Friday, July 24, 2009

Same Producer, Pinot Noir vs. Old VIne Pinot Noir

An admission to open this post: these wines do not appear to be widely distributed. I could find no importer information except the small distributor local to Oregon that sells wine retail through Square Deal. But that's not the point of today's excercise. This is more of an experiment or exploration than a review to drive specific buying decisions.
People stress old vines over young vines nearly every time, especially when discussing grapes such as Zinfandel and Grenache. I also hear stress on age in relation to Pinot Noir but to a lesser degree.
The concept of age being important to flavor, complexity, etc. is based on a few ways vines and grapes change as vines mature. For one thing, roots dig deeper and travel through more strata which leads to extraction of more variety of compounds and therefore more complexity in the grapes. As vines age they become less vigorous leading to production of less, and smaller, fruit. That means all the flavor is concentrated in less juice leading to a richer wine. The small grapes have more skin to juice ratio and therefore emerge, eventually, as darker wine.
Rarely is one able to try similarly handled versions of old vs. young from the same vineyard. This is one of those opportunities.
Xavier Guillaume runs, Pepinieres Guillaume, a highly acclaimed nursery with 27 million vines planted throughout east and south-east France. They produce a variety of stock, budwood, and clonal selections within varieties. To test and explore the styles they produce microcuvees of clones. In this case they produced Pinot Noir under the label Vignoble Guillaume. Although information about specific wines is spotty, my recollection from my discussion with an employee at Square Deal was that they were handled the same way, the only difference is the age of the vines (I can not recall now how big the difference was).
A quick note: There is no law governing the use of the term Old Vines anywhere on the planet. Most producers are scrupulous but if you have five year old vines planted in one spot and ten year old in another you could label the ten year old as old vines. I'm not even sure you need two different ages planted to label that way. However, people do ask questions and eventually a producer's hoax would be uncovered. Most wineries I have spoken with over the years will not label anything as old vines until they are at least 35 years old. Still others use 50 as their standard.
These wines hail from Franche-Comte near the eastern edge of France, close to the little known appellation of Jura and about an hour away from the Cote de Nuits. They carry a simple Vin de Pays designation but still commanded prices of $17 and $24.
Pinot Noir 2006 - Light color, with an almost orange edge. Nearly smells like a meaty rose - with more rose than meat. Tart cherry dominates with a perplexing, engaging ethereal silkiness. I think of silky as more textural, this was more of an impression as the wine was fairly delicate in the mouth. You can smell the minerality, cherry deepening with air and some very fresh mushroom emerging as well. I found it enough to simply smell this wine for quite some time. With more air the earth notes became stronger as did the subtle woodiness.
Pinot Noir Vieilles Vignes (Old Vines) 2006 - Similar color, but a bit deeper with crushed cherry and a bit of blackberry as well. Lovely, impressive wine that proved more intense with more mineral, nearly a wet stone smell. The minerality here is explosive, expanding in the mouth and giving the appearance of tasting the smell of stone in the summer after a strong rain. The fruit is sweeter with a touch of wood, but just a touch.
I found both wines to be on the lighter side, but with persistent finishes. They were also both fantastic with simple baked Sockeye Salmon.
Okay, the verdict? The old vine version simply took everything the first offered and made it bigger, more concentrated, turned it up to 11. Clearly, they were similar wines and I might have believed they were from the same producer but from different years, with the V.V. being a warmer vintage with, perhaps, a longer growing season. This is a potentially great lesson for buying Pinot Noir, Burgundy in particular. Assuming the sourcing is all estate you can test drive the winery's Bourgogne, or entry level Pinot, and get some idea of what's to come from wines made from older vines. This is a regular occurrence in Burgundy; less expensive wines made from younger vines while the older, prized vines make the best wines they have to offer. One word or caution however, often wineries handle juice from young and old vines differently, using more and newer wood with the bigger cuvees because they can handle it. To my palate that was clearly not the case with Vignoble Guillaume.
There are no absolute answers in the world of wine, only opportunities to hone your palate and become aware of more questions to ask in hopes of discovering the best wines for your palate.

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