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Pinot Noir IQ Test: Some Clarifications

Through my years of experience in teaching (ocular disease to optometrists), I realize that test questions must have iron clad specificity and correctness. It was no surprise to me that several readers responded to the recent Pinot Noir IQ Test challenging some answers (correctly so) and requesting clarification of other questions. I wanted to share this information as a useful learning experience and truly appreciate those who took the time to write. There are many whose knowledge of wine knows no bounds and I am reminded of the old saying, “Knowledge (experience) is something you don’t get until just after you need it.” I have posted the revised Test in Volume 5, Issue 51on the website (, with all of the correct answers on page 10 of that issue.

Question #1 The question now reads: “All of the following are mutations of Pinot Noir except:” Rod Berglund, winemaker at Joseph Swan Vineyards correctly pointed out that Pinot Noir is not a parent, that is, did not cross pollinate with another grape to produce Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Meunier. These three varieties are pigment phenotypes which are genetically identical to Pinot Noir and differ only in pigmentation. They are mutations rather than offspring. Grenache, of course, is the answer as it is genetically unrelated to Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir is a genetic parent of Chardonnay, Gamay, Aligoté, Melon, Auxerrois, and several other varieties. The other parent is Gouais, a white grape now practically extinct in northern France.

Question #2 I left this question as is and the correct answer is that the juice of Pinot Noir is colorless. Technically, this is not always the case. Rod Berglund noted that a “tenturier” version of Pinot Noir exists whose juice is red. In an aerial photograph of the Cotes de Nuits, Rod noticed a block of vines that appeared to be totally virused. He was told that they were not virused, just an illegal planting of Pinot Noir tenturier. Rod suspects that he also has a mutant vine in the oldest block of his vineyard, since every year he notices a red splotch in a picking box that is way too dark to be normal Pinot Noir juice (he has yet to find it, however).

Question #7 This question now reads: “Pinot Noir as a stable variety is probably indigenous to:” The exact origins of Pinot Noir are not known, but John Haeger, author of North American Pinot Noir, has stated that Pinot Noir originated as a stable variety in Burgundy. In his book, Haeger writes that “the accepted opinion of most wine historians and paleobotanists was that all vinifera had a common geographic origin - in Transcaucasia, between the Black and Caspian Seas, where modern Turkey, Iraq and Iran share borders.” Greek and Roman travelers then brought cuttings, wine and culture into Western Europe. Haeger goes on to point out that there is some conflicting information. There is evidence that grapes were cultivated and wine made in some parts of France before the first Greek settlements could have had such an impact. Also, there are extensive populations of wild vines throughout large parts of Western Europe and it is unlikely that migrants from the eastern Mediterranean would have carried wild vine cuttings on their travels. Wild vines of Vitus vinifera could have existed long before the Greeks and Romans came to Western Europe.

Question #19 This question now reads: “The approximate number of days from bud break to harvest in North America is:” The original answer of 100-110 days was incorrect as pointed out by an astute reader. 100-110 days would be the number of days from bloom to harvest rather than bud break to harvest which is much longer. There are four markers in the vine’s annual growth: bud break, bloom (berry set), veraison (the change in grape’s color), and harvest. Bud break can begin as early as the end of February in the south central coast of California and as late as the first week of May in the Finger Lakes region of New York. The number of days from bud break to harvest can have a range of roughly 170-200 days. The period from bloom to harvest is known as hang time and will range from 90-125 days (answer c). Long hang times are correlated with cool summer daytime maximum temperatures as found in the south central coast, the Sonoma coast, and cooler parts of the Russian River Valley. The period from veraison to harvest is 28-49 days. Pinot Noir at veraison photo below.

Question #23 The correct answer is d (pineapple). The secondary flavor characteristics of Pinot Noir are varied and can include leather, game, rotting vegetables, beef bouillon, pencil shavings, loamy earth, pipe tobacco, old library books, brown sugar, mushrooms on a grill, beef stew, smoked bacon, vitamin tension, rust and iron, root beer, anise, fig, sherry and molasses.

Question #32 Amber Ridge Vineyard is located in the Russian River Valley and is the correct answer (b). The Sangiacomo Family vineyard holdings require some clarification. The family’s original plantings were in the Los Carneros AVA on the western side of Sonoma Creek (now over 1,000 acres). The family also farms vineyards in the Sonoma Valley and in 1998, they planted Pinot Noir in the Sonoma Coast AVA on Roberts Road. As a result, you will see Sangiacomo Vineyard on vineyard-designate Pinot Noirs from both the Carneros and Sonoma Coast appellations. Angelo Sangiacomo, now 76 years old, was inducted into the Sonoma County Farm Bureau’s Hall of Fame last year. Considered a pioneer in the wine industry in Sonoma County, Angelo takes pride in the fact that his vineyards have remained a family-owned business since his parents planted their first fruit orchard in 1927. Sangiacomo grapes are highly prized by winemakers.

Look for Pinot Noir IQ Test #2, in a future issue of the PinotFile.

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