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Pinot Noir Précoce: A Little Known Pinot Noir Twin

I have been writing about Pinot Noir for over 13 years, and only recently came across Pinot Noir Précoce. An article in the magazine, The World of Fine Wine, titled “Pinot Noir Précoce: An Almost-Identical Twin with a Distinct Personality” written by Anne Krebiehl MW (Issue 47, 2015), was a real surprise.

Apparently, Pinot Noir Précoce is a spontaneous mutation of Pinot Noir (the grape is known to have that proclivity). Also known as Pinot Madeleine or Frühburgunder, the mutation is thought to have occurred in Germany in the late 15th century, but the exact origin remains a mystery. It is an officially recognized grape variety in Germany.

Pinot Noir Précoce is undergoing somewhat of a resurgence in Germany with about 647 acres currently planted in the Ahr and Mosel, where it takes a back seat to the more widely planted and more popular Spätburgunder. A few pockets of the relatively unknown vine are planted in England where it would seem very suitable to the very cool climate there.

The wine made from Pinot Noir Précoce has the enchanting aromatic complexity of Pinot Noir, featuring the typical cherry fruit, floral goodness and earthy flora scents of Pinot Noir, making it a challenge to distinguish from Pinot Noir itself. Sebastian Fürst exclaimed in the article, “Frühburgunder simply has incredibly rich and opulent aromas. When it comes to telling the siblings apart in the glass, however, you can’t do it.”

Pinot Noir Précoce is more of a “heartbreak grape” than Pinot Noir, according to Krebiehl, who notes, “Yields are painfully low. It ripens early, making it susceptible to wasps and birds, let alone wild boar. Small clusters of often very small grapes are prone to rot and vinegar flies, and more recently, also to that latest scourge of vineyards, Drosophila suzukii, a spotted fruit fly. It can also turn from ripe to overripe in no time at all.”

The one advantage of Pinot Noir Précoce over Spätburgunder is that because it ripens two weeks earlier, it can allow growers to produce wines in sites where Pinot Noir could not. The article quotes grower Michael Kriechel as saying, “You have the possibility of making fine wines from climatically lesser sites.”

The Pinot Noir Précoce wine is typically vinified like Pinot Noir, but with less oak exposure. The grape tends to have slightly less acidity and tannins.

Krebiehl summarizes her thoughts on this Pinot Noir twin at the conclusion of the article. “Its different expressions are clearly capable of delivering those heart-stopping Pinot epiphanies that so many of us seek. Pinot Précoce is a fascinating member of a fascinating family.”

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