on 14 April 2014
There's a lot of dross written about wine, when people offer subjective opinion as fact. This work on pinot noir is one of a series of works about different areas of wine that Lewin has been producing year by year that counter that tendency.
He's no Andrew Jefford: his writing is not lyrical. Rather, he gives a sober analysis of what lies before him, harnessing data points including soil structure, harvest dates, tastings, interviews with vignerons, historical patterns and more to come up with genuinely challenging points of view. He does use his own palate too.
To take his chapter on Burgundy, he helpfully goes into 'terroir' in depth, digging into why Burgundy's villages allow for micro-variation that's brought out in bottles from different terroirs. I've read numerous accounts of this phenomenon, but none as convincing as Lewin's. To give a minor example, he notes for example that Domaine Rousseau harvests Clos de Beze a day or more earlier than Chambertin and even examines how certain top slopes are slightly shaded by trees, giving less sunshine. He distinguishes between true terroir difference, reflected in 1er cru, grand cru etc. and terroir difference that is due to history: the uniform 'grand cru' status of all Clos Vougeot, for example.
This solid base of evidence allows him to give some genuinely innovative opinions. For example, Chambolle Musigny's 'femininity' may be less to do with terroir, he suggests, than a particular tradition of wine making of people in that village that is passed through the generations and means all emphasis delicacy over substance: it really is more 'feminine', but through human intervention rather than nature's prescription.
The book is divided into six chapters, the first on genetics, the second and third on Burgundy, the fourth on other European pinot sites (especially Germany), the fifth on Oregon and California, the sixth on New Zealand and the seventh as a conclusion.
This book is not for the beginner, but for those whose interest is getting pretty serious. Its range is broad but not entirely comprehensive: he can go into detail on the Cotes de Nuits in a way that he cannot do on the Cotes de Beaune, for example, but then, it's already 400 pages long!
This may all seem a bit dry, but the true pinot lover will not be bothered.
Matt Kramer once wrote a piece about the pathology of real Pinotphiliacs. "In an afternoon session at the Mornington peninsula Pinot Noir Celebration, 150 attendees were rapt - rapt, I tell you - by a nearly forensic investigation called the "Influence of Clones and Terroir.""
If you can relate to that, this book is for you!