What comes to mind when you smell wine? Is it forest fruit, citrus fruit, vanilla…? Or pepper, chocolate, smoke? Kerosene?! Well, it depends on which wine it is you’re smelling. This is one of the great aspects of wine that I find really appealing—its various aromas. You take a deep sniff at a wine, and the smell reminds of you of something. Or perhaps, even, someone! Hmmm.
Not only do wine aromas stir up certain feelings or memories. They also play a huge role in wine appreciation. The aromatic expression of wines, particularly Pinot Noir, was one of the primary focal points of this year’s second edition of Modri Les Noirs, a boutique wine festival dedicated to the particular grape and wine type.
Richard Pfister, an expert in sensory analysis and oenology, and perfumer from Switzerland, led a most engrossing and inspiring workshop. He tackled some very salient points about interpreting the scents that different Pinot Noir wines give off, the importance of understanding wine molecules, the link between the art of perfumery and the art of winemaking, and how perfumery helps us to better understand wine aromas. I’ll shortly let you in on the fragrant details. But first, a bit about Modri Les Noirs.
Modri Les Noirs: Southeast Europe’s Only Pinot Noir Festival
Modri Les Noirs, organised by Matjaž Lemut, director of TILIA Estate winery from the Vipava Valley, is Southeast Europe’s first and only Pinot Noir Festival. It gathers notable Pinot Noir producers from Slovenia and surrounding countries, international media people, and wine lovers. Together, at the festival, they explore and experience this noble wine variety and discuss the challenges that come with making it.
“This year’s festival gathered 30 winemakers, 150 wine lovers, among them 30 journalists and wine influencers from more than 10 countries.”Tonja Blatnik, Head of PR at TILIA Estate
Like last year, Modri Les Noirs took place over two days at the boutique hotel Kendov Dvorec Relais & Chateau in Spodnja Idrija, which I must say served as the perfect setting for a wine festival of this kind. This elegant and enchanting manor contributed to the cosy and exclusive atmosphere of Modri Les Noirs. I was enthralled to be able to experience this event first hand.
Pinot Noir Aromas
Now you may already know that perfumers are sometimes referred to as a ‘Nose’ due to their fine sense of smell and skill at creating pleasant olfactory compositions. Oeno-perfumer Richard Pfister is an expert on scents. He is the author of the book ‘Les Parfums du Vin’ (The Perfumes of Wine), in which he describes 152 wine aromas.
It was interesting to detect the numerous aromas in the Pinot Noirs that we tried during his workshop: raspberry, cherry, black pepper, violet, redcurrant, oakmoss, undergrowth, cloves, hyacinth, jasmine, strawberry, blueberry, liquorice, black tea, truffle, peat, peppermint, and rose.
Here’s one very insightful point that Pfister made that I shall always keep in mind: “Never forget that we are all different and that it’s perfectly normal if our neighbour describes a wine in a completely different way than you would!”
The Art of Perfumery & Wine: Where’s the link?
Pfister explained that perfumers train their noses much more than winemakers do. That’s why it’s important for winemakers to take inspiration from perfumers. “Perfumers are trained to understand molecules. Winemakers and their winemaking processes can also benefit from this understanding,” he emphasised. “By understanding wine molecules, winemakers can be more precise and treat wine defects.”
In Pinot Noir, the Beta-damascenone wine molecules give off aromas of rose, blackcurrant, and tobacco; alpha-ionone and beta-ionone are responsible for the violet scent; IBMP gives off that whiff of green bell pepper; and Rotundone contributes to the smell of black pepper.
Wine Tasting: When a Wine Influences the Next
I’m particularly interested in the way the smell and taste of a wine just tasted can influence my perception of the next wine that I’m tasting. So I asked Pfister: “How can we overcome this issue during a wine tasting? Is it enough to drink water and have a bite of something?”
He says it’s best to eat or drink something in between. But when this is not possible you can alternate different kinds of wines, for example red and white. When two wines are very similar, they will each affect each other’s smell and taste more than if they were to be completely different.
I also want to know which is the best drink or food one can eat to neutralise the palate so that the smell and taste of the previous wine doesn’t interfere with the tasting of the next wine?
“Have a bite of bread and drink a few sips of water after each wine. The best bread you can eat is a white bread with few aromas and a very soft texture,” Pfister suggests.
“When two wines are very similar, they will each affect each other’s smell and taste more than if they were to be completely different.”Richard Pfister, Oeno-perfumer and Scientific Secretary of the OIV Award Jury
Pinot Noir: Challenge for the Winemaker
Many winemakers will agree that the Pinot Noir grape presents quite a few challenges for the winemaker. It’s a difficult grape to grow. Just imagine having a picky guest over for whom you must bend over backwards.
This is Pinot Noir: it loves cool mornings, but long and warm afternoons. Then it’s cool evenings and nights, ideally taken over by fog. It doesn’t like wet soil. Its grapes must grow quite close to each other, but not too close. Pinot Noir is content where the soil is well-drained, devoid of moisture, and with the perfect climate conditions we’ve just mentioned.
Matjaž Lemut Overcomes the Challenge
When we think of Pinot Noir, the first thing that comes to mind is Burgundy. However, the Pinot Noir challenge is international.
The great mind and winemaker behind TILIA Estate Winery, Matjaž Lemut, came up with the brilliant idea of hosting a wine festival dedicated to this finicky grape, but elegant wine, with the aim of addressing the challenge. In fact, Modri Les Noir creates a network of people who are somehow involved with Pinot Noir. Winemakers are able to share their knowledge and experiences of making their Pinot Noir wines, and wine lovers can share their love for the wine.
This second edition of Modri Les Noirs was attended by winemakers from Slovenia, Italy, Hungary, Serbia, Switzerland, Croatia, and Poland. And there were over 100 different wines for tasting at the festival.
Matjaž Lemut selected two wine professionals to lead the workshops. Quentin Sadler, wine educator and wine veteran with a passion for making wine maps, gave a session on new world Pinot Noirs. While Richard Pfister, whom I mentioned further up, led the workshop on Pinot Noir wine aromas.
Modri Les Noirs 2020
The third Modri Les Noirs Festival is already scheduled for October 17 and 18, 2020. Transport is also organised between Ljubljana and Idrija for those who don’t wish to drive to and from the festival.
If you happen to be in Slovenia during this time, I suggest you attend the Modri Les Noir wine festival. You can expect to be deeply inspired, to get lots of knowledge about Pinot Noir, eat Slovene haute cuisine provided by hotel Kendov Dvorec Relais & Chateau, be musically entertained, and of course drink and enjoy top-quality wines—the crème de la crème of Pinot Noir wines from this part of Europe.
Pinot Noir Winemakers (Slovenia & beyond)
Below are all the winemakers that presented their wines at this year’s Modri Les Noirs:
CAROLINA JAKONČIČ WINERY
ETYEKI KÚRIA WINERY, Hungary
FRANZ HAAS, Italy
FRUŠKOGORSKI VINOGRADI, Serbia
HEAPS GOOD WINE COMPANY
HIŠA JOANNES PROTNER
POSESTVO PASJI REP
ŠEMBER ZDENKO, Croatia
VINA KORAK, Croatia
VINARIJA KOVAČEVIĆ, Serbia
VINARIJA SONTACCHI, Croatia
WEINGUT FAMILIE ZAHNER, Switzerland
WINNICE WZGÓRZ TRZEBNICKICH, Poland
About the Organiser: TILIA Estate
Melita and Matjaž Lemut established TILIA Estate winery in 1996 in Potoče, Vipava Valley. Their main principle is to make excellent wine and bring it closer to those people who appreciate top-quality wines. They specialise in the Pinot varieties, hence their slogan ‘House of Pinots’. They strive to compete with the biggest Pinot producers in the world.