Friday, February 15, 2008

Last Night's Tipple

Finished off the bottle of 2005 Albert Bichot Bourgogne Rouge last night, and my impressions remain the same: it's pleasant enough, I suppose, but there's not a whole lot of there there. Not much nose, not much flavor, not much of anything. Maybe it's possible to get a good Pinot Noir for $13. I just haven't found one yet.

For decades in the 19th and 20th Centuries, the most widely-accepted theory of the spread of viticulture in Europe, Africa, and the near East held that vitis vinifera was first domesticated in Mesopotamia and was subsequently transplanted to Europe and Africa mostly by the Greeks and the Romans. There are a couple of problems with that theory. First, wild ranged all over the Mediterranean basin as far north as Belgium up until the late 19th Century. It's highly unlikely that anyone would have transplanted clippings of wild vinifera, so it's likely that the vine was indigenous to most of this area. Given this, why should we think that domestication happened in one and only one location? Second, there's the matter of the pinot noir grape. It's not like any of the near Eastern grape varieties that the Romans were known to have distributed throughout the Empire, but there is decent evidence that it or something like it has been cultivated in Burgundy for almost 2000 years (Columella, writing in the First Century AD, describes a pinot-like grape growing in Burgundy), and there is evidence of vine cultivation in what is today France before the advent of the Romans. Furthermore, consider pinot's offspring. Chardonnay and Gamay, two of the best-known, are both products of presumably accidental field crosses between pinot noir and gouais, a white variety known to have been brought to France from the near East by the Romans. (There are many other pinot-gouais offspring, including aligoté and melon de Bourgogne, the grape of Muscadet.) Both of these grapes are unusually hardy, growing well in a variety of environments. Chardonnay, in particular, can and does grow just about anywhere and is usually capable of producing good or great wine wherever it grows. It's a truism of genetics that genetic diversity between parents is more likely to result in hardy offspring than genetic similarity, and genetic diversity is frequently the result of distance. That doesn't prove that pinot noir was domesticated in northern France, of course, but it is suggestive.

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