This wine smells like poop and I love it! For me, the true mark of an outstanding pinot noir is a certain trademark nose that I find highly complex and intoxicating. Others have described this distinctive aroma as barnyard, wet horse, sweaty gym, forest floor, rotting foliage, band-aid, and yes, even manure! To me, it is the smell of raw earth and country – a cascade of aromas associated with a rustic farm with livestock roaming freely. This unique nose is primarily associated with red wines from certain regions France – mainly Burgundy and to a lesser extent Rhone and Bordeaux.
To me it is the ultimate trademark of what makes a pinot noir “Old World” or Burgundian vs. “New World” or new trash. Ok before you call the wine snob police on me, just kidding on the trash comment! Perhaps feeding from my over-romanticized view of old world wine production, the smell evokes a sense of what I envision as the terroir of the quaint French countryside where grapes are still picked by hand and transported by horse and buggy.
Furthermore, the rustic nose also enhances the overall taste of the wine as 75% of what we taste comes from what we smell. This is especially true for younger wines as the aromas of barnyard and leather adds a pseudo-aged flavor to the wine. This is because the complex earthy/leather aromas typically only eminate from wines when the fruit has decomposed sufficiently after years in the bottle. The earthiness and complexity from the nose of the Burgundian pinot noir helps mute the overwhelming fruit and acidity typical of newly bottled pinots. As a result, the Burgundian pinot noirs are known to be more subtle on the fruit with multiple layers of different flavors when compared with the majority of California or South American pinot noirs who like to smack you over the head with their bold fruit blasts.
However, this distinctive nose is also a source of great controversy amongst wine drinkers. Some consider it a major flaw as the source of the smell is actually not from the grape but from a wild yeast known as Brettanomyces or brett for short. Brett grows on the skins of grapes and lives in the oak barrels that the wines are aged in. Therefore, some consider the earthy nose that I love as a defect or an infection that should be removed in the winemaking process. To me this is nonsense as the yeast is wild and thus just a natural expression of the land where the wine was produced. Obviously, balance is important as any flavor or aroma that completely overpowers will not work. However, if a pinot noir does not bring at least a hint of brett or poopiness, it is not for me!