To quote a former US Secretary of Defense out of context, with wine “there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know”. To complete the set, there are probably also some unknown knowns; things we know only subconsciously.
After a brief burst of known knowns leading up to me taking a WSET exam, my vinous life is again descending into unknowns of both varieties. Well, I say descending, but that is maybe too negative. I am quite happy for many aspects of wine to be a mystery. Give me the scientific explanation if there is one, but otherwise let it be. Please don’t over simplify or compound the mystery with metaphysics.
But occasionally I do encounter the odd shaft of light.
As I was initially pushing back the frontiers of ignorance I decided at quite an early stage that I had pretty much nailed Pinot Noir and Burgundy. Not at a deep level, but I knew I liked it, and thought I understood the basic flavour profile. I found the delicate, perfumed cherry aromatics irresistible, and the barnyard and sous bois notes of mature Burgundy were also seductive and easily recognisable. (I never was quite sure how many Rs there were in forest, so went for the pretentious option in my descriptors.)
Then, in the last few months, over the course of quite a few tastings, I have been realising that what I understood to be correct Pinot Noir was just one expression of the grape, and is not even consistently found in Burgundy. For example there are the more tannic masculine Burgundies, and the ripe black fruit style typified by many American producers. And I have recently been finding Pinot Noirs that have reminded me more of Syrah than anything else – primary Syrah aromatics, and meaty bacony flavours when more mature. I knew the other styles existed, but I thought they were aberrations. Now I realise that they are qually valid, and some people actually prefer them.
My favourite, more delicate and aromatic, Pinot Noirs seem to come mainly from Burgundy and New Zealand, but just because they come from those regions is not at all a guarantee of style. I am becoming increasingly aware that the New Zealand Pinot Noirs I like tend to be the cheaper ones. Sadly the same cannot be said of Burgundy – that is definitely a known known.