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Dear Dr. Vinny,
Which wines have “sous bois”?
—David B., Kula, Hawaii
“Sous bois” means “undergrowth” in French, but I also liken it to the term “forest floor” which I find just as evocative and a bit easier to pronounce than sous bois (pronounced “sue bwah”). Both refer to a wonderful, savory mix of rich notes of dead leaves, dried herbs, mushrooms or even earthy white truffles. I often think of it as having a fresh side, too, that makes it distinctive—think of the freshness of rich tilled soil or crushed pine needles or a note of thyme mixed in there.
I find "sous bois" a good way to describe a wine’s aromas. There are two main places I’ve seen it used, and the first is to describe Burgundies or Pinot Noirs from other parts of the world. Sure, sometimes an Italian wine or red Bordeaux might be described this way, but there is something very distinctly Pinot Noir about the term. Fun fact: I’ve only seen the term used with red wines.
The other time the term comes up is when it comes to older wines, especially when they start to take on mature, tertiary characteristics. I’d expect to see some sous bois in not just aged Pinot Noirs, but also Syrah-based wines, and perhaps some Italian reds as well.
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