more than any other grape is very much impacted by vintage conditions so consult your vintage charts before buying and whilst I am not a terriorist I do think that Pinot does express its peice of dirt more persuassively than any other variety. { I feel a GregT disertation coming} Oh well looks like its Pinot night sometime over the weekend
Reply by Richard Foxall, Mar 3, 2011.

I think I might have started this rumble.  I'll put in my 2 cents on the terroir issue before GregT or anyone else.  I think that syrah reflects terroir (if that includes every aspect of where it's grown--weather, sun exposure, etc.) more than PN but can be grown, picked and manipulated and blended in ways that disguise the origin a bit, especially if it's picked ripe and jammy.  It can also be grown more places, where pinot cannot stand heat but takes a long time to ripen properly, and so is limited in where it is grown. Syrahs from different appellations--central coast of Cal, north coast of Cal, different parts of Napa, different apps of the Northern Rhone--are really distinct.  PN just won't turn out anything worthwhile in a lot of places, but the expression of terroir, imo, is narrower--good PNs have an underlying common thread that seems broader than the "white pepper and savoury meatiness" thread in syrah.  Not to say there aren't stylistic choices, but the grapes themselves seem to dictate a lot, in spite of their instability.  (Again, I am no Burg expert, the bulk of my experience is in Cal pinots, NZ pinots, OR pinots, mostly.) I've had syrah that tastes like something else, but pinot always tastes like pinot. The big difference is enjoyability--great ones at one end, and mediocre to poor at the other.  Very few just plain good at a good price in the middle, which is the big swath in most varietals.  I think this is exaggerated in the few burgs I buy because the good ones are (mostly) priced out of reach, but there's more pinot grown in Burg than elsewhere in an effort to capitalize on the region's fame for PN, so there's a lot of blecch stuff at the lower end. 

Reply by dmcker, Mar 3, 2011.

Another easy post for me, but with some interesting background. From Steve Heimhoff. Some good comments under this piece at his blog. Here's an excerpt from one:

"I think what happens is that a lot of mediocre Pinot is flooding the retail shelves, mostly blended with Syrah or Mega-Purple to give it color and depth. Watch how fast those vineyards get grafted over when a new “darling variety” will appear. Funny, Merlot is in demand again…"

And an excerpt from another.

"Every day, I have people come in to taste who are predisposed to be disappointed because of prior experiences they have had with Pinot. This tells me that there is already a lot of Pinot on the shelves that succeeds brilliantly in aiming low. Increased production of these wines will eventually result in the shine coming off the variety in the broader consumer demo, as it did with Merlot."


Go to the link above to see the original blog and full comments....


Is there too much Pinot Noir growing in California? 18 comments

Posted by steve on Mar 3, 2011 in Pinot Noir | 18 comments

I drive down to one of my favorite events of the year today. World of Pinot Noir is still held at the Cliffs Resort, in Shell Beach (San Luis Obispo County), as it has been for the last eleven years. I went to the first one, fell in love with it on the spot, and have gone ever since.

In advance of going, I checked out some Pinot Noir statistics here in California. The Department of Food & Ag just sent out the 2010 crush report. There was actually a little less Pinot crushed in 2010 than in 2009, but if you go back just six vintages, to 2004, the number of tons crushed of Pinot Noir was less than half of what it was last year: 70,000, versus 147,000.

That’s a big increase, more than 100%. For comparison’s sake, in the same two vintages (2004 and 2010), Cabernet Sauvignon went up 23.6%, Chardonnay was up 24.5% and Sauvignon Blanc (the next most widely planted white grape after Chardonnay, excluding French Columbard) was up 30%.

Sure, Pinot’s tonnage started from a smaller base than did the other three, but the fact is (hold onto you hats) that Pinot Noir, in 2010, was the fourth highest red grape in tons crushed in all of California, beaten out only by Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Zinfandel (and again, excluding a grape nobody cares about because it goes into jug wines, Rubired). There was even more Pinot Noir crushed last year than Syrah. If crush increases at another 100% rate for the next six years, Pinot Noir’s numbers will soar, making one wonder if there are enough people to drink it all.

What about acreage? The Food & Ag people haven’t released the 2010 Grape Acreage Report yet, but we have 2009’s to go by. That year, there were more than 36,000 acres (bearing and non-bearing) of Pinot Noir reported. Again, that put Pinot #4 on the list of most widely planted red varieties (after Cabernet, Zinfandel and Merlot). Most of it was right where you’d expect: Sonoma County, where extensive plantings have gone into the Petaluma Gap region. Monterey County, too, has exploded in Pinot acreage, as has Santa Barbara County, Mendocino County and Napa, San Benito and San Luis Obispo counties. There are now 34 California counties growing Pinot,  more than half the state’s total of 58.

We all know that Pinot Noir is hugely popular. What the precise role of Sideways was will be debated forever: Was Pinot happening anyway? Yes. Did Sideways help? Yes. Would Pinot be where it is today without Sideways? Irrelevant. The real question is, is there a tipping point to how much Pinot Noir California can grow before there’s an oversupply, the way we’ve seen happen with other grapes, like Merlot, Syrah and Zinfandel, forcing prices to fall?

Overplanting is one potential problem Pinot Noir faces. The other is pricing. Of all varieties, Pinot is the most difficult to produce inexpensively, which is why it is, on average, the costliest California wine, as determined by its weighted average dollars per ton. Pinot’s WADPT in 2010 was $1,641. No other major grape variety is that high. (Several rare varieties, such as Aleatico, Lemberger and Pinot Meunier, report higher numbers, but those must be based on extremely small deals between growers and buyers, and obviously do not reflect on the underlying value of those varieties, which at any rate are rarely bottled.) This means that Pinot Noir will always be an expensive wine, which is not a good thing when Americans continue to tighten their belts and look for values.

So we’re going to have to keep a close eye on the future of the Pinot Noir market, and that’s one of the questions I’m going to be asking producers at the World of Pinot Noir.


Reply by JonDerry, Mar 3, 2011.

Very good info...makes sense to me.  Too much mediocre (or worse) Pinot out there on the shelves.

Reply by duncan 906, Mar 3, 2011.

I went to the London France Show back in January and had the pleasure of a long chat with the man from Domaine Debray who let me taste some of his wines.Even the cheapest one,a Cotes de Beaune, was  beautiful but the more expensive ones from the Cotes de Nuits were just exquisite.I particularly liked his Fixin so I splashed out £30 and am going to save it for Christmas or some very special occasion.I also tasted one of his white Burgundies and that was also exquisite.{Yesterday I had a Blossom Hill Chardonnay from California and it was so bland  there was just no comparison}The point is that they have been growing Pinot Noir/Chardonnay and making wine for hundreds of years so there is an incredible amount of expertise in Burgundy.To the chap I spoke with,his wines were not a mere product but works of art.My advice to Napagirl would be to spend the money and try some good Burgundy  

Reply by Stephen Harvey, Mar 3, 2011.

Stats are interesting when you think that 1 tonne of grapes is approx 60 - 80,  9 litre equivalent cases [12 x750ml bottles] 140,000 tonnes = 9-10M cases of pinot.

I could not easily find burgundies production but I suspect it is much less than Cali

Oh NG you and your friends have a lot of Pinot to drink

Reply by napagirl68, Mar 3, 2011.

TRUE, TRUE, TRUE!  A prior post of mine was re: my love/hate relationship with CA pinot.  MOST you find at the stores (even wine shops) are horrible, and that was even BEFORE Sideways came along and every Tom, Dick and Harry was tearing out other vines to plant pinot.  Then they couldn't pull it off, and threw in a bunch of syrah.  Blech.  I agree.

But just because there is a lot of crap out there, doesn't mean all pinot is bad or mediocre....   Just like blondes... there are still some natural ones, you know? 

BUT... onto the Burgundies... any other recommendations?  And thank you SH for yours :-)

Reply by rolifingers, Mar 5, 2011.

I prefer CA terroir

Reply by Don Roberts, Mar 6, 2011.

I personally think it is folly to compare any pinot noir grown in any region of any country with the better wines of Burgundy. I have never had a Romani Conti, but I have had La Tache, Chambertin, Chambertin Clos De Beze,  Musigny, Richebourg, Echezeaux, Grand Echezeaux, Corton, and a couple of dozen "lesser" Burgundies.  I once opened a half bottle of Comte de Vogue's Musigny in a large living room. The entire room smelled like strawberries, and drinking the wine was a truly Platonic experience.

There are some non-France pinot noirs worth drinking, but to compare them with the great Burgundies is like comparing a bicycle to a Rolls Royce: both will get you to your destination, but the rides are so different that no one would in his/her right mind would attempt to discuss the difference. I am amazed that this blog could be taken seriously.

Donald B. Roberts, M.D.

Reply by Stephen Harvey, Mar 6, 2011.


I think that most of us agree that Burgundy is the benchmark and all my friends who are winemakers agree.  Every serious pinot maker has his/her pilgrimage to the pinot Mecca

That is why we compare and discuss.  We try to learn understand and experience all different Pinot styles.

But on your comparison I would suggest that whilst Burgundy is the benchmark many other regions in the world can produce some pretty amazing Pinots.

Using your vehicle analogy, the DRC's may well be the Bugatti Veyrons of this world but I think there is a few non burgundy pinots which maybe just a little better than bicycles, maybe mid range Mercedes AMG's or Porsche Boxsters.

Many Californian, NZ and Australian Winemakers are trying there hardest to produce the best Pinot they can make.  Personally I think they will create great Pinots, perhaps different to great Burgundies but still great Pinots.

In any case the more pressure the new world puts in the old world the better.  If it results in the Burgundy producers sharpening their collective focus then us consumers will ultimately be better off.

Reply by duncan 906, Mar 6, 2011.

I liked Don Robert's metaphor that Burgundy is the Rolls-Royce of Pinot Noirs and I have to agree with him.Today,to accompany my Sunday lunch, I opened a bottle of Jean Philippe Marchand Gevrey Chambertin Vielles Vignes 2004 and this bottle bore out what Don said.It is a beautiful wine by any standards,smooth,subtle and delicate and full of flavour.

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