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Dear Dr. Vinny,
I’m looking for red Burgundies that have that “sous bois” characteristic. Is it inherent in Burgundies from a certain village, or will this effect happen to all older vintages?
—David K., Plymouth, Minn.
“Sous bois” (pronounced “sue bwah”) is a French term meaning undergrowth or forest floor. It’s used to indicate more than just dead leaves, with a mushroom, white truffle, hint of crushed pine needles or other vegetative quality to it. It’s the note of autumn woods, dried herbs and humus (the organic soil, not the stuff you dip pita chips into). The term may say as much about the person using it as it does about the wine itself—not everyone is comfortable with throwing around “sous bois,” but I often see references to “forest floor” in tasting notes, which is essentially the same thing.
You’re right that it’s often used to describe Burgundies, but it seems to be an inherent note of Pinot Noirs in general, including examples from Oregon, California and New Zealand. I’ve also seen it used to describe Italian red wines and Bordeaux. If you like wines with these qualities, it might help to look for similar terms in reviews. You’re also correct that as wines age and their fruit flavors fade, these savory notes can crescendo.
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