Grape varieties in Passe-Tout-Grains

I remember that one of my first geeky wine questions was about the allowable varietal proportions in Bourgogne Passe-Tout-Grains.  I asked my guide, on a Côte d’Or wine tour in 2003.  She didn’t know, but promised to ask the next producer we were visiting.  They didn’t know either, and I was recommended to get a copy of Pitiot and Servant’s “The Wines of Burgundy” from Ateneum in Beaune.  That book said: Pinot 1/3 max, Gamay 2/3 min.  Unfortunately it was the wrong answer – as you might guess if you pause to think.  Why would any regulation want to limit the amount of Pinot Noir in a region where Pinot Noir is king?

Since then, as a new wine book falls into my hands, one of the first things I check is its opinion on the grape proportions in Passe-Tout-Grains.  So far I have:

Book Grape proportions
Pitiot and Servant
The Wines of Burgundy
Pinot 1/3 max, Gamay 2/3 min
Jasper Morris (Ed Jancis Robinson)
The Oxford Companion to Wine
Pinot Noir (minimum one-third)
and Gamay
Clive Coates
An Encyclopedia of The Wines and
Domaines of France
Gamay and Pinot Noir (minimum of
Tom Stevenson
The Sotheby’s Wine Enclyopedia
Pinot Noir plus a maximum of one-third Gamay and a combined maximum of 15% Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Gris

Some are better others, but none is really what I would call a proper text-book answer.  I have already highlighted errors in Tom’s Encyclopedia, and on the subject of Passe-Tout-Grains it is wrong too.  Jasper and Clive are in practice about right, but wrong in detail (Oops – that’s unfair – see update at the bottom of this post).

It is not difficult to discover the correct answer.  For any French appellation, the starting point is the INAO website.  Click on “Recherche” and “Produits | Liste des produits et leurs cahiers des charges [CDC]” (I manged to create a bookmark here, but it seems I cannot simply give you the URL in a link).  Now, after a bit of poking around with this search page, you can find the regulations on Passe-Tout-Grains.  My French is not great, but it does not take much knowledge to find the bit on the cépage.  The proportion of Pinot Noir must be greater than 30%, the proportion of Gamay must be more than 15%, and the proportion of other allowable grapes (Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris) must be less than 15%.

I am getting increasingly annoyed by the sloppiness shown in well-known wine books.  I grant that not many people care about Passe-Tout-Grains, but if it is not important why mention it in the first place?  The current Wikipedia article on Passe-Tout-Grains is more detailed, accurate and precise than any of the books mentioned above.  And if I manage to get my finger out and improve the article a little, it will be pretty much spot on.

With the internet providing information from the horse’s mouth, high quality collaborative texts like Wikipedia, and (dare I say it) the occasional high quality blog, book writers are going to have to up their game.  Flannel is no longer going to cut it.

Update 18/02/12: Jasper Morris informs me that, at the time of writing, the books quoting a minimum of one third Pinot Noir were correct.  Historically the required percentages of Pinot Noir were 20% (1937-1943), 25% (1943-1947) and one third (1947-2009).

Author: Steve Slatcher

Wine enthusiast

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