MAKING A LIST . . .

The other day, I bumped into a friend-of-some-years (thereby avoiding referring to her as an “old friend”) who asked if I’d made my list yet. Even though I look more-than-a-bit like Santa Claus, I generally wait until after all the Thanksgiving leftovers are gone to start thinking about Christmas stuff. And I said as much.

She replied “No. Not that list. Your value wine list.”

I told her that it had been a few years since I’d done that. She said I should do it again as she needed a new one … and then she pulled a much-taped-and-folded, very-beat-up piece-of-paper from her purse and showed me one of my old value wine picks lists she’d been carrying around for several years. The vintages were all way out-of-date but a good chunk of the wines that are still available are wines I’d still recommend. After I looked at it (with some wonderment on my part), she carefully refolded it and put it safely back in her purse saying “See. I need a new one … but I’ll hold on to this one until you get around to it.”

Well, OK. Good idea. And since she’s what I refer to as a “church lady” (although not all church ladies go to my church), her “request” is really more of a command anyway.

You may well ask “What makes a ‘Value Wine?’” (You also may ask “What makes a Church Lady?” but that‘s a topic for another time and place.) In the general parlance, “value wine” is a good or recommended wine below a certain price point. That well-worn list my friend had saved was all under $15.00 per bottle. And that’s fair as far as it goes but to make my list, the wines have to consistently over-deliver. That being the case, not many heavily-marketed, national brands make my list as, while many of them offer a fair value, seldom do they over-deliver (and almost never do they over deliver over a series of vintages).

bearonwinelogoWhat you’ll find on this list are my picks (wines I actually buy and drink at home) with First-of-December-2016 prices under $20 (Spec’s cash bottle price – if you’re buying six-mixed at a time or by-the-case, the prices will be lower). The prices listed will likely change (some up, some down) over time. The vintages on the list are those that are current as I compile it but don’t worry too much if you bump into a vintage that’s younger. These wines tend to be pretty consistent from vintage-to-vintage. These are wines with enough production that they are available most of the time; I’m not including anything where we don’t get at least a couple of pallets a year. Finally, these are wines that I recommend. Which means they are wines I like to drink. Which means they offer plenty of fruit but are not over-ripe or over-manipulated. Which is to say that they taste of the grapes from which they were made and (generally) of the specific place they were grown.

READ MORE

PRINT THE LIST

Red Burgundies of the Cote de Nuits

Red Burgundies of the Cote de Nuits

7pm  Monday September 19, 2016 at The Wine School at l’Alliance Française

alnsgPlease join Spec’s fine wine buyer Bear Dalton for this in-depth look at the Red Burgundies of the COTE DE NUITS. Fifteen top quality wines (ranging from $27 to $170 per bottle with seven over $100 per bottle) will be tasted covering all the major Cote de Nuits appellations and the hierarchy from regional (1) to village (5), premier cru (5), and grand cru (4).   We will discuss appellation, hierarchy, terroir, tradition, style, technique, and personality. The wines tasted will be served in Riedel Degustazione stemware. A selection of cheeses and bread will be offered during each class.

We will taste:
taupenotmermecharmeschambertinArnoux Lachaux Bourgogne Pinot Fin 2013
Arnoux Lachaux Nuits Saint Georges 2013
Arnoux Lachaux Nuits Saint Georges Les Proces 1er cru 2013
Domaine Berthaut Fixin les Crais 2014
Albert Bichot Gevrey Chambertin Les Murots 2013
Taupenot Merme Gevrey Chambertin 2013
Taupenot Merme Charmes Chambertin Grand Cru 2013
Taupenot Merme Morey St. Denis la Riotte 1er cru 2013
Pousse d’Or Clos de la Roche Grand Cru 2011
Pousse d’Or Chambolle Musigny  2011
Groffier Chambolle Musigny les Sentiers 1er Cru 2010
Michel Gros Clos Vougeot Grand Maupertuis Grand Cru 2010
Domaine Berthaut Vosne Romanee les Petitis Monts 1er Cru 2014
Domaine d’Eugenie Vosne Romanee les Brulees 1er cru 2009
Domaine Thenard Grands Echezeaux Grand Cru 2011
 
This Cote de Nuits Class will cost $135.00 total per person cash ($141.11 regular). The class will meet at 7pm on Monday, September 19 at l’Alliance Française. To purchase your ticket, please contact Susan at 713-854-7855 or coburnsusan2@gmail.com.

L’Alliance Française is the French cultural center in Houston. Located at 427 Lovett Blvd., l’Alliance is on the southeast corner of Lovett and Whitney (one block south of Westheimer and two blocks east of Montrose).

Please Note: If you buy a ticket and will not be able to attend, please cancel at least 24 hours before the class or you may be charged. Later cancellations will not be charged if we can fill the seat. This is often case as we regularly have waiting lists for these classes.

Red Wines of the Cote de Beaune

7pm  Monday  September 12, 2016 at The Wine School at l’Alliance Française

Please join Spec’s fine wine buyer Bear Dalton for this in-depth look at the red wines of BURGUNDY’s Cote de Beaune (plus one Cote Chalonnaise). We will examine the intricacies and differences to be found in Pinot Noir based reds in a region with hundreds of legally delimited vineyards split into tiny plots farmed by myriad producers large and small.   We will discuss appellation, heirarchy, terroir, tradition, style, technique, and personality. The wines tasted will be served in Riedel Degustazione stemware. A selection of cheeses and bread will be offered during each class.

We will taste:
Champy Bourgogne Rouge 2014
Thenard Givry Les Bois Chevaux Rouge 1er cru 2010
Champy Savigny Les Beaune 2014
Champy Volnay 2011
Domaine Thenard Pernand Vergelesses Ile des Vergelessess 1er cru 2011
Jessiaume Auxey Duresses Les Ecusseaux 1er cru 2013
Jessiaume Santenay Clos de Clos Genet  2013
Chateau de Santenay Santenay Gravieres 1er cru 2013
Bernard Moreau Chassagne Montrachet Rouge Vieilles Vignes 2014
Albert Bichot Pommard Clos les Ursulines 2013
Bouchard Beaune Greves Vigne l’Enfant Jesus 1er cru 2011
Roblet Monnot Volnay St Jean 1er Cru 2013
Albert Bichot Aloxe Corton Clos Des Marechaudes 1er cru 2013
Domaine Thenard Corton Clos Du Roi Grand Cru 2011
Albert Bichot Corton Clos Des Marechaudes Grand Cru  2013

This Red Burgundy Class will cost $100 total per person cash ($105.26 regular). The class will meet at 7pm on Monday, September 12 at l’Alliance Française. To purchase your ticket, please contact Susan at 713-854-7855 or coburnsusan2@gmail.com.

L’Alliance Française is the French cultural center in Houston. Located at 427 Lovett Blvd., l’Alliance is on the southeast corner of Lovett and Whitney (one block south of Westheimer and two blocks east of Montrose).

If you buy a ticket and will not be able to attend, please cancel at least 24 hours before the class or you may be charged. Later cancellations will not be charged if we can fill the seat. This is often case as we regularly have waiting lists for these classes.

White Wines of Chablis and the Cote d’Or / Upcoming Events

7pm  Monday August 29, 2016 at The Wine School at l’Alliance Française

Please join Spec’s fine wine buyer Bear Dalton for this in-depth look at the Chardonnay-based white wines of BURGUNDY’s Cote d’Or and Chablis (plus one from the Cote Chalonnaise). We will examine the intricacies and differences to be found in a region with hundreds of legally delimited vineyards split into thousands of plots farmed by myriad producers large and small.   We will discuss appellation, heirarchy, terroir, tradition, style, technique, and personality. The wines tasted will be served in Riedel Degustazione stemware. A selection of cheeses and bread will be offered during each class.

We will taste:
Daniel Dampt Chablis 2015
Daniel Dampt Chablis Cote De Lechet 1er Cru 2014
Daniel Dampt Chablis Les Clos Grand Cru 2014
Dom Jessiaume Bourgogne Chardonnay 2013
Domaine Thenard Givry Clos Du Cellier Aux Moines Blanc 1er Cru 2013
Vincent Latour Saint Aubin Cuvee Les Frionnes 1er Cru 2014
Dom Jessiaume Santenay Gravieres Blanc 1er cru 2013
Vincent Latour Meursault Les Pelans 2013
Fontaine Gagnard Chassagne Montrachet 2013
Fontaine Gagnard Chassagne Montrachet Chenevottes 1er Cru 2013
Jerome Castagnier Puligny Montrachet Le Cailleret 1er Cru 2013
Domaine Thenard Montrachet 2009

This White Burgundy class will cost $100 per person cash ($105.26 regular). The class will meet at 7pm on Monday, August 29th at l’Alliance Française. To purchase your ticket, please contact Susan at 713-854-7855 or coburnsusan2@gmail.com.

L’Alliance Française is the French cultural center in Houston. Located at 427 Lovett Blvd., l’Alliance is on the southeast corner of Lovett and Whitney (one block south of Westheimer and two blocks east of Montrose).

If you buy a ticket and will not be able to attend, please cancel at least 24 hours before the class or you may be charged. Later cancellations will not be charged if we can fill the seat. This is often case as we regularly have waiting lists for these classes.

UPCOMING WINE CLASSES and EVENTS
09/12  Red Burgundy – Cote de Beaune and Cote Chalonnaise (Monday, 7pm)
09/19  Red Burgundy – Cote de Nuits (Monday, 7pm)
09/26  Zinfandel (Monday, 7pm)
10/03  TBD (Monday, 7pm)
10/05  An Evening with Quintessa benefitting the Houston Area Women’s Center (Wednesday, 7pm) – A tasting of Quintessa vintages and components presented by Larry Stone of Quintessa
10/10  Bordeaux Basics benefitting the Houston Area Women’s Center (Monday, 7pm)
10/25  Bordeaux Basics benefitting the Houston Area Women’s Center (Tuesday, 7pm)  – These Bordeaux Basics classes are identical so please sign up for one or the other but not both.
10/18  Bordeaux and Champagne Tasting at the Crystal Ball Room at the Rice (Tuesday, 4:30pm – 8:30pm)  – 30 Bordeaux wines (mostly dry red) and over a dozen Champagnes

Taking BURGUNDY to the Next Level

Please join me, Spec’s fine wine buyer Bear Dalton, on February 29th at 7pm for Taking Burgundy to the Next Level. Back on February 15th, we did a high level look at the length of the Cote d’Or. On Feb 29th, we’ll take it to the next level focusing in on the differences found in terroirs. We’ll start with five white wines from the “Cote de Blancs” villages of Chassagne, Puligny, and Meursault, all from 2011. The two Chassagnes are both 1er crus from Fontaine Gagnard, The Puligny is also a top 1er cru. And the two Meursaults are a top premier cru and what is arguably the most sought after village wine in all of Burgundy.

Fontaine Gagnard Chassagne Grand Montagne 1er cru 2011
Fontaine Gagnard Chassagne Vergers 1er cru 2011
Bachelet Monnot Puligny Montrachet Les Folatieres 1er cru 2011
Bouchard Pere et Fils Meursault Genevrieres 1er cru 2011
Comtes Lafon Meursault Clos de la Barre 2011

Then comes a range of reds starting with two of the very top wines 1er cru wines from Beaune (from two rival producers) followed by three Volnay 1er cru reds, all from the same winery and same 2011 vintage. We’ll follow that with two 2009 1er crus from Michel Gros comparing two distinct terroir with essentially the same farming and winemaking. And we’ll finish up with two Clos Vougeot Grand Cru reds, both 2008s from the special climate of Grand Maupertuis, one from Anne Gros and the other from Michel Gros (who are cousins).

Bouchard Beaune Greves Vigne l’Enfant Jesus 1er cru 2011
Drouhin Beaune Clos des Mouches Rouge 1er cru 2011
Pousse d’Or Volnay Caillerets 1er cru 2011
Pousse d’Or Volnay Clos des 60 Ouvrees 1er cru 2011
Pousse d’Or Volnay Clos de la Bousse d’Or 1er cru 2011
Michel Gros Vosne Romanee aux Brulees 1er cru 2009
Michel Gros Vosne Romanee Clos des Reas 1er cru 2009
Anne Gros Clos Vougeot le Grand Maupertui Grand Cru 2008
Michel Gros Clos Vougeot Grand Maupertuis Grand Cru 2008

Taking Burgundy to the Next Level will cost $140.00 per person cash ($147.37 regular). The course will meet at 7pm on Monday February 29, 2016 at l’Alliance Française. Registration is limited to 28 people. To reserve your spot, please contact Susan at 713-854-7855 or coburnsusan2@gmail.com.

L’Alliance Française is the French cultural center in Houston. Located at 427 Lovett Blvd., l’Alliance is on the southeast corner of Lovett and Whitney (one block south of Westheimer and two blocks east of Montrose).

As The Wine School at l’Alliance Française, Bear Dalton has been teaching Texans about wine since 1998. He has over 35 years of experience tasting (currently about 9,000 wines a year), drinking and enjoying, and working professionally with wine – including over 30 years experience teaching and writing about wine.

BURGUNDY’s COTE d’OR Class and Tasting

Please join me, Spec’s fine wine buyer Bear Dalton, on Monday February 15th at 7pm for an over-the-top overview of the fine wines of Burgundy’s Cote d’Or. We will discuss the terroir and techniques that go into making high quality white and red Burgundies in the Cote d’Or as well as the hierarchical quality classifications of Burgundy (regional, village, premier cru, grand cru). We will taste six whites (1 regional, 2 village, 2 premier cru and 1 grand cru) and ten reds (1 village, 7 premier cru, and 2 grand cru). Together these very high quality wines offer an overview of the potential quality and styles of Burgundy’s most recognized and desired region –  the Cote d’Or. The class will include bread and a selection of fine cheeses to accompany the tasting.

White:
Jessiaume Bourgogne Blanc 2013
Jessiaume Santenay les Gravieres Blanc 1er cru 2013
Vincent Latour Meursault les Pellans 2013
Albert Joly Puligny Montrachet Vielles Vignes 2012
Fontaine Gagnard Chassagne Montrachet Boudriotte 1er Cru 2011
Bouchard Pere & Fils Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru 2013

Cote de Beaune Red:
Jessiaume Rouge Santenay 2013
Ch. de Santenay Beaune Clos du Roi 1er cru 2013
Roblet Monnot Pommard les Arvelets 1er cru 2011
Pousse D’or Volnay Clos des 60 Ouvrees 1er Cru 2011
Pousse D’or Corton Clos du Roi Grand Cru 2011

Cote de Nuits Red:
Georges Mugneret Gibourg Nuits St. Georges les Chaignots 1er Cru 2011
Louis Trapet Petite Chapelle Gevrey Chambertin 1er Cru 2011
Michel Gros Vosne Romanee Clos des Reas 1er Cru 2011
Taupenot Merme Morey St Denis la Riotte 1er Cru 2013
Michel Gros Clos Vougeot les Grands Maupertuis Grand Cru 2008

Burgundy’s Cote d’Or will cost $120.00 per person cash ($126.32 regular). The course will meet at 7pm on Monday February 15, 2016 at l’Alliance Française. To reserve your spot, please contact Susan at 713-854-7855 or coburnsusan2@gmail.com.

L’Alliance Française is the French cultural center in Houston. Located at 427 Lovett Blvd., l’Alliance is on the southeast corner of Lovett and Whitney (one block south of Westheimer and two blocks east of Montrose).

As The Wine School at l’Alliance Française, Bear Dalton has been teaching Texans about wine since 1998. He has over 35 years of experience tasting (currently about 9,000 wines a year), drinking and enjoying, and working professionally with wine – including over 30 years experience teaching and writing about wine.

2015 HOLIDAY WINE DINNER

Champagne – Sherry – Burgundy – Bordeaux – More Bordeaux – Port
On Thursday, December 17th at 7pm, please join me, Spec’s fine wine buyer Bear Dalton, at Charivari Restaurant for a Holiday Wine Dinner featuring wines from Champagne, Jerez (Sherry), Burgundy, and Bordeaux, as well as a 1965 Colheita Port all paired with Chef Schuster’s holiday menu.

The MENU:
Walleye Pike Quenelles with
Rothschild Brut Rosé, Champagne, NV

Wild Mushroom & Potato Soup with
Lustau East India, Sherry, NV

Roasted Quail over Multigrain Risotto with
Bouchard Beaune Greves Vigne l’Enfant Jesus 1er cru 2011
Pousse d’Or Volnay Clos des 60 Ouvrees 1er cru 2012
Taupenot Merme Morey St. Denis Riotte 1er cru 2013

Red Beet Sorbet

Black Angus Hanger Steak with Marrow Butter and Roasted Potatoes with
Domaine de Chevalier Rouge, Pessac Leognan,. 2012
Ch Leoville Poyferre, St. Julien, 2012
Ch. Montrose, Pauillac, 2012
Ch. Pichon Lalande, Pauillac, 2012

French Cheeses with
Ch. Montrose, St. Estephe, 2005
Ch. Leoville Poyferre, St. Julien, 2005

Salted Caramel Apple Tart with
Messias Colheita, Porto, 1965

This Holiday Wine Dinner will cost $200.00 per person including a 5% discount for cash or check or $210.53 regular. All taxes and tips are included. Attendance at this dinner is strictly limited to 22 people. For reservations, please contact Susan Coburn at coburnsusan2@gmail.com or 713-854-7855.

Charivari is located at 2521 Bagby (77006) in Mid-Town Houston.

MARCH CHEF DINNER

At the same time I scheduled a wine dinner at Charivari for 7pm on Thursday March 12th, I discovered that March 12th is Chef Johann Schuster’s birthday  – so I asked him to pick the menu. As he is German and white Asparagus season is upon us, I knew that spargle would be involved. What Chef Johann initially came up with looked great to me but may have been a little challenging for many diners. Per my request, he dialed it back (from challenging to adventurous) to achieve a broader appeal. In choosing the wines to pair with these dishes, I went with some of my favorites (as my birthday is three days earlier). So we will have wines from Perrier Jouet (PJ), Pedro Romero (PR), Pinot Gris (PG), and Pinot Noir (PN).

The MENU
Grilled Halloumi – White Asparagus Skewers
Perrier Jouet Belle Epoque, Champagne, 2006

White Asparagus Veloute with Marrow Dumplings
Pedro Romero Cream Sherry NV

Spiced Smoked-Miso-Maple-glazed Sable Fish fillet and grilled Asparagus with
Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris Rotenberg 2009
Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris Clos Windsbuhl 2009
Trimbach Pinot Gris Gold Label Hommage A Jeane 2000

White Asparagus – Wasabi Root Sorbet

Rack of Lamb herbed & Roasted and a Pinot Noir reduction,
Yukon Gold White Asparagus aux gratin with
Bouchard Pere & Fils Beaune Greves Clos de l’Enfant Jesus 1er cru 2009
Roblet Monnot Volnay Taillepieds 1er cru 2009
Michel Gros Morey St Denis Rue de Vergy 2009
Lecheneaut Nuits St. Georges Les Pruliers 1er cru 2009

Quark Donuts & melted Quark Ice Cream
Pedro Romero Pedro Ximenez Sherry NV

As always, we start with Champagne and in this case it is very fine Champagne indeed: Perrier Jouet Belle Epoque 2006, a top luxury cuvee from a top grand marque house. With the white asparagus soup (a signature of chef Schuster), we will enjoy a Cream sherry. With the Sable Fish (a specialty of the northern Pacific also known as Black Cod) fillet we will have three Alsace Pinot Gris wines (all grand cru quality) which will offer a revelation about the quality potential of Pinot Gris. While lamb is (for me at least) more closely associated with Bordeaux, the coming of Spring and the Pinot Noir reduction led me to Burgundy and a selection of four fine terroir from four great domaines.

This Chef Dinner will cost $150.00 per person including a 5% discount for cash or check or $157.89 regular. All taxes and tips are included. For reservations, please contact Susan at 713-854-7855 or at coburnsusan2@gmail.com.  Charivari is located at 2521 Bagby (77006) in Mid-Town Houston.

Punching and Pumping in Burgundy

When I travel to winegrowing regions, I taste a lot of wines – often 60-100 or more a day – and I ask a lot of questions. If you’re not going to do both, why travel? Sometimes the wines surprise me and sometimes the answers surprise me. I always learn something new. On my most recent trip to Burgundy, I learned a lot.

I’ve been going to Burgundy pretty regularly now for over 18 years. In that time, I’ve learned a lot about the winemaking but long before I ever visited Burgundy, I knew that Burgundian red winemaking meant fermenting Pinot Noir grapes in open-top fermenters and managing the cap using pigeage or “punch downs.” That’s what I had been taught, that’s what all the books said, that’s what I expected to see, and – when I got there – that is in fact what I saw. Open-top fermentation tanks with the apparatus necessary to punch down through the “cap” of skins that forms on the top of the juice. No surprise there.

Why is this necessary? To understand, we need to start at the beginning or at least the beginning in Burgundy. By the time winemaking made it to Burgundy, people knew how to make wine.

Naked Pipeage from "Naked Winemaking" at PalatePress.com

Naked Pipeage from “Naked Winemaking” at PalatePress.com

The whole bunches (whole clusters) of grapes were brought into the vat room and dumped directly into the vat. While the weight of those clusters on top broke some of the grapes on the bottom which released some juice, there wasn’t much juice in the vat. So someone had to get in the tank and move around to break up the grapes and release juice. Think the famous grape stomping scene from I Love Lucy. Only naked. And up to your chest. (There is a story that, as recently as ten years ago, a certain Vosne Romanee producer had the gymnastics teacher from a local school come work out in his tanks, but I digress.)

Pigeage plate

Pigeage plate

Once enough juice is released, the indigenous yeast from both the vineyard and the winery start the fermentation. The fermentation produces both heat and carbon dioxide. The heat helps break down more grapes and release more juice further fueling the fermentation. And the carbon dioxide makes it a bad idea to get back in the tank as you wouldn’t be able to breath. So from the start of fermentation on, the grapes were manipulated by pushing down through the cap with either a plate-on-the-end-of-a-pole or a sort of four-pronged-square-fork-on-the-end-of-a-pole. As carbon dioxide is heavier than air, it tended to stay on the surface of the fermenting juice so someone standing on top of the tank punching down with a long pole was OK. Not that anyone knew what yeast or carbon dioxide was. They were doing what experience had taught them. Once the juice was mostly released, it was run off and finished fermenting without the skins. Vatting times were generally short (no more than three days) and the resulting wines were light red in color and fairly light bodied.

Pigeage fork

Pigeage fork

As time passed, vatting times increased and the wines got (somewhat) darker and (a bit) richer. It turned out that there was a lot of color and flavor in the skins. It also turned out that there was a lot of bitterness in the stems. As time passed, some winemakers began removing the grapes from the clusters and just putting only the grapes (without any stems) in the vat. The grapes gave up their juice more readily as the network of stems did not provide structure to keep the grapes from getting crushed. Pigeage (punching down) was still the order of the day.

Longer vatting times put a higher priority on managing the cap. Left to itself, a tank of fermenting grape juice and skins will separate into the juice below and the cap floating on top. And the cap is further pushed up by trapped carbon dioxide release by the fermenting juice. Since there is flavor and color in the skins, the wine maker wants the skins in contact (as in mixed in) with the juice so that flavor and color can be extracted. So someone had to stand on top of the tank and, using a punch down pole, poke through the cap down into the fermenting wine. This both pushed grape skins (and pulp and trapped seeds) down into the wine and allowed wine to come up into the hole created and seep from there into the cap. In each vat,  several holes were punched through the cap once or twice a day depending on how active the fermentation was for 5-7 days. The other reason to punch down (or otherwise keep the cap wet) is that spoilage organisms can colonize if the cap is allowed to dry out.

Fast forward to modern times. The red Pinot Noir grapes of Burgundy are generally brought into the winery and run through a crusher/de-stemmer. Some producers both de-stem and crush the grapes. Some producers only de-stem so as to get whole berries into the tank and some add some whole clusters (anywhere from 10% to over 50%) to the tank. Some producers use all whole clusters.

Most Burgundian winemakers use a cold pre-fermentation maceration or “cold soak” before allowing the fermentation to start. The cold soak allows an aqueous (water-based) extraction to draw out color and flavor before alcohol is formed. Alcohol extracts tannins which are not soluble in water so tannin extraction doesn’t start until after the actual fermentation gets going and produces alcohol.

To cold soak, the winemaker either chills the tank down using the tank’s temperature control or (old school) adds dry ice. The goal is to get the temperature in the tank to below 12°C. The grapes are kept like this, macerating in their own juice for from three to as many as ten days. During this cold soak, the cap forms and must be managed. The options are to punch down or pump over. Punching down (pigeage) breaks open or crushes more grapes and releases more juice. Pumping over (remontage) takes the juice from the bottom of the tank and sprays it over the top to filter back down through the cap. The advantage to pumping over is that it is gentler. The disadvantage is that pumping over can introduce extra oxygen to the wine – and Pinot Noir tends to be oxidative so too much oxygen can be a real problem.

Conventional wisdom says that Pinot Noir producers punch down and because Pinot Noir is less extracted than say, Cabernet Sauvignon (which is usually made with pump-overs), that punching down is the gentler process. Both statements are less than fully true.

Starting with the second premise, standard plate-on-pole (or now more often plate-on-the-end-of-a-hydraulic-ram) punching down is actually a more aggressive extractive technique as the plate breaks, tears, and crushes the skins which allows more extraction of flavor and color. Pumping over is more gentle as only the juice is moved and no metal comes into contact with the grape skins.

The idea that most Burgundian Pinot Noir producers are using only punch downs as an extractive technique is more challenging. Just looking around certainly makes it seem that way. Most Burgundian wineries have lots of open top tanks whether wood, concrete, or stainless steel (or even plastic or fiberglass). And many have rails mounted on the ceiling above the tanks from which hangs a hydraulic ram with a punch-down plate at the bottom that can slide into position over each tank to make the punch downs.

But when you start talking to wine makers and asking detailed questions, another view emerges. Most of the best winemakers I saw on this trip say they are doing at least as much pumping over as punching down and some say they have virtually abandoned pigeage. Maybe they are pumping over in the cold soak, doing a little pigeage as the fermentation starts and then finishing with pump-overs. Some winemakers say there are a few days where they will do one pump-over and one pigeage. And some winemakers showed me a sort of four-pronged fork with which they were doing their pigeage rather than using the plate-at-the-end-of-the-pole. They say the fork is gentler and tears the grapes less but they are still pumping over as well.

The only winemakers that almost have to do at least some pigeage are those that are using all whole cluster as there is initially very little juice in the bottom of the tank. Until enough grapes break open to release enough juice to pump over, pigeage is necessary. Once there is enough released juice, they can (and many do) switch to pumping over.

And then there are the wineries, mostly newer, where there are no open tops or pigeage equipment. The first of these I noticed was several years ago when I visited Vincent Girardin on the east side of Meursault. On my most recent visit to Burgundy, I noticed that the Vignerons de Buxy co-op in Montagny had no open-tops and they acknowledged that all the wines are made with remontage (pumping over). The wines were clean and fresh and showed no oxidative problems so apparently they have it figured out. In visiting a number of other wineries they told me they were using the same sort of closed tanks (which I had incorrectly assumed were just for blending or white wine making) to vinify red wines. Who knew?

If Burgundy is so good – and (at least at the top of the quality pecking order where I work) it is – why change? There are several reasons. Grapes are riper. Winemakers now better understand aqueous (water) extraction versus alcoholic extraction. They better understand what happens with seeds during fermentation. They better understand what happens with stems during fermentation. They better understand both sugar ripeness and phenolic (stems, seeds, and skins) ripeness. The younger wave of winemakers has more education. All the better winemakers have more tools at their disposal. Newer better pumps make pump-overs gentler and less oxidative.

The conventional wisdom that the best Pinot Noirs from Burgundy are made using only punch-downs is incorrect. At this point, it is safe to say that most of the best properties are using both techniques (pigeage and remontage) on the same wine but it seems that there is (currently) as much or more pumping as punching going on.

Myth Busters would be proud.