Pinot noir grapes have a much darker hue than ...

Pinot Noir grapes

“I do like those bigger, lustier Pinots. I know some people around here spike ‘em with Syrah. Maybe I got seduced by them.” –Rex Pickett, author of Sideways and Vertical, in a Palate Press interview

“Some wineries add a dash of Syrah for color and backbone.” –James Laube, Wine Spectator

“The lack of coloring would be a factor in poor score wine ratings (for Pinot) from wine critics. In response to these poor scores, some Russian River winemakers altered their techniques in order to enhance the color. These techniques ranged from blending in the darker color Alicante Bouschet and Syrah or the red wine concentrate known as ‘Mega Purple’.” –Wikipedia entry on the Russian River Valley AVA

Winemakers who work hard to bring pure, outstanding Pinot Noir to their customers are sick of stuff like this. But cutting Pinot with Syrah or other varieties is perfectly legal. In California, a wine can be labeled “Pinot Noir” as long as 75% of the wine is Pinot. So why do we care if winemakers are cutting their Pinot?

The answer goes back to the wine’s historical home: Burgundy. In Burgundy, Pinot is Pinot. Blends are not accepted and celebrated. This is not true in regions like Bordeaux, where Cabernet is routinely blended with other varieties, or the Rhone Valley, where Syrah mingles with Viognier in the North while blending with a long list of varieties (including Grenache and Mourvedre) in the South. Most grapes, even in their most heralded regions, are comfortably blended. But Pinot is not.

Adam Lee, co-owner and co-winemaker of Siduri and Novy, reminds us that even in Burgundy, there were stories of blending Pinot with other varieties. But I would assume even Lee would not claim that the high-end producers in Burgundy are offering anything other than 100% Pinot Noir today. And there certainly isn’t a legal window to create a blend consisting of 25% “other varieties” in Burgundy.

Lee also wisely points out that you can’t substantiate a negative. In other words, want to prove that high-end Pinot producers in California aren’t cutting their wines? Essentially, you can’t. You have to, as Lee writes in this piece for Palate Press, take their word for it. And he adds that he knows a lot of high-end, small-production Pinot makers, and he knows “that none of them add Syrah to their Pinots.”

This point was echoed by Larry Brooks, winemaker at Tolosa in the Edna Valley, in a recent interview with W. Blake Gray. Brooks contends “that this happens mostly in cheaper Pinots, not the expensive single-vineyard ones.” And Brian Loring, who makes a range of popular Pinots under his own name, wrote on the popular wine bulletin board Wine Berserkers that blending Syrah into Pinot is “simply not done” and added that California Pinot is dealing with “the urban myth of added Syrah.”

So let’s try to answer some questions. Is it a myth? Why should this matter to wine consumers? Can we get beyond “take my word for it”? Can we ever know how often Pinot is cut with other varieties?

Larger production Pinot: Don’t assume it’s pure Pinot Noir

There is a clear difference between small and large producers, which is a fair place to start. And consumers ought to know that big-production Pinot is not always pure Pinot. We can’t know exactly how often it’s a blend, but there are mounds of evidence that indicate consumers who want to think they’re getting pure Pinot on the cheap are getting something else.

Red Bicyclette
French defendants faced huge fines for illegally passing off other grapes as Pinot Noir.

This does not mean that American producers are engaging in fraud. Legal blending decisions are a world away from the recent Red Bicyclette scandal, which involved eighteen million bottles of French wine that was supposed to be at least 85% Pinot Noir. Turns out it was cheap Merlot and Syrah.

American winemakers are well within their rights to blend other varieties into their Pinot, even if California Pinot can show plenty of color and flavor depth without help. And it’s safe to assume that, when we’re talking about Pinot Noir being cut with other varieties, it’s happening much more often with large production wines.

RedTree Pinot Noir impressed James Laube enough to earn his praise and an 88-point score in Wine Spectator, high for a large-production wine. Laube’s tasting note does not include the fact that the wine is a blend, but his blog post on the wine (in which he describes the Pinot as “excellent”) describes the winemaker’s decision to add an unknown red blending variety. The winemaker told Laube that he used the unknown red blend because Pinot needed help achieving the “right flavor profile.” Laube did not ask what is wrong with Pinot’s flavor profile on its own, but we can discern the answer. Pinot is notoriously difficult to grow and make well, and in many large-production operations, it doesn’t receive the attention it needs to thrive.

An employee at a large California wine company told me how it works in the creation of many thousands of cases of Pinot across several brands: “Samples were broken out solely by Syrah levels. The Pinot with the largest dose of Syrah was the winner. It was more that it wasn’t that much worse than the others, and it became a resting place for some leftover juice, and it was darker.” The employee did not want to be identified for fear of reprisal, but added, “Syrah needs a dumping ground for a lot of people right now.”

Jon Bonne, the outstanding wine writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, summed it up thusly: “If we’re that worried about Merlot being blended into cheap Pinot, there’s an easy solution: Stop drinking cheap Pinot.”

What about small-production, high-end, Pinot?

Now let’s look at the Pinots in which Brian Loring says adding Syrah is “simply not done.”

I spoke to Rick Moshin, owner and winemaker of Moshin Vineyards in the Russian River Valley. He has a unique opportunity to understand what’s happening with Pinot on an artisan level because he not only makes his own Pinot; he makes Pinot for seven other wineries (and more in previous years). Moshin’s facility allows him to make 10,000 cases a year on his own label, half of which is Pinot, and 20,000 cases for clients.

Moshin told me he would not reveal his clients, but said they are well known names in the industry. He also was quick to praise his colleagues, insisting that Pinot can be special in the Russian River Valley and surrounding appellations and he believes there are already many producers proving it.

But he disagrees with Lee, Brooks, and Loring when it comes to whether small producers cut their Pinot with other varieties.

“Just because you’re small doesn’t mean you don’t do it,” Moshin said. “It just means no one knows you do it. The public is kind of in the dark.”

Moshin is not claiming that high-end Pinot producers commonly cut their Pinot with other varieties. “It’s not common, but it’s not exactly rare,” he said.

He explained that when a client wants a darker, bolder Pinot, he’s often asked to add Syrah, but occasionally he’s blended Petit Sirah and even Zinfandel into Pinot at the request of clients.

“I have to make the wines for these people. I know what’s done,” he said. “I follow their orders, and they request all kinds of things. We do what we’re asked to do and we’re not responsible for the end result, and sometimes I think what’s done can ruin the wines.”

The addition of Syrah is not hard to spot, Moshin said. “You can taste even two percent Syrah in many cases.”

Moshin said he would never cut his own Pinots. “That’s defeating the purpose of Pinot Noir,” he said, then added, “That’s fine if you’re looking for high scores. I’ve talked about these practices with other winemakers and I think it’s probably often about points. I’ve stopped submitting my wines, so they’re in a different position. I understand that.”

Moshin makes 15 different Pinots that comprise his 5,000 cases, and in doing so he delights in searching for the finest nuances from site to site. His wines show softer colors and lower alcohols and have earned high praise from such esteemed writers as Dan Berger.

But perhaps most importantly, Moshin makes it a priority to talk to customers about what Pinot is supposed to be. He finds many customers expect thick, black Pinot Noir, perhaps having encountered Pinots that have been, in Moshin’s words, “corrupted.”

“These practices of blending Pinot or other things have helped create a customer base that often doesn’t understand what Pinot is about,” he said. “When customers get the idea that Pinot should not have softer colors and lower alcohol, it affects all of us who make the wine. We feel the pressure to take it darker.”

Dark Pinot: Don’t just assume it’s cut with other varieties

Adam Lee points to a variety of factors that lead to darker-colored Pinot without the addition of Syrah or other varieties: a longer growing season, enzyme addition, removal of stems from the winemaking process. Moshin agrees and explained that Pinot Noir in California should not be expected to be an exact replica of Pinot Noir in Burgundy. “Conditions are different, clones are different sometimes. There will be darker Pinots that will be pure Pinot and will be outstanding. No doubt about it.”

But Moshin volunteered his distaste for enzymes, which are used to bring more of the wine’s color out. “Enzymes give the wine bitterness. Now you have to use fining agents to get rid of the bitterness that you’ve added yourself. Enzymes can give you color and tannin, but you’re creating new problems for yourself do deal with through further intervention.”

In his interview with W. Blake Gray, Larry Brooks contended that winemaking and growing techniques can create a Pinot Noir with characteristics that overlap with Syrah, without the addition of other varieties. Brooks also stated his belief that the darker a Pinot Noir becomes, the less aromatic it becomes, and the more difficult it is to discern a real sense of place in the wine.

Moshin explained how he discerns whether a Pinot is simply darkly colored, or likely to have been cut with other varieties. “It’s often a combination of factors, not just one. Is the wine black? Is the alcohol high? Does it burn when you drink it? Does it have strange flavors?”

Despite Moshin’s distaste for Pinots cut with other varieties, he’s optimistic about Pinot’s future. “I think there’s a shift away from darker, heavier wines, but slowly,” he said. “We have to keep educating customers about how wine is made and what Pinot is about. When it’s good, there’s nothing better. It can pair with a very wide range of foods and it can show the kind of beauty that we don’t often see in wine.”

Interestingly, Moshin chooses not to add the words “100% Pinot Noir” to his labels. And that leads to an important part of the discussion.

Specific labeling: Can winemakers do more to educate consumers?

Specific information on a wine label helps a consumer understand exactly what they’re drinking. Wineries could include the breakdown by variety on the back label. Winemakers who champion 100% Pinot Noir could stamp it directly onto the label, while winemakers who find it useful to blend other varieties into Pinot could list the specifics.

“There’s no way the average customer understands the legal blending limits,” Moshin said. “People see ‘Pinot Noir’ on the label and very few would know that could mean a wine that’s only seventy-five percent Pinot.”

But some winemakers have publicly expressed concern about offering more details on the label. That’s because the TTB regulates wine labels, and inaccurate labeling could lead to penalties. Adam Lee worries that if the TTB discovered a stray vine or two in a vineyard that supplies grapes for his wines, he could find himself in deep trouble with the government. “I think going with 100% would be silly as it truly could open up a winery to potential regulation problems because of a few vines in the middle of the vineyard (that are not Pinot),” Lee wrote on Wine Berserkers.

Tom Hogue, spokesman for the TTB, explained that the TTB is more than capable of distinguishing between an honest mistake and deception. He wouldn’t characterize Lee’s concerns as unfounded, but only because the TTB does not want to comment on a case that does not exist. But Hogue said he “could never envision” the TTB hammering a winemaker for a simple mistake.

“You’re expected not to mislead the consumer,” Hogue said. “If you’re going to make certain claims on your label, you have to be able to back them up. But we’re a rational agency. We conduct product integrity investigations, and we take everything on a case-by-case basis.”

It’s nearly impossible to find California wineries currently labeling their wine as “100% Pinot Noir.” Given the TTB’s take on this issue, perhaps that will change soon.

What else can be done?

Rick Moshin’s account of cutting Pinot for other wineries, detailed as it is, still lacks an important component: specific names. He understandably protects the names of his clients, but without specific evidence of high-end Pinot cut to boost color and body, it seems more reasonable to take Adam Lee’s approach of taking winemakers at their word.

It won’t hurt, though, to occasionally ask them specifically about their techniques. In fact, even critics ought to be more inquisitive. Witness this tasting note from James Laube describing the Taz 2003 Fiddlestix Vineyard Pinot Noir from the Santa Rita Hills: “You might suspect a dollop of Syrah in this Pinot.” Suspect? Why implicate this producer without asking? If a critic has a direct suspicion, it can be addressed with a single question. Then the tasting note can be more helpful to readers by saying, “This is a big Pinot that evokes the character of Syrah, but the winemaker insists there’s only Pinot in the bottle.”

Laube has written 18 different notes on California Pinot that use the word “Syrah,” with no further help to the reader to know whether it’s just a big, ripe Pinot or a blended wine.

To paint all, or even some, high-end Pinot with a Syrah-soaked brush is certainly unfair. Moshin’s optimism should be a guide. There is wonderful, pure California Pinot coming forth in waves.

(And while we’re at it, can someone update that over-generalizing Wikipedia entry on the Russian River Valley?)


Evan Dawson is the author of Summer in a Glass, a book about Finger Lakes winemakers. Evan is also the  Finger Lakes Editor for the New York Cork Report. His paid job includes offering his best Ron Burgundy impersonation as a morning news anchor and political reporter for WHAM-TV in Rochester, NY.

About The Author

Evan Dawson
Staff Writer

Evan Dawson is the author of Summer in a Glass: The Coming of Age of Winemaking in the Finger Lakes. It won the 2012 Roederer International Wine Book of the Year. Outside of Palate Press, his wine writing has been published in Wine Spectator, Tasting Panel Magazine, and the New York Cork Report, for which he serves as Managing Editor. He hosts The Connection on WXXI radio, the NPR affiliate in western New York, where he focuses on community affairs. He is a middling but enthusiastic cook.

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  • http://Wikipedia Amber

    Nice article! As an Oregon and Burgundy Pinot lover, I do admit that some California Pinots have their charm (Kutch’s vineyard designated Russian River Pinots can be “better than sex” good) but there are times when they simply don’t come across as being Pinot-like at all.

    For overall wine enjoyment, they’re great but for those times when I’m really craving Pinot, I’m much more incline to look elsewhere.

    Also, thanks for the Wikipedia plug via the quote. I’ve returned the favor in kind with a link to this article and palate place on the Russian River AVA’s talk page.

    • Colin Frissell

      Better than SEX somebody is doing something wrong?

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  • http://www.twitter.com/tairanniew Tai-Ran Niew

    Perhaps there used to be a time when the simple adage “the proof is in the glass” works. But we seem to be so caught up with labels (and points).

    Here’s an idea: drink everything blind.

    If you have a wonderful wine experience does it really matter what varietals have been used to make it?

    If it is good, it is good. If it sucks, it sucks. If you never find out exactly what that wine is, will it seriously diminish your enjoyment of it?

    Typicity makes no philosophical sense. I look forward to the day when, by some bizarre quirk, a humble RRV Pinot Noir tastes EXACTLY like a 1989 Haut-Brion. It will clearly NOT be expressing the terrior of RRV or characteristics of Pinot Noir. I hope the critics pan it and I can mop it up cheap. And it will taste like bloody magic.

    I do believe consumers should be protected from cynical manipulation (i.e. they are willing to pay more for Pinot, but let’s put in cheaper Syrah). I also absolutely believe that consumers should be protected vigorously from anything that would be physically harmful.

    But that has nothing to do with taste.

    Quoting Benjamin Wallace: “Oneophile’s twist on the old Zen koan: If a fake wine is served at a tasting and no one notices, would it have mattered if it was real?”

  • Mike

    Very thought provoking article.

    I do have conflicting feelings about this issue, but as a big buyer and consumer of California Pinot, I come down on the side of wanting more info on the label. As the article points out, there is this (perhaps inexplicable) expectation that Pinot is Pinot (100% Pinot). If someone is intentionally blending, that’s info I want. I agree with Tai-Ran Niew in part. I have diverse taste in wine and am willing to try a Pinot with something blended and evaluate on its own merits (if it’s good, it’s good), but I do want to know what I’m buying and drinking. With wine, I think perception/belief of what you are drinking can play a role in your enjoyment of the experience in addition to the pure sensory experience itself, and for this reason I do want honesty. Because of the expectation (reasonable or not) that Pinot is 100% Pinot, I feel winemakers are being misleading if they are blending and not telling.

    This article is SO spot on in its criticism of some Laube Pinot reviews. For this reason, among others, I wish someone other than Laube would review Pinot Noir for WS, but that’s another issue altogether . . .

  • http://www.bottlesandmore.com Jim

    I am a huge fan of Pinot, and I especially love California’s version. I am very happy with their product and I agree, no one should be taking shots at them!

  • http://www.newyorkcorkreport.com Evan Dawson

    Mike –

    I think James Laube probably prefers a bigger, richer style of red wine, Pinot included. But he’s fairly consistent in that regard, so at least you can do some calibration based on track record.

    There are blends from around the world that are wonderful wines, no doubt. But like you, I favor as much information as possible. I don’t think winemakers are seeking to withhold it, either. I think if more people ask, they’ll be happy to give it.

  • http://www.newyorkcorkreport.com Evan Dawson

    Tai-Ran,

    You make well articulated points, but we just disagree. For me, wine is not just about wanting something delicious or yummy or tasty all the time. There is an intellectual pursuit, a tie to people and place. There is an observation of history.

    Now, just because we disagree doesn’t make me right. But based on where we’re starting from in this conversation, we’re not likely to get too far. But I do think we agree when it comes to protecting consumers.

  • http://www.weirdcombinations.com Stevie

    Well, I’m learning more about California Pinot Noir through tasting lately. Is the issue the color, the bold v. delicate argument, purists v. the whatever-works crowd, the histore oy pinot noir in France v. New World let’s-try-it views? All the questions intersect quite confusingly.

    I agree with Mike about Laube. I think that WS should have a reviewer for pinot noir across the globe, another for cabs, etc. The magazine is set up using the now outdated French classification system of wine making, which divides wine regions up and focuses on the land rather than the wines. That model falls flat on its face in California and most parts of the New world.

  • http://www.weirdcombinations.com Stevie

    Well, I’m learning more about California Pinot Noir through tasting lately. Is the issue the color, the bold v. delicate argument, purists v. the whatever-works crowd, the history pinot noir in France v. New World let’s-try-it views? All the questions intersect quite confusingly.

    I agree with Mike about Laube. I think that WS should have a reviewer for pinot noir across the globe, another for cabs, etc. The magazine is set up using the now outdated French classification system of wine making, which divides wine regions up and focuses on the land rather than the wines. That model falls flat on its face in California and most parts of the New world.

  • todd

    Isn’t the world over california pinots yet?

    This is just another nail in the coffin.. ( it will be a slow death, but it’s coming )

    how can anyone who really loves pinot go for those hot, ridiculously high alcohol, fruit bombs… now I know there are a few quality pinots being made in CA, but if it’s not coming from Oregon or Burgundy.. then just don’t buy it.

    CA: Stick to things you do well.. overpriced cabernet and yummy zinfandel.

    • http://www.newyorkcorkreport.com Evan Dawson

      Sorry, but that’s over the top for me, Todd. You say that there are indeed some quality Pinots being made in CA, then you turn around and say not to buy them.

      I don’t think this is a “nail in the coffin” at all. In fact, heightened interest in 100% Pinot is a sign that California can do it very well. And regarding whether it’s Oregon or Burgundy, shouldn’t it be different? It’s a different place entirely. That’s the beauty of wine.

    • Colin Frissell

      Todd your spot on, Pinot from the New world is to HOT, high Alc. and drowning in OAK…

      To all you Bandwagon Pinot buyers, please return your Hollywood made wine-video back to REDBox so real Pinot can come back to Reality :P

      Oh and Brett is a goodthing not a Person?
      I’m sure you have no Idea what I just said… So please return your Sideways video Now!

  • http://beausbarrelroom.blogspot.com Beau Carufel

    Good article, Evan.
    Personally I’d like to see more wineries/producers put the varietal make-up on the bottle, that way a consumer knows what they’re drinking. Those who do care will read that ingredient list while wine drinkers who don’t care will carry on as usual. That solves one problem, that of consumer mistrust regarding California pinot noir. Granted the demand for a full listing of grapes on the label is small, it’s a relatively easy change to make.

    As for Mr. Lee’s comments about fearing the TTB, I can’t help but laugh at that argument against labeling. First, as a “small producer”, wouldn’t he know what vines are in the vineyards he’s buying from? Second, as the TTB clearly stated, they would be reasonable if one or two vines of alicante (example) ended up in a bottle of Siduri…Besides, proving that those alicante grapes are actually part of said bottle of Siduri is quite difficult at such small percentages (a vine or two according to his example).

    Shouldn’t a winemaker be proud of what they create, even if it’s a wine with mostly pinot but other parts zin and syrah? They’re still the one creating something from grapes, blending, tasting, and then presenting that wine to the world. There seem to be a lot of whining from the pinot camp on this issue, but I don’t recall the merlot camp doing that, rather they went back and started making better merlot.

    And finally, the comment about ceasing to drink cheap pinot is so wildly out of touch with the average American consumer’s wine budget and wine drinking habits as to be utterly irrelevant. I guarantee the average wine drinker is not spending $48 a bottle on pinot and probably never will. Should they cease to drink pinot because they don’t want to spend that much money on a bottle that’ll be consumed and gone in the span of a few hours? Be it a $10 or $50 bottle, what matters is if you like the wine and hopefully that wine encourages you to get out and taste more. Only then will an understanding of the cost economies start to become apparent. Then again, maybe $20 pinot noir is “cheap”.

    Wine geeks, aficianados, collectors and nerds all do spend that kind of money, often. We are not the majority though. Hell, the majority of wine drinkers don’t even read wine blogs ;-)

    Cheers!

    • Adam Lee

      Beau,

      Obviously, you didn’t get my point. I know, for instance, that there are 4 vines of white grapes in one section of my Hirsch Vineyard Pinot Noir. And I know that there are 112 vines of Pinot Gris in my appx. 3 acre section of Wadenswil Pinot Noir at Muirfield (though that is changing as Gris tends to cause Pinot vines to mutate — so I have some vines that have Gris on one half and Noir on the other). Some years we have picked these white grapes with the Pinot, some years we haven’t, and some years some of them have been picked even if we asked them not to be. — I know those things to be true, and have written about the Gris (at least) on some of the wine notes…..so it isn’t either an honest mistake nor is it a deception. And it is certainly not blending into the wine to try to make the vineyards be something they are not.

      As far as the TTB goes, you have to realize it is only part of the story. I have had labels rejected by state authorities even though they have been approved by the TTB. As wineries we deal with 51 regulators, not just the TTB. Each substantive change to the label requires relicensing in a number of states, resulting in fees of approximately $1500 per wine. That’s expensive for a small winery.

      Lastly, you should know that our experience hasn’t always been reasonable. We have a white wine made from Pinot Noir, called “Blanc de Pinot Noir.” Three vintages ago we were told by the TTB that we had to add the words “white wine” to the label as it is a “white wine” and Pinot Noir is red. We made this change. This year, we are told we have to remove the words “white wine” from the label because Pinot Noir is a red grape. Thus, we’ve spent approximately $3000.

      Adam Lee
      Siduri Wines

      • http://www.newyorkcorkreport.com Evan Dawson

        Adam – We were replying at the same time, I see. Sorry if I stepped on your remarks at all.

    • http://www.newyorkcorkreport.com Evan Dawson

      Beau,

      I figured you’d check in, given your Friday posting that had the Palate Press staff’s attention.

      I don’t want to speak for Adam Lee, but I think I can address some of your points. First, when you say, “Wouldn’t he know what vines are in the vineyards he’s buying from?”, the answer is, Yes, generally. He’s simply pointing out that a rogue vine or two is possible, and he’s right. That’s been known to happen. Adam is concerned that the TTB might be unforgiving on such an innocent mistake, should one be discovered.

      You then say, “As the TTB clearly stated, they would be reasonable if one or two vines of alicante (example) ended up in a bottle of Siduri.” That is the TTB position, yes. But what you’re not considering here is the lack of trust that people like Adam have in the TTB. He’s battled the TTB and been frustrated with their changing positions in the past. He’s not the only winemaker who doesn’t take everything the TTB says at face value. Is he right to doubt them? That’s not for me to decide.

      You also say, “Shouldn’t a winemaker be proud of what they create, even if it’s a wine with mostly pinot but other parts zin and syrah?” This implies to me that a winemaker is less proud if they don’t offer a more specific label. I think we’re a long way from that being the case, don’t you?

      On Twitter, Adam made another valid point. He has 20 different Pinot bottlings, and would be paying for each new label. If the labels are rejected, he’s out $30,000. So perhaps he could spend $1,500 on one new label and test it out. But even if it’s approved, is it possible that some would think that the only 100% Pinot he makes is the one labeled that way? Would it hurt his other bottlings?

      My instinct is that Adam is over-sensitive. But I’m not in his position. I don’t own a wine company. He does. It’s easier for me to make judgments when it’s not my dollars on the line. Ultimately, though, the labeling status quo is not good enough. So if winemakers don’t want to take the TTB at their word in this case, I’d still like to see movement toward better consumer education.

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  • Adam Lee

    Hey Evan,

    Thanks for all of the shout-outs in this article. Now that I am safely out of Lake Tahoe (snowed in for a day — and then an icy drive back), I’d like to make a couple of points:

    1) You mention that there “certainly isn’t a legal window” in Burgundy to create a wine with 25% other varietals blended in. In fact, and this came to light in the comments on my recent blog, there is a legal window to blend in 15% Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, or Pinot Blanc in red Burgundy. Vineyard-designated wines have their own rules, as they do in CA as well.

    2) You mention that blends are not accepted and celebrated in Burgundy, and certainly that is the case in theory. In practice, however, some of Burgundy’s celebrated wines have been blends. As I mentioned in my previous blog, “Karen McNeil, in her book The Wine Bible, asserts that “Before World War I much of the Chateauneuf-du-Pape harvest was sold in bulk to Burgundy, to be used as vin de medicine—a quick fix of alcohol to boost Burgundy’s strength. Decades later the practice was still commonplace.” — Harry Karris, at a recent discussion, mentioned the same thing with the information coming direclty from vineyard owners in CdP.

    3) You correctly assume, though you were welcome to ask me – :) — that I wouldn’t state that any high-end Burgundies are blends. Nor would I do that about any high-end CA Pinots. I don’t think that stating something that you don’t know to be true is a wise practice. The question I would have is why would you, as a journalist, question whether CA Pinots are 100% Pinot, but not question Burgundy about the same thing, especially given the rules and the historical practices cited above?

    4) I have to disagree, in part, with Rick Moshin. I don’t believe that “you have to use fining agents to get rid of the bitterness you’ve added yourself. (through the use of enzymes).” We’ve used enzymes on some of our wines, and not on others, but haven’t fined those wines. In fact, Evan, I’d be happy to send you a sample of 6 different Pinots of ours from 2009 — some of which have enzyme additions and some did not — and you taste them and tell me which is which. — It is also important to note that enzymes don’t add anything, they extract components from the skins, color, tannins, bitterness, flavors, etc. That’s not to say that is good or bad, but different than adding something — But I do think one should also ask whether or not bitterness is, at least in some part, a bad thing. Tannins are bitter…but not necessarily bad.

    Let me know on those samples, Evan!

    Adam Lee
    Siduri Wines

    • http://www.newyorkcorkreport.com Evan Dawson

      Adam –

      Regarding #3, fair point.

      On #4, I’d agree with you that bitterness is not a put-off for me. I think of the occasionally bitter almond finish on a Muscadet, or any number of wines. In particular, you make a compelling point about the fact that the alleged bitterness comes from the grape itself, not an outside agent. I don’t intend the piece to imply I’m on someone’s particular side if I choose to quote them, though certainly I have great respect for Rick Moshin.

      When it comes to samples, I’ll email you. Cheers and thanks for the continued discussion.

  • http://www.vergariwines.com David Vergari

    Finally! An intelligent discussion about the use of other red grapes with Pinot Noir. I am fed up with the hoary myths and generalizations repeated ad nauseum that high-end Pinot producers blend in Syrah, Alicante Bouschet, MegaRed et al into their wines. Rick Moshin’s chickenshit claim that “It’s not common, but it’s not exactly rare.” is just plain wrong on several levels. Boy, I’d looove to be one of his custom-clients making 100% PN at his winery getting tarred with the same brush. Let’s name names, shall we?

    • http://www.newyorkcorkreport.com Evan Dawson

      David,

      I don’t blame you for feeling that way. My feeling is that we ought to trust what we’re presented, because winemakers deserve that.

      But I don’t think Rick is “chickenshit.” And he’s quick to lavish praise on many, many producers; I can recall Arista right off the bat. That’s why I finished the piece by imploring readers not to paint all Pinot with the Syrah-soaked brush. It’s unfair, and the conversation needs to move forward.

      And isn’t this kind of discussion, this celebration of Pinot, only more likely to convince any doubter that Pinot is wonderful without help in California? So it’s not Burgundy. I’d be confused and bothered if California Burgundy was a dead ringer for Burgundy.

  • http://www.vergariwines.com David Vergari

    I came very close to deleting that descriptor, but decided to leave it to make my feelings clear.

    • http://www.newyorkcorkreport.com Evan Dawson

      It’s fair enough, David. We want people to speak honestly.

      I don’t want to speak for Rick, but he’s probably in an awkward spot. Assuming he’s giving accurate descriptions – and there’s no reason to believe otherwise – he has to decide whether he wants to acknowledge what’s happening. I don’t blame him for protecting client names. But if he’s not going to release names, should he say that certain practices never happen?

      I don’t have a perfect answer, just posing the question.

      By the way, David, nice website. Clear, clean, very helpful. Nice to get to know more about your philosophy and approach online. Cheers.

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  • http://www.chehalemwines.com Harry Peterson-Nedry

    Interestingly, the photo chosen to represent Pinot Noir for the article on CA’s potential blending abuse–so long as there is only a 75% varietal purity requirement–is of a cluster of OREGON Pinot Noir where the standard is 100%.