the great grape launderette…

By billn on February 05, 2020 #a bit of science#ladypyrazines#vineyard pestilence#warning - opinion!

bugI’m reminded of more than one conversion I had with the former winemaker in Morey St.Denis, David Clark. His 2004s and 2011s were not immune to the pyrazines of those vintages, and in the absence of other theories that convinced, he seemed pretty comfortable with the idea that the ladybirds/bugs might be the responsible party.

David was (probably still is) an incurable the inventor/engineer, proposing that maybe the solution was to wash the grapes before they hit the fermentation tanks – he was pretty sure that the environment of the cuverie would harbour enough yeast strains to get the fermentations done, assuming that those populations on the grapes themselves might be washed away. Some other winemakers seemed less convinced of that latter point – but given not many ladybugs since 2011 – it’s a thought that has faded.

I note that in some vintages, Bouchard Père et Fils has ‘sort-of‘ their own grape washing approach; letting the first part of the first press wash away as it contains all the dirt accumulated on the grapes. But an automatic wash for the grapes it isn’t.

Enter the most recent vintages chez Château Thivin; an Italian friend of Claude Geoffray has been using such a washing system for grapes that go into their local bubbles. Claude decided to give it a try. The grapes are hit by high-pressure water before travelling over a vibrating table to remove the larger drops, then a high-pressure air-flow to dry the grapes. “It doesn’t just get rid of the insects,” says Claude, “In the most recent vintages there has been no rain, so the accumulated treatments of the summer are undoubtedly still present on the grapes – copper, sulfur, etcetera.

Claude confirms that his recent fermentations have been fine – ‘normal‘ – whereas most producers in the last vintages describe fragility in their fermentations, and a couple have even suggested to me that it could be the accumulation of copper still on the grapes that bears some responsibility. Claude is still waiting the analyses of the chemical levels in his ‘wash-water,’ but it’s fair to say he’s been very happy with the results; “It was clear that many of the grapes had an accumulation of something from the vintages that didn’t taste nice before washing – after they were fine.

For the moment, Claude and the team at Châateau Thivin may be the only winemakers using this tool in France – but with results like this, it seems a modest investment in quality – even without ladybugs!

to be, or not to be, 2004…

By billn on November 05, 2014 #degustation#ladypyrazines

I know, I know, ‘here we go again’ you are thinking. Well yes, and no…

I’ve actually tried a few very good 2004s in the last days – I looked very hard at them, but found nothing amiss. So everything’s alright now say some. Hold your horses say I! The three wines that were fine, in every way, have not suddenly got better and lost their pyrazines – not as far as I know anyway – because I’d never tasted these wines before (as far as I remember) so I don’t know how good or bad they were before. But let’s be fair to those good wines and note them here, because I’d happily drink all three again:

2004 Domaine Lafon, Volnay 1er Champans
2004 Domaine Denis Mortet, Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Lavaux St.Jacques
2004 Maison Lucien Le Moine, Clos St.Denis

But all is still not rosy. On Saturday, a gathering of friends delivered many bottles; some great, some sad, some in-between – it also, most importantly, delivered a great evening. It wasn’t at my house, so I’m not responsible – but I know all-too-well the urge, late in the evening to finish the evening off (maybe ;-)) with something special. So it was with our host: He returned with a magnum in a blind-tasting sock. My pour looked young in the glass but -ouf! – smelled strongly of pyrazines. I immediately said ‘2011!’ As I slowly pulled up the ‘sock’ I read the words Clos de Tart. I was pretty shocked – why would anyone open such a young magnum? But soon I found I was wrong, it wasn’t 2011, it was the 2004 in the headline image above. Okay, now I’m no-longer mad with my host – maybe there is a case for opening magnums of 2004! I was fooled by the young colour and the silky freshness of the wine – hard to believe a wine in such great, young condition was a 2004. It was also a great wine; a German winemaker amongst our number loved it but could also see and taste the character. But it was strong enough that (not only) I couldn’t enjoy it.

So another 2004 I hadn’t tasted before – but this time with a different result. Is the difference in this case only the format, and the relative youth of this wine, whilst all the others are getting older and better? Well, let’s see. Every couple of years I retest a number of retained bottles – but that’s not due until early 2016…

But let’s not forget a great evening:

By the way:
1999 Roulot Bourgogne surprisingly fresh if a little rich – did somebody really say Corton-Charlemagne?
1993 Leflaive Bourgogne – brilliant, but (very!) unfortunately, it was my last. My white of the night.
Thevenot 1979 was just lovely in that indeterminable age-ness thing.
JM Vincent’s 2010 Auxey was also lovely – as would have been expected, if everything wasn’t blind! I couldn’t make my mind up if was Puligny or St.Aubin…
2003 Pommard was, well, quite nice and I can’t remember what I guessed, but not 2003.
Swiss Wolfer? I really didn’t like – I said Beaujolais as I thought carbonic maceration but really couldn’t place it in Burgundy (go figure…!)
1994 Drouhin Musigny? Given the general poorness of the vintage, this triumphed to be wine of the night – I thought it a rather beautiful 1985!
2008 Claude Dugat Gevrey was a wine I could drink all night – yes the acidity of 08 but like biting into fresh fruit – almost my (red) wine of the night.
JM Pillot’s 2009 in isolation would have been nice enough, but in this company – particularly set against the Dugat, it was simply too full and too ripe to take a second glass.
Dominique Laurent’s 1998 Gevrey Cazetiers – completely and overwhelmingly corked – ouf!
Gaunoux Pommard – I forget it – I think it may also have been corked!
Jadot’s 1993 Clos des Corvées is at it’s first plateau of maturity – it is lovely and still with a bite of Premeaux tannin…
Dubiously labelled Clos St.Denis – villages standard wine, maybe…
Jean-Michel Guillon’s 2003 (I think!) Gevrey VV – tasty but but a lot of funkiness on the nose…
Denis Mortet’s 2004 Lavaux was lovely, cushioned, fine wine.
Clos de Tart 2004 – well you already know – for some people, great wine.
Benoit’s Tante Berthe – well, it wasn’t really a great tribute to him – a bit hot with unbalanced, spiky acidity – shame.
And to finish, 2005 Francois Jobard’s Meursault Genevrières – now that was a nice wine!

wine faults seminar 15th may in london…

By billn on April 25, 2014 #a bit of science#ladypyrazines

It seems that half a dozen places are still open for this seminar, so if you’re both interested and available, please directly email andrea.warren at

“Pyrazine in the Burgundy: could it really be the ladybirds?”

Bill Nanson has had derision and support from winemakers in almost equal measure for his theory about the ailment that affects 2004 and 2011 red Burgundies, and the basis of this will be explored and no-doubt extensively challenged during this discussion. But it seems that a minority of people can taste and smell this aspect of those vintages – or is that simply because they haven’t been properly introduced to it(?) During this discussion we may find out, with four examples from very well-known and admired producers, some false positives, and some fun exhibits that may or may not support Nanson’s contention…


Bill Nanson’s “Wine Faults” seminar

Date: Thursday 15th May, 2014

Timing: 1.30 pm to 3.30 pm

Venue: WSET, International Wine & Spirit Centre

39-45 Bermondsey Street, London, SE1 3XF

Cost: £15 per member (£35 for non-members)

wine faults seminar (ladybirds, ladybugs…?)

By billn on March 08, 2014 #diary dates#ladypyrazines


If anyone is interested to join-in this, drop me a line asap – and I’ll pass it on – there are only 3 bottles of each wine (there are a number of wines) so I’m guessing it might be limited to ~50(?)

Dear wine enthusiast

The Circle of Wine Writers’ committee has been in recent contact with Bill Nanson * regarding holding a seminar on wine faults. To quote a fellow Circle member, Clive Coates MW, Bill “is a gifted and experienced amateur… He is more than just a moderate or immoderate imbiber of good bottles. He knows his stuff.” However before we proceed with this seminar we would like to gauge interest as to whether this is feasible. The details are as below and we would be grateful if you could let us know:

a: if you would like to attend this and can make the 15th May


b: if you are keen to attend such a seminar but the 15th May is not convenient.

Pyrazine in the Burgundy: could it really be the ladybirds?

Bill Nanson has had derision and support from winemakers in almost equal measure for his theory about the ailment that affects 2004 and 2011 red Burgundies, and the basis of this will be explored and no-doubt extensively challenged during this discussion. But it seems that a minority of people can taste and smell this aspect of those vintages – or is that simply because they haven’t been properly introduced to it(?) During this discussion we may find out, with four examples from very well-known and admired producers, some false positives, and some fun exhibits that may or may not support Nanson’s contention…

Date: Thursday 15 May

Timing: 1.30-3.30 pm

Venue: WSET, Bermondsey St, London, SE1

Tickets: £35 non-CWW members

We would be grateful if you could let us know as soon as possible, or by Monday 10 March, if you would be keen to come along to this thought provoking seminar (on the 15th May or another date)

louis max 2011 mercurey clos la marche

By billn on July 25, 2013 #degustation#ladypyrazines

Well, the white was just so good, there was nothing stopping me here – perhaps there should have been!

2011 Louis Max, Mercurey Clos la Marche
Medium, bright red colour, edged with salmon pink. It seems that its southern geography was not enough save this wine from a little pyrazine; it starts, seemingly, with none before slowly growing in the glass to at least a P2 level; to start with, there were other aromas, but by now they are hidden from me. In the mouth this is relatively lite but it’s also lithe and concertedly insinuates nice flavours that leech from your gums and tongue – it’s good acidity too. There seems to be much going for this until I finally get some pyrazine flavour too – I’m clearly the wrong person to review what is otherwise probably a very nice wine.
Rebuy – No


By billn on January 14, 2013 #a bit of science#ladypyrazines

Prompted by Mark over in our forum:

Perhaps I should invent a ‘hashtag’ – #ladypyrazines anyone?

(2011) coccinelle

By billn on January 12, 2013 #a bit of science#ladypyrazines#other sites

I’m not so naive that I didn’t expect that I might put a few noses out of joint with my vintage 2011 commentary. But I’m spending quite a bite of time fielding questions and having to justify myself – and to be honest it’s getting a bit too time consuming to keep up with, and that’s without the various ‘forum threads’ that currently populate our planet. Therein, are a significant number of regurgitating challenges and questions that come around, and around, and around, (time and time again!) – people could of-course just read what I have written in 2008, then they wouldn’t need to ask all those questions (again!) 😉

Here, culled from my inbox, I’ve put a few observations together, and added a little more discussion – I will leave it like that, as I have a real job: Of-course if 2,000 of you kind souls each club together to pay me €100 a year to keep writing, and promise to keep subscribing for at least 5 years, I might consider otherwise and pretend to be a professional who ‘owes’ somebody something 😉

  1. WHO. I’m being taken to task for what I’ve written by many people – either directly, or indirectly through various ‘wine fora’ – if I take out my very large magnifying glass, it seems that almost exclusively they are in the business of selling wine. But let’s not pre-judge anybody’s motives…
  2. YOU SHOULDN’T BE DOING THIS. I started Burgundy Report as something I would like to read, which wasn’t available – and I still write it for me, travelling to ‘unpopular’ villages to keep learning. I write what I see and I write what I taste – to do otherwise would be a level of dishonesty that might even make Natalie Maclean blush. There is no subtext for me, I am independent; I have (long!) demonstrated that I spend more on wine than I should; I like wine; so I am not going to lie, for anyone!
  3. SUBSTITUTE THEORIES. There are a couple, and from good people too – though seemingly with little real chemistry/theory to back them up. And we should note that if they know/knew the problem, then why are some of their own 2004s tainted? – I haven’t tasted either of the domaines’ 2011s. As a trained scientist*, I expect any theory (mine is no more than that, yet I think it robust) to be tested to destruction. There could indeed be an alternative ‘solution’ to pyrazines in 2004 and 2011, BUT (I emphasise) please ensure that any alternative theory takes account of both vintages, not just 2004. This has not been demonstrated by any alternative theory put forward so far (that wouldn’t besmirch every vintage in living memory). When you have that, I will rejoin the conversation. (I hope you don’t fall-back on the one about spraying a lot – that could get 2012 off on a very bad foot!)
  4. TAINT IN 2011 IS STILL JUST CONJECTURE. No it’s not, I’ve just come back from the Côtes, and to add to my notes in the summer and autumn issues, yet again I have seen a ‘taint’ rate of about 50% at new addresses. Note I’ll continue to publish my notes on my timetable!
  5. BUT THERE ARE LOTS OF WINEMAKERS WHO SAY THERE WERE NO COCCINELLE IN 2011. After first referring you again to point number 1 (above), I totally accept that any natural phenomena is unlikely to be homogenous – how often were the vines treated (and with what), differences north or south, or low-lying vineyards versus top-slope vineyards – but no vigneron can honestly say more than ‘I saw none in MY grapes’. I will avoid the temptation to link the many, many photos showing grape waste and even fermentation vats showing bugs. Interestingly one (very honest) en-primeur offer (from the UK) quotes Thierry Brouhin of Lambrays noting that there were lots of the bugs ‘but we were ready, and removed boxes of them with the vibrating table’ – I see that this is a wine of some conjecture on the various fora – but I haven’t tasted it. I have other pictures from Morey with very many bugs below the triage table, but some other producers in Morey say that they saw none – it could be – if they managed their vines differently and the food supply for the bugs was more limited. NB And for those that say ‘if it’s bugs, it can’t be limited to just two vintages as they are around all the time’ I have exceptional bottles from other vintages too (1978, 2000, 2009) that show exactly the same character. Based on the 1978 plus published studies, pyrazines (it seems) are not for fading.
  6. OKAY, BUT THE ‘CHARACTER’, WHERE PRESENT, IS ON A MUCH LOWER LEVEL THAN 2004. Yes, most of my notes show ~P2 when noted – but at this stage seven years ago NOBODY was talking about such a taint (including paid for critics that still don’t see it). There are two potential explanations for that; either the taint is actually worse in 2011, or we are now looking for it. Anyway, the character of 2004 took some time to peak so neither you nor I know where this will end up – it could even diminish(?) – You see I dismiss nothing!
  7. *I graduated in Chemistry in 1988 and was elected a chartered member of the Royal Society of Chemistry in 1993 (I lapsed when I stopped paying the subscription ;-)) and was an active research chemist in ‘industry’ for 13 years, and continued to direct research projects as late as 2007.

Discussion: For every vigneron that doesn’t like the bug theory, there are as many others that believe it to be the root cause – those ‘in the business’ rarely seem to quote that latter population. I won’t list them all to save them embarrassment, etcetera, (but you can read about many of them in my book – both persuasions are represented, I support a broad church with my cash!) I anyway don’t need to call on any gurus to try to dismiss or underline what I’m writing, because it is simply observation and inference; remember I just write what I taste and see because I love doing it, there is no financial motive.

Today I discussed the subject, over lunch, with ‘the boss’ of the home domaine where I’ve harvested (triaged the fruit) each year since 2004; he felt that there actually were more of the bugs in 2004 than 2011, that said, he spent more time in the vines, I spent more time at the sorting table – my impression was the reverse. Many people have noted that the wines of the ‘home domaine’ were largely free from the 2004 taint (there were a few wines with some character, but not too aggressive – I remember at least a Latricières) – with total modesty I declared that this was down to my triage efforts 😉 But what could be the explanation?

As Claude Kolm has noted in the forum of this site, vibrating tables are more common now than in 2004. At our home domaine we have a pretty effective vibrating table before we sort the fruit; in 2011, as previous images have demonstrated, it was very effective at removing the critters – though I still saw some in the fermentation tanks (of-course, they fly!). Partly I think this table could have been less effective in 2004 because of the wetter, stickier, more rotten fruit that needed so much triage – the vibrating table would have had to work much harder to dislodge them – potentially more ending up in the fermentation tanks. And if you didn’t have such a table…

The boss also notes that at his ‘other domaine’ there is no separate vibrating table, rather the whole triage table itself vibrates, and he thinks that (maybe) this is less effective in removing the bugs(?)

Anyway, I think a domaine hoping for clean wines absolutely had an advantage if a vibrating table was part of their set-up in 2011. I should start asking. As a side-note, the boss (who has a sensitive nose!) thinks all the reds currently clean at the home domaine, but one wine hasn’t escaped (according to him, not me) and it’s a white which came in as must: It’s the only wine which we didn’t put through the vibrating table and probably everything was pneumatically pressed – flora and fauna!

the greeny-red wines of 2004

By billn on January 09, 2007 #ladypyrazines#the market

You only need to look at notes for the 2004’s tasted here in the last 2-3 months to see that something is going-on in those bottles – and it’s not entirely pleasant – so I had to write something about it.

Initially I felt compelled to say something, simply because I felt that others were (I felt) misrepresenting the wines (in general); by describing them as ‘green’ many were also taking the a logical assumption that the wines were unripe – many without even tasting them – and this was becoming accepted as fact by many others who also had not tasted nor would they based on this ‘fact’. I had my say, and it seems that we agree that there is something about these wines – let my try and explain.

This ‘vintage artifact’ is quite specific, and in quite a large percentage of wines it is also quite pronounced, let me try to define it:

Some people say green, some people say herbal, but I will define it as a type of cedar smell. At low levels it gives a pleasant cedar, or almost menthol edge; as it becomes more pronounced, it is more resinous, eventually resembling the well-known (in the UK) ‘coal-tar’ soap. What is really surprising, is that it is often quite pronounced on the palate too – though perhaps this is what burghound would better describe as ‘inner mouth perfume’.

So what isn’t it;

  • I would say it is not the smell of rot – though lots had to be triaged at harvest.
  • It is not the smell of stems – as many wines that were fully destemmed show the trait.
  • It is not (in general) anything to do with unripe fruit – Claude Kolm makes the telling remark (in the discussion linked above) that few people added sugar in this vintage – because the sugars were high enough without. It is a rare wine the truly unripe 2004!

It is a conundrum for two reasons:

  1. Wines tasted from barrel showed this only to a minor, let us say ‘normal’ extent, yet it has developed/amplified since bottling
  2. Different wines from the same cellar – so same viticulture, ripeness and vinification – are not the same, some show it and others don’t.

So that’s not really great news; it came almost out of nowhere, and is now undermining/dominating the personality of many, otherwise vivacious, flavourful wines. At a lower level this aroma may have been present in a number of vintages, though was quickly subsumed into a mix of secondary aromas.

Hopefully this will be no more than an interesting and transient interlude in the evolution of these wines, but having spoken to several trustworthy sources, no-one is totally sure.

I will keep testing the bottles of-course 😉

Burgundy Report

Translate »

You are using an outdated browser. Please update your browser to view this website correctly:;