Question about sweet tobacco/cigar box notes in Bordeaux

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Brian S t o t t e r
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Question about sweet tobacco/cigar box notes in Bordeaux

#1 Post by Brian S t o t t e r » June 27th, 2020, 10:09 am

I’m exploring Bordeaux a little bit and got this nice sweet tobacco leaf and cigar box notes from a 2016 Chateau Cantemerle. What is it about the wine that gives it to these aromas? Is it one of the grape varietals, winemaking, appellation (all three)? Would be interested in trying to find other Bordeaux with this as part of their profile.
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Re: Question about sweet tobacco/cigar box notes in Bordeaux

#2 Post by Arv R » June 27th, 2020, 10:13 am

Older red Graves can show that too after some bottle aging.
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Re: Question about sweet tobacco/cigar box notes in Bordeaux

#3 Post by Michael Martin » June 27th, 2020, 10:33 am

I find it in Cab Franc/Merlot blends more than in others.

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Re: Question about sweet tobacco/cigar box notes in Bordeaux

#4 Post by Robert.A.Jr. » June 27th, 2020, 11:16 am

Brian S t o t t e r wrote:
June 27th, 2020, 10:09 am
I’m exploring Bordeaux a little bit and got this nice sweet tobacco leaf and cigar box notes from a 2016 Chateau Cantemerle. What is it about the wine that gives it to these aromas? Is it one of the grape varietals, winemaking, appellation (all three)? Would be interested in trying to find other Bordeaux with this as part of their profile.
Aha, part of the old world Bordeaux perfume, you don’t see it as much in the modern concoctions! Brian we gotta get you to try some of the Cordier wines from the 1980s! Those wines sometimes felt like smoking an old Cuban cigar. Love them. I see it mostly now in Bordeaux with a more healthy Cab Franc cut. Older Figeac, Les Carmes Haut Brion, Magdelaine, Bourgneuf, et al. Mature Lanessan as well. It is intoxicating.

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Re: Question about sweet tobacco/cigar box notes in Bordeaux

#5 Post by Mel Knox » June 27th, 2020, 11:20 am

In the 80s the Bordelais fermented their wines in tank, put it through ML in tank, and barreled the wine down in January and February. The cleaner wine picked up more oak notes from the barrels..hence the cigar box notes. In the early 90s winemakers started to copy what was happening here, ML in barrel right after primary. This gives more integration of oak and wine but not so much in the way of cigar box notes.
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Re: Question about sweet tobacco/cigar box notes in Bordeaux

#6 Post by Br1an Th0rne » June 27th, 2020, 11:23 am

Brian S t o t t e r wrote:
June 27th, 2020, 10:09 am
I’m exploring Bordeaux a little bit and got this nice sweet tobacco leaf and cigar box notes from a 2016 Chateau Cantemerle. What is it about the wine that gives it to these aromas? Is it one of the grape varietals, winemaking, appellation (all three)? Would be interested in trying to find other Bordeaux with this as part of their profile.
I often find tobacco and cigar box notes in mature left bank Bordeaux wines, particularly in Graves, and especially Ch. Haut Brion. Had a ‘00 Smith Haut Lafitte last week that had complex tobacco notes, it was fully mature, amazing, and reasonably priced. I don’t often find these notes in younger Bordeaux wines though, in my experience they become more complex and noticeable with age.

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Re: Question about sweet tobacco/cigar box notes in Bordeaux

#7 Post by William Kelley » June 27th, 2020, 11:26 am

While this has something to do with varietal character, I second Mel in attributing this to élevage practices. He might be able to expand on the kind of cooperage choices historically prevalent in Bordeaux.
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Re: Question about sweet tobacco/cigar box notes in Bordeaux

#8 Post by Mel Knox » June 27th, 2020, 11:50 am

Another change in wine making would be the barrels themselves. I think BX barrels are more heavily toasted than they were in the '80s and this would create a buffer between the wood and the wine. Another reason for fewer comments about cigar boxes.

Some chateaux, like Haut Brion, make most of their own barrels, sometimes in a partnership with a cooperage. Most buy barrels from three or four cooperages.
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Re: Question about sweet tobacco/cigar box notes in Bordeaux

#9 Post by Arv R » June 27th, 2020, 12:31 pm

For those looking for a cab francy bdx, try Clos St Julien - which despite its name - is a St Em. It's a sort of new estate I think (maybe only last 20 years or so) and they were very high in the CF cepage, maybe 60-80%. The wines taste different, and good.
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Re: Question about sweet tobacco/cigar box notes in Bordeaux

#10 Post by Wes Barton » June 27th, 2020, 1:29 pm

Pyrazines. With the right barrel treatment they are able to transform from bell pepper to tobacco. (That transformation can also happen in bottle over an extended time, but not necessarily.) Of course pyrazines are a factor of canopy management, or sometimes a very cool site like Chaine d'Or Vyd in the Santa Cruz Mountains will always have a dose, and some will have some some vintages.
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Re: Question about sweet tobacco/cigar box notes in Bordeaux

#11 Post by Tom DeBiase » June 27th, 2020, 3:01 pm

I don’t think extensive work has been done in isolating that particular attribute. My guess is it is a complex blend of toast levels of barrels and complex mixtures formed with vanillin, other phenolic aldehydes, methyl valerate and other esters.

An interesting experiment, though strictly anecdotal would be to taste an aged cab not seeing any wood or very old wood to see if that aroma is perceived.

I know a few winemakers in Sonoma County made cab with very old barrels. Will see if I can get one to try.

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Re: Question about sweet tobacco/cigar box notes in Bordeaux

#12 Post by Doug Schulman » June 27th, 2020, 3:06 pm

Mel Knox wrote:
June 27th, 2020, 11:20 am
In the 80s the Bordelais fermented their wines in tank, put it through ML in tank, and barreled the wine down in January and February. The cleaner wine picked up more oak notes from the barrels..hence the cigar box notes. In the early 90s winemakers started to copy what was happening here, ML in barrel right after primary. This gives more integration of oak and wine but not so much in the way of cigar box notes.
Thanks for the input. I’ve suspected this was oak related for some time, but I never knew for sure.

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Re: Question about sweet tobacco/cigar box notes in Bordeaux

#13 Post by Mel Knox » June 27th, 2020, 3:51 pm

Around 1989 the Francois cooperage bought Demptos cooperage in Bordeaux after the death of Philippe Demptos. At that time I was working with both Taransaud and Francois.
When I went to visit Jerome Francois we went to a winery --I cannot remember which one-- where they used Demptos barrels and barreled the wine down after ML in tank. Bingo...cigar box city!!

I was used to wine made by people, mostly in California, who used Taransaud barrels.

So I think it's technique and barrel.


Those Cordier wines were brett bombs, as I recall. Another piece in the puzzle!
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Re: Question about sweet tobacco/cigar box notes in Bordeaux

#14 Post by Robert.A.Jr. » June 27th, 2020, 4:04 pm

If it was mostly the barrel, wouldn’t we have this note in just about every red wine made, at least those that see oak? It get your point if the note was cigar box, but what about tobacco leaf?

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Re: Question about sweet tobacco/cigar box notes in Bordeaux

#15 Post by John Morris » June 27th, 2020, 4:10 pm

Robert.A.Jr. wrote:
June 27th, 2020, 4:04 pm
If it was mostly the barrel, wouldn’t we have this note in just about every red wine made, at least those that see oak? It get your point if the note was cigar box, but what about tobacco leaf?
I read Mel and Wes to be saying that some barrels are more conducive to this than others.
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Re: Question about sweet tobacco/cigar box notes in Bordeaux

#16 Post by Robert.A.Jr. » June 27th, 2020, 4:25 pm

John Morris wrote:
June 27th, 2020, 4:10 pm
Robert.A.Jr. wrote:
June 27th, 2020, 4:04 pm
If it was mostly the barrel, wouldn’t we have this note in just about every red wine made, at least those that see oak? It get your point if the note was cigar box, but what about tobacco leaf?
I read Mel and Wes to be saying that some barrels are more conducive to this than others.
Yes, Wes’ posts says that, but I didn’t read any of Mel’s posts that way. Mel, can you clarify?

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Re: Question about sweet tobacco/cigar box notes in Bordeaux

#17 Post by Wes Barton » June 27th, 2020, 7:23 pm

Robert.A.Jr. wrote:
June 27th, 2020, 4:25 pm
John Morris wrote:
June 27th, 2020, 4:10 pm
Robert.A.Jr. wrote:
June 27th, 2020, 4:04 pm
If it was mostly the barrel, wouldn’t we have this note in just about every red wine made, at least those that see oak? It get your point if the note was cigar box, but what about tobacco leaf?
I read Mel and Wes to be saying that some barrels are more conducive to this than others.
Yes, Wes’ posts says that, but I didn’t read any of Mel’s posts that way. Mel, can you clarify?
I'm saying the precursor in my first hand experience, as well as my experience with mature bottles that had previously shown bell pepper, as well as other redundancies, are pyrazines, which under the right conditions the bell pepper notes can transform into tobacco leaf. Managed well, the young wines will show more green peppercorn, with perhaps some tobacco, then age brings out more tobacco. That gives the wines a very attractive pop on the palate, as well as wonderful aromatics. So, that's barrels playing a role in transforming pyrazines.

Mel is talking about some wood introducing same or similar compounds. Not the same thing. Oak does contain pyrazine. With all the variables of source, drying, cooperage, it's not a surprise some barrels impart significant pyrazine while others don't. Then there's whatever characteristic of some barrels that help mitigate/transform pyrazines. Also, I'm not sure if any other types of compounds could also cause or contribute to these characteristics. Some signature aromas we experience are actually two or more compounds in conjunction.
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Re: Question about sweet tobacco/cigar box notes in Bordeaux

#18 Post by Paul @bbott » June 28th, 2020, 3:53 am

I recently had a good tobacco scent from a 2008 Sociando Mallet, so the wines don’t have to be ancient for it to come through.

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Re: Question about sweet tobacco/cigar box notes in Bordeaux

#19 Post by Mel Knox » June 28th, 2020, 8:47 am

I thought I said that the way wines are barreled down has a lot to do with this. If you put wines through ML in tank, then put the wine into barrel in January, the cleaner wine will have less buffering between the wine and the wood. With certain barrels this is going to give you that cedar so called cigar box character. This can be compounded by racking the wine every three months as was done back in the 70s and 80s.

Now many California winemakers saw how Burgundy winemakers put their wines through ML in barrel, partly for practical reasons. So, they thought, good for Pinot why not Merlot?? Cabernet??
Also, in custom crush facilities there is a shortage of tank space so logistics can dictate wine making. In 1986 I went around Bordeaux with two winemakers. Whenever they mentioned this idea the Bordelais looked at them as though they proposed adding a dead cat or two to the fermenter. Seven years later they were all doing it. One of the results of this technique is that all the lees etc in the wine helps act as a buffer zone between the wood and the wine. Increased toast on the inside of the barrel also does this. So instead of a 'cigar box' character perhaps a sweeter less pronounced oaky character.

Of course, now we have winemakers popping the heads of barrels and fermenting the wine in the barrel.
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Re: Question about sweet tobacco/cigar box notes in Bordeaux

#20 Post by David Glasser » June 28th, 2020, 1:12 pm

I love that cigar box and tobacco leaf complexity. I’d be disappointed if it disappeared completely due to ML in barrel being done everywhere. But Brian’s 2016 Cantemerle was showing it. Maybe at too young an age for pyrazines to do the aging magic? Did that wine do ML in barrel? If so there must be some other things that can cause it.

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Re: Question about sweet tobacco/cigar box notes in Bordeaux

#21 Post by Wes Barton » June 28th, 2020, 4:31 pm

David Glasser wrote:
June 28th, 2020, 1:12 pm
I love that cigar box and tobacco leaf complexity. I’d be disappointed if it disappeared completely due to ML in barrel being done everywhere. But Brian’s 2016 Cantemerle was showing it. Maybe at too young an age for pyrazines to do the aging magic? Did that wine do ML in barrel? If so there must be some other things that can cause it.
Note we are talking about two different things. The cedar/cigar box is definitely not from pyrazine. Much, but perhaps not all of the time tobacco leaf is.
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Re: Question about sweet tobacco/cigar box notes in Bordeaux

#22 Post by Brian S t o t t e r » June 28th, 2020, 4:38 pm

I did a Google search on this, and several sources mention the sweet tobacco leaf note may be just pyrazine character and more from just Cabernet Sauvignon not achieving full ripeness. If that's the case, why do I not pick it up with CA cabernet in which the winemaker isn't picking to make super ripe wine?
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Re: Question about sweet tobacco/cigar box notes in Bordeaux

#23 Post by Cris Whetstone » June 28th, 2020, 4:49 pm

Old CA Cabs and Merlots can carry the humidor type thing. I'm sure the changing techniques discussed above and elevated ripeness levels are pushing it aside.
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Re: Question about sweet tobacco/cigar box notes in Bordeaux

#24 Post by David Glasser » June 28th, 2020, 4:58 pm

Wes, thank you for your usual clarity.

Brian, I am no expert but would not be surprised to hear that barely ripe in CA is often riper than normally ripe Bordeaux, at least with respect to things like pyrazines, maybe ABV as well.

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Re: Question about sweet tobacco/cigar box notes in Bordeaux

#25 Post by William Kelley » June 28th, 2020, 5:13 pm

Brian S t o t t e r wrote:
June 28th, 2020, 4:38 pm
I did a Google search on this, and several sources mention the sweet tobacco leaf note may be just pyrazine character and more from just Cabernet Sauvignon not achieving full ripeness. If that's the case, why do I not pick it up with CA cabernet in which the winemaker isn't picking to make super ripe wine?
Well, I would describe it as a varietal characteristic as modulated by particular élevage choices. And I think you will find it in CA producers who opt for a more traditionally Bordelais barrel programme, i.e. Philip Togni, Foreman, Mondavi Reserve before 2000, etc.

As for pyrazines being indicative of an absence of "full ripeness", I think the latest literature suggests that they're inherently part of varietal character but simply "masked" at very elevated ripeness levels, rather than being "burnt off", as people used to say; but I'm open to correction.
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Re: Question about sweet tobacco/cigar box notes in Bordeaux

#26 Post by Robert.A.Jr. » June 28th, 2020, 5:21 pm

William Kelley wrote:
June 28th, 2020, 5:13 pm
Brian S t o t t e r wrote:
June 28th, 2020, 4:38 pm
I did a Google search on this, and several sources mention the sweet tobacco leaf note may be just pyrazine character and more from just Cabernet Sauvignon not achieving full ripeness. If that's the case, why do I not pick it up with CA cabernet in which the winemaker isn't picking to make super ripe wine?
Well, I would describe it as a varietal characteristic as modulated by particular élevage choices. And I think you will find it in CA producers who opt for a more traditionally Bordelais barrel programme, i.e. Philip Togni, Foreman, Mondavi Reserve before 2000, etc.

As for pyrazines being indicative of an absence of "full ripeness", I think the latest literature suggests that they're inherently part of varietal character but simply "masked" at very elevated ripeness levels, rather than being "burnt off", as people used to say; but I'm open to correction.

I’m not the expert, but that was my supposition as well, hence my comments above. I pick up tobacco leaf and ash on a lot of old school Loire Cab Franc producers, including some like Domaine Guion that see very little new oak. In fact , I think only Le Deux Monts sees barrels. The old Renaissance Cabs and Cab blends throw more tobacco than any other California wine that I’ve ever had. Winemaker Gideon Beinstock used minimal new oak and kept alcohol levels low, as in generally between 12 and 13.

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Re: Question about sweet tobacco/cigar box notes in Bordeaux

#27 Post by Mel Knox » June 28th, 2020, 5:58 pm

I haven t smoked any tobacco in decades but it sounds to me that people are using tobacco as another way of saying leafy or weedy stemmy, something Loire CF is famous for. I think these qualities have to do with ripeness, not barrels.

Sociando Mallet for example has lots of cabernet in the blend and has a lot of clay in the soil, so ripening would be retarded in many years. It's been at least 15 years since I went there so maybe my memory is wrong.

Monterey county produced some astonishingly veggie cabs in the 70s and killed a lot of consumer interest in that! So I think most folks in Napa and Sonoma do their best to manipulate the grapes beyond that stage. Indeed,somebody once pointed out that if you put Ch Latour in a Napa bottle, everyone would pan it.
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Re: Question about sweet tobacco/cigar box notes in Bordeaux

#28 Post by Robert.A.Jr. » June 28th, 2020, 6:04 pm

Sociando is also one of the most northern vineyards in Bordeaux, and they do not green harvest or control yields. This plays a big factor in ripeness and some of the herbal characteristics that many of us love from this Chateau. It always shocks me that Sociando only has 5% Cab Franc in the blend, one would surmise more given the normal profile of the wine. Also surprises me that Sociando uses 95% or so new oak, as it really doesn’t show it.

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Re: Question about sweet tobacco/cigar box notes in Bordeaux

#29 Post by Wes Barton » June 28th, 2020, 6:29 pm

William Kelley wrote:
June 28th, 2020, 5:13 pm
Brian S t o t t e r wrote:
June 28th, 2020, 4:38 pm
I did a Google search on this, and several sources mention the sweet tobacco leaf note may be just pyrazine character and more from just Cabernet Sauvignon not achieving full ripeness. If that's the case, why do I not pick it up with CA cabernet in which the winemaker isn't picking to make super ripe wine?
Well, I would describe it as a varietal characteristic as modulated by particular élevage choices. And I think you will find it in CA producers who opt for a more traditionally Bordelais barrel programme, i.e. Philip Togni, Foreman, Mondavi Reserve before 2000, etc.

As for pyrazines being indicative of an absence of "full ripeness", I think the latest literature suggests that they're inherently part of varietal character but simply "masked" at very elevated ripeness levels, rather than being "burnt off", as people used to say; but I'm open to correction.
It's more about sunlight on the grapes. Canopy management mitigates it. It's definitely there when the grapes aren't ripe enough. If I'm picking just ripe Cab, tasting secondary clusters (the first ones, which are about 3 weeks behind) will be very strong in bell pepper. I've picked at SCM sites that allow extended hangtime by virtue of the later season coolness, so sugars and acids barely budge. You get to the point the secondaries are fine. It's always an issue to make sure all the pickers are careful about, and everyone on-board with the winemaker. Taste taste taste. Any cluster that looks questionable, make sure. Imagine a grape that tastes like bell pepper concentrate! It's not subtle.

I really loved the old Chaine d'Or Vyd. Cabs. Around 12.5% ABV, wonderful perfume with a green peppercorn pop, black currant, cedar. When my friends Stefania Wine took over the wine making ('07-'14) they picked six weeks later! Winemaker Paul thinks it's the coolest CS vineyard in CA. Their version (same wine under their and the Chaine d'Or label) was about 13.5% ABV, filled out with some blackberry fruit and less peppercorn. Still an excellent wine, good acid, well balanced. Less "controversial", but still had some people thinking it was "too green". I have a bottle from the current winemaker I should try soon.
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Re: Question about sweet tobacco/cigar box notes in Bordeaux

#30 Post by Tom DeBiase » June 28th, 2020, 7:06 pm

Wes Barton wrote:
June 28th, 2020, 6:29 pm
William Kelley wrote:
June 28th, 2020, 5:13 pm
Brian S t o t t e r wrote:
June 28th, 2020, 4:38 pm
I did a Google search on this, and several sources mention the sweet tobacco leaf note may be just pyrazine character and more from just Cabernet Sauvignon not achieving full ripeness. If that's the case, why do I not pick it up with CA cabernet in which the winemaker isn't picking to make super ripe wine?
Well, I would describe it as a varietal characteristic as modulated by particular élevage choices. And I think you will find it in CA producers who opt for a more traditionally Bordelais barrel programme, i.e. Philip Togni, Foreman, Mondavi Reserve before 2000, etc.

As for pyrazines being indicative of an absence of "full ripeness", I think the latest literature suggests that they're inherently part of varietal character but simply "masked" at very elevated ripeness levels, rather than being "burnt off", as people used to say; but I'm open to correction.
It's more about sunlight on the grapes. Canopy management mitigates it. It's definitely there when the grapes aren't ripe enough. If I'm picking just ripe Cab, tasting secondary clusters (the first ones, which are about 3 weeks behind) will be very strong in bell pepper. I've picked at SCM sites that allow extended hangtime by virtue of the later season coolness, so sugars and acids barely budge. You get to the point the secondaries are fine. It's always an issue to make sure all the pickers are careful about, and everyone on-board with the winemaker. Taste taste taste. Any cluster that looks questionable, make sure. Imagine a grape that tastes like bell pepper concentrate! It's not subtle.

I really loved the old Chaine d'Or Vyd. Cabs. Around 12.5% ABV, wonderful perfume with a green peppercorn pop, black currant, cedar. When my friends Stefania Wine took over the wine making ('07-'14) they picked six weeks later! Winemaker Paul thinks it's the coolest CS vineyard in CA. Their version (same wine under their and the Chaine d'Or label) was about 13.5% ABV, filled out with some blackberry fruit and less peppercorn. Still an excellent wine, good acid, well balanced. Less "controversial", but still had some people thinking it was "too green". I have a bottle from the current winemaker I should try soon.
Wes, it is far more complex than just one pyrazine. All you say above is true but 3-Isobutyl-2-methoxypyrazine, green pepper pyrazine is extremely stable and is not being converted to anything. Now maybe other pyrazines in combination with other phenolic aldehydes are forming a complex of "tobacco leaf" like qualities but with wine containing hundreds of compounds it's not one compound responsible for the aroma.

The phenolic aldehydes are especially important as they are found in the wine and cooperage, are not stable and will degrade to other compounds (and aroma) over time.

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Re: Question about sweet tobacco/cigar box notes in Bordeaux

#31 Post by Josh Grossman » June 29th, 2020, 2:12 am

I thought Château Bel Air-Marquis d'Aligre would be an interesting experiment to parse the CT tasting notes. By the vast majority, I saw tons of tobacco and cigar mentions in a wine with all concrete aging. There were some mentions of cigar box still--with one example given:
5/30/2016 - WILLIAM KELLEY favorite LIKES THIS WINE:95 Points
From what may be the most resolutely old-fashioned of Bordeaux's great estates, the 2000 Bel Air-Marquis d'Aligre is a stunning bottle of claret, bursting from the decanter with a deep and complex bouquet of cassis, dark plum, cigar box, graphite and some very fragrant floral top-notes. On the palate the wine is full-bodied, deep and very concentrated, with a firm core of impenetrable savory fruit underpinned by fine tannin and acidity. This wine is still only an infant, but its youthfulness manifests itself not in an aggressive and untamed tannic structure, but rather in that deeply savory core that needs a good decade to unfold and truly expatiate. Indeed, I fully expect this to be more compelling in 2030 than it is in 2020. Of course, this wine exists in the paradigm of the 1940s and '50s which will make it hard to read for those acclimated to contemporary claret. Indeed, this tasting note may make little sense to "those who could not hear the music". But if you like classical claret it would be hard to find a more profound rendition in this vintage.
If BAMA has cigar box, I think that eliminates élevage practices as its origin?

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Re: Question about sweet tobacco/cigar box notes in Bordeaux

#32 Post by Robert.A.Jr. » June 29th, 2020, 6:40 am

BAMA is a great example, can’t believe I didn’t think of it. Lots of tobacco in that wine.

According to Chambers Street, it does see some minimal used oak:
After a six-month passage in old barrels, the wine spends two to three years in cement vats before bottling and release.

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Re: Question about sweet tobacco/cigar box notes in Bordeaux

#33 Post by Brian S t o t t e r » June 29th, 2020, 7:05 am

Looks like I'll be trying to track down BAMA then :D
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Re: Question about sweet tobacco/cigar box notes in Bordeaux

#34 Post by Josh Grossman » June 29th, 2020, 7:16 am

Brian S t o t t e r wrote:
June 29th, 2020, 7:05 am
Looks like I'll be trying to track down BAMA then :D
I was just trying to see if I could delineate tobacco from cigar box by eliminating all élevage. The only thing I can conclude is that BAMA does have lots of tobacco (others will have to agree if there is any 'cigar box'). Our southern lawyer's objection, that it does in fact see some oak, was sustained.

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Re: Question about sweet tobacco/cigar box notes in Bordeaux

#35 Post by William Kelley » June 29th, 2020, 7:48 am

Josh Grossman wrote:
June 29th, 2020, 2:12 am
I thought Château Bel Air-Marquis d'Aligre would be an interesting experiment to parse the CT tasting notes. By the vast majority, I saw tons of tobacco and cigar mentions in a wine with all concrete aging. There were some mentions of cigar box still--with one example given:
5/30/2016 - WILLIAM KELLEY favorite LIKES THIS WINE:95 Points
From what may be the most resolutely old-fashioned of Bordeaux's great estates, the 2000 Bel Air-Marquis d'Aligre is a stunning bottle of claret, bursting from the decanter with a deep and complex bouquet of cassis, dark plum, cigar box, graphite and some very fragrant floral top-notes. On the palate the wine is full-bodied, deep and very concentrated, with a firm core of impenetrable savory fruit underpinned by fine tannin and acidity. This wine is still only an infant, but its youthfulness manifests itself not in an aggressive and untamed tannic structure, but rather in that deeply savory core that needs a good decade to unfold and truly expatiate. Indeed, I fully expect this to be more compelling in 2030 than it is in 2020. Of course, this wine exists in the paradigm of the 1940s and '50s which will make it hard to read for those acclimated to contemporary claret. Indeed, this tasting note may make little sense to "those who could not hear the music". But if you like classical claret it would be hard to find a more profound rendition in this vintage.
If BAMA has cigar box, I think that eliminates élevage practices as its origin?
Not as simple as that - classical Bordeaux élevage in barrels is complimentary to the wines: the inherent qualities of the grape varieties merge seamlessly with the patina imparted by the élevage. Just as in white Burgundy one can ask, are the fresh bread and hazelnut aromas coming from Chardonnay, lees aging, or oak influence? It's hard to say. So in red Bordeaux, are the characteristics we prize coming from the grapes or the barrels? Again, it's hard to say where one ends and the other begins.

I think if you compare e.g. Bel Air Marquis d'Aligre on the one hand, with minimal or no oak influence, and e.g. Mouton-Rothschild on the other, with perhaps the most distinctive proprietary cooperage signature of the Médoc on the other, you will see how the oak maturation is modulating the varietal characteristics of the grapes, amping up certain features and perhaps tuning down others. And then, for a comparison, look at Opus One, with similar cooperage to Mouton but very different grapes in terms of ripeness, and you can see what the barrels are contributing on their own to a more overtly fruity substrate.
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Re: Question about sweet tobacco/cigar box notes in Bordeaux

#36 Post by G. D y e r » June 29th, 2020, 8:05 am

Lots of interesting discussion here! As a Cab Franc lover, the notion of tobacco and cigar box, and the overall greenness of wine, is a subject of intensive interest.

I tend to reject the notion of tobacco as euphemism for a weedy or grassy profile. Rather, I view the ripeness of 'green' flavors in Bordeaux varieties as existing on a spectrum from cut grass/weeds --> bell pepper --> tobacco --> olive. Perhaps it's just low concentration of pyrazines can give a very different impression, in the same way that low levels of Brett byproducts (4EP/4EG) are complexing agents that can be leathery or spicy, yet create a sweaty horse cow pasture profile at high levels. Or perhaps it's the interplay of pyrazines with other aromatics.

Regardless, I see tobacco as a sort of 'noble' green flavor in CF (and BDX varieties more broadly), where bell pepper and weeds are almost always a derogatory quality.

As for cedar and cigar box characteristics, I'll defer to others on this topic as to whether it's the oak or fruit. But generally I tend to find cedar more common in Bordeaux varieties, so it's at least something they are inherently dis-positioned toward, even if it takes elevage techniques to really pull out the profile.

One final comment: isn't micro-oxygenation used in part to reduce pyrazine profile? A phenologically unripe harvest won't be solved by elevage, but if the above statement is accurate, then how pyazines present themselves will depend quite greatly on how and when the wine is exposed to air during elevage.
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Re: Question about sweet tobacco/cigar box notes in Bordeaux

#37 Post by Robert.A.Jr. » June 29th, 2020, 8:18 am

Great posts, William and Greg!

And I concur, Greg. Tobacco leaf is a major positive for me, and is quite distinct from herbs or bell pepper, which I also do not necessarily view as a negative. Adds to the overall color spectrum of the wine.

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Re: Question about sweet tobacco/cigar box notes in Bordeaux

#38 Post by Brian S t o t t e r » June 29th, 2020, 8:44 am

Maybe it's my perception, but when I get notes of tobacco leaf (vs. cigar box) it has a sweet quality to it. Is that just from the oak or can there be other influences?
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Re: Question about sweet tobacco/cigar box notes in Bordeaux

#39 Post by Chris Seiber » June 29th, 2020, 9:15 am

Doug Schulman wrote:
June 27th, 2020, 3:06 pm
Mel Knox wrote:
June 27th, 2020, 11:20 am
In the 80s the Bordelais fermented their wines in tank, put it through ML in tank, and barreled the wine down in January and February. The cleaner wine picked up more oak notes from the barrels..hence the cigar box notes. In the early 90s winemakers started to copy what was happening here, ML in barrel right after primary. This gives more integration of oak and wine but not so much in the way of cigar box notes.
Thanks for the input. I’ve suspected this was oak related for some time, but I never knew for sure.
Yet it has a strong (though far from total) correlation to cab franc, too. I doubt Loire cab franc consistently has that flavor because of barrels.

South Africa is another good place to look for BDX blends with sweet tobacco notes.

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Re: Question about sweet tobacco/cigar box notes in Bordeaux

#40 Post by Robert.A.Jr. » June 29th, 2020, 9:24 am

Brian S t o t t e r wrote:
June 29th, 2020, 8:44 am
Maybe it's my perception, but when I get notes of tobacco leaf (vs. cigar box) it has a sweet quality to it. Is that just from the oak or can there be other influences?
Me too, Brian. I think that’s the debate upstream, some seemingly suggesting that it comes from the oak, others of us suggesting it is a varietal component, though it could more likely be some confluence of all of the above, or at least how accentuated the note is.

Chris I have always thought Raats made the most Loire Cab Franc Clone outside of Loire. It’s gotten pricier, but I used to buy a lot of it. Raats is South African. PS. Avoid their flagship CF bottling, it’s actually rather new world. The cheaper versions are the good ones. The impales Chenin Blanc for sub-$15 is really good good as well.

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Re: Question about sweet tobacco/cigar box notes in Bordeaux

#41 Post by Chris Seiber » June 29th, 2020, 9:30 am

Robert.A.Jr. wrote:
June 29th, 2020, 9:24 am
Chris I have always thought Raats made the most Loire Cab Franc Clone outside of Loire. It’s gotten pricier, but I used to buy a lot of it. Raats is South African.
Does it have the Loire outhouse character, or just the normal Loire character? :)

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Re: Question about sweet tobacco/cigar box notes in Bordeaux

#42 Post by Robert.A.Jr. » June 29th, 2020, 9:32 am

Chris Seiber wrote:
June 29th, 2020, 9:30 am
Robert.A.Jr. wrote:
June 29th, 2020, 9:24 am
Chris I have always thought Raats made the most Loire Cab Franc Clone outside of Loire. It’s gotten pricier, but I used to buy a lot of it. Raats is South African.
Does it have the Loire outhouse character, or just the normal Loire character? :)
Aren’t they the same?!? [snort.gif]

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Re: Question about sweet tobacco/cigar box notes in Bordeaux

#43 Post by Doug Schulman » June 29th, 2020, 10:21 am

Chris Seiber wrote:
June 29th, 2020, 9:15 am
Doug Schulman wrote:
June 27th, 2020, 3:06 pm
Mel Knox wrote:
June 27th, 2020, 11:20 am
In the 80s the Bordelais fermented their wines in tank, put it through ML in tank, and barreled the wine down in January and February. The cleaner wine picked up more oak notes from the barrels..hence the cigar box notes. In the early 90s winemakers started to copy what was happening here, ML in barrel right after primary. This gives more integration of oak and wine but not so much in the way of cigar box notes.
Thanks for the input. I’ve suspected this was oak related for some time, but I never knew for sure.
Yet it has a strong (though far from total) correlation to cab franc, too. I doubt Loire cab franc consistently has that flavor because of barrels.

South Africa is another good place to look for BDX blends with sweet tobacco notes.
I think there are probably several compounds at play, and that to some extent different people are talking about different things here. I only get what I think of as tobacco or cigar box notes on Loire Cab Franc if it's old or Rougeard. To put it another way, I don't get it in any young Loire CF (that I can remember; there might be a tiny number of exceptions) other than Rougeard. I'm not at all surprised that you perceive things differently.

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Re: Question about sweet tobacco/cigar box notes in Bordeaux

#44 Post by Tom DeBiase » June 29th, 2020, 10:25 am

Here are a couple abstracts that identify some of the actual compounds. There are several others.

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10691647/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16136833/

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Re: Question about sweet tobacco/cigar box notes in Bordeaux

#45 Post by Todd F r e n c h » June 29th, 2020, 11:08 am

Mel Knox wrote:
June 27th, 2020, 11:20 am
In the 80s the Bordelais fermented their wines in tank, put it through ML in tank, and barreled the wine down in January and February. The cleaner wine picked up more oak notes from the barrels..hence the cigar box notes. In the early 90s winemakers started to copy what was happening here, ML in barrel right after primary. This gives more integration of oak and wine but not so much in the way of cigar box notes.
Great answer, Mel
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Re: Question about sweet tobacco/cigar box notes in Bordeaux

#46 Post by Otto Forsberg » June 29th, 2020, 3:14 pm

Wes Barton wrote:
June 27th, 2020, 7:23 pm
Oak does contain pyrazine. With all the variables of source, drying, cooperage, it's not a surprise some barrels impart significant pyrazine while others don't.
I tried looking for such information, but couldn't find any. Do you have any sources for this?

I can imagine green parts of oak could contain pyrazines, but to me it sounds really weird if wood suited for barrel-making, seasoned and air-dried for long periods of time and finally toasted over fire contained any pyrazines.

And to be clear, I'm now talking about the same pyrazines we associate with wine aromatics, i.e. methoxypyrazines and such. From what I've understood, there are certain pyrazine compounds in oak, but they are very different from the typical green/vegetal aromatics we normally associate with wine, some even capable of contributing to unwanted off-flavors.

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Re: Question about sweet tobacco/cigar box notes in Bordeaux

#47 Post by Wes Barton » June 29th, 2020, 3:57 pm

Otto Forsberg wrote:
June 29th, 2020, 3:14 pm
Wes Barton wrote:
June 27th, 2020, 7:23 pm
Oak does contain pyrazine. With all the variables of source, drying, cooperage, it's not a surprise some barrels impart significant pyrazine while others don't.
I tried looking for such information, but couldn't find any. Do you have any sources for this?

I can imagine green parts of oak could contain pyrazines, but to me it sounds really weird if wood suited for barrel-making, seasoned and air-dried for long periods of time and finally toasted over fire contained any pyrazines.

And to be clear, I'm now talking about the same pyrazines we associate with wine aromatics, i.e. methoxypyrazines and such. From what I've understood, there are certain pyrazine compounds in oak, but they are very different from the typical green/vegetal aromatics we normally associate with wine, some even capable of contributing to unwanted off-flavors.
Your quote is me agreeing with someone else's assertion, outside of my experience. But, considering all the complaints about "toasty oak", there's a reason we don't see much lighter than "medium plus". Oak is harsh and green without enough toast.
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Re: Question about sweet tobacco/cigar box notes in Bordeaux

#48 Post by Wes Barton » June 29th, 2020, 4:21 pm

Doug Schulman wrote:
June 29th, 2020, 10:21 am
I think there are probably several compounds at play, and that to some extent different people are talking about different things here. I only get what I think of as tobacco or cigar box notes on Loire Cab Franc if it's old or Rougeard. To put it another way, I don't get it in any young Loire CF (that I can remember; there might be a tiny number of exceptions) other than Rougeard. I'm not at all surprised that you perceive things differently.
Yes. What I perceive as green peppercorn has a component of bell pepper, but must have other compounds at play, more prominently to me. It's very distinct to me from just bell pepper. But, it seems everyone who doesn't like it does not make the distinction, calling it bell pepper. Maybe they're more sensitive to that pyrazine, or less sensitive to the other compounds.

To be clear, it is the green peppercorn character that transforms to tobacco leaf. I'd say the bell pepper component of such wines does lessen, but is likely there as part of the tobacco leaf, whether I perceive it separately or not.

I do have experience with wines where I only perceived significant bell pepper, where it fades quite a bit with a lot of age, but is definitely still there. Some of those, like some old SCM Cabs, do show tobacco, some don't.
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Re: Question about sweet tobacco/cigar box notes in Bordeaux

#49 Post by Rory K. » June 29th, 2020, 6:01 pm

Perhaps I'm misinterpreting the aroma, but I frequently find a lovely sweet tobacco note in red wines outside of Bordeaux too, like in Brunello, and some Chianti. In my case it is not, to address Mel's point above, a euphemism for leafy/stemmy, but very much like a sweet pipe or rolling tobacco. Usually reminds me of the golden Virginia tobacco I used to roll in college, the smell of it before it was smoked of course, not the ashtray!
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Re: Question about sweet tobacco/cigar box notes in Bordeaux

#50 Post by Mel Knox » June 29th, 2020, 6:29 pm

Most of my barrel research stuff is at the office, but I don't recall pyrazines as being a compound in oak.Indeed some people use heavy toast oak chips or ageing in heavily toasted barrels to compensate or, maybe the right word, overwhelm them.

Oak does have compounds that can make wine astringent, but most of them diminish with proper seasoning. I just paid off the people who host my website:
www.knoxbarrels.com

You can get confused there.

One word of caution: when you generalize about winemaking and winemakers, you're invariably wrong. There are so many different choices to make, people are going to make different ones and get different results, esp with different grapes! Who knew?

A friend named Andy Schweiger of the same name winery did a barrel trial. He invited his winemaking buddies to taste the results. They voted three faves;he had those three analyzed by ETS, the wine lab in St Helena. One had toast levels off the chart; one within the boundaries of the spider graph and the third in between. All said medium and/or medium plus toast.
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