Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Blind Tasting Oregon and California Pinot Noirs

It’s a whole lot of fun to taste wines blind, especially when the wines run a range of prices. You don’t know who made the wine or what the wine costs, so your subconscious can’t factor those elements into the equation. Blind tasting is just you, your senses and the wine, and all you can do is focus on how those three things interact.

To help out my friends at, I tasted through a dozen or so pinot noirs from Oregon and California. All of the wines were newly-released trade samples, and they were all tasted blind, meaning I didn’t know anything except that they were American pinot noirs. After writing my full tasting note and scoring the wines, I unveiled them. Then I checked their prices on Wine-Searcher, a wine sales aggregator, and included the average price.

As all blind tastings are, this exercise was educational and enlightening, and these wines demonstrate the range of styles and flavors available from domestic pinot noir.

Here’s my report…

2010 Van Duzer Pinot Noir Estate Oregon, Willamette Valley ($30)
Pretty cherry color. Aromas of blackberries and cherries, along with rich loam and a distinct musk and herbal tinge. Dry tannins and lots of fresh acid provide a solid background for the ripe plum and strawberry flavors. Cedar and pepper linger onto the finish. I imagine this would be more expressive in a year or two, but it's still quite impressive. (88 points)

2010 Stepping Stone by Cornerstone Pinot Noir Oregon, Willamette Valley ($30)
Dark ruby color. Gushing cherries on the nose. Also very floral , like a potpourri of dried roses, and hints of earth. On the palate, cherry and red licorice lead the way to some rose petals, tobacco and beef flavors. The acid is really pretty and it keeps the wine balanced in the face of grainy tannins. It seems approachable now, but I'd like to see what five years would do for some of those savory-herbal elements. (89 points)

2010 Cornerstone Cellars Pinot Noir Oregon, Willamette Valley ($26)
Bright purple colored. Explosive aromas of cherry pie filling, brown sugar and black pepper. The palate shows bright acid, very rich cherry fruit, and a nice kick of pepper. The toasty oak adds a real richness to this wine, and it borders on the extreme end of the oak spectrum. That said, the fine tannins and solid fruit hold up well against the oak. (87 points)

2009 Stoller Pinot Noir JV Estate Oregon, Willamette Valley, Dundee Hills ($24)
Bright cherry colored with a tiny hint of spritz. More strawberry and cherry fruit on the nose than the other wines, with some vanilla coke as well. A nice kick of dill and sage linger on the nose. On the palate, this is fresh and light, with an approachable personality. Really pure flavors of cherry and raspberry, but there's some sage and pepper flavors that add complexity. An undeniably tasty pinot. (89 points)

2010 Robert Mondavi Winery Pinot Noir California, Napa, Carneros ($23)
Dark and deep on the nose, showing black cherries and plums along with a hint of anise. Fine tannins and medium-to-low acid on the palate. Flavors of sweet plum, cassis and red licorice, beefed up with toasted oak. Hints of chocolate linger on the finish. Big, hedonistic and very toasty. (85 points)

2009 Inman Family Pinot Noir Olivet Grange Vineyard California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley ($60)
Light ruby color. The burst of rhubarb and white pepper on the nose is really interesting. Underneath, aromas of raspberry jam, wild strawberry and rose petals. The acid on this wine is really superb, giving the wine incredible freshness for a New World pinot. Raspberry and wild strawberry fruit flavors blend nicely with white pepper and incense. Medium-to-fine grained tannins provide structure. Long, zesty finish. It would probably benefit from a few hours in the decanter or a few more years in the cellar, but this is a beautiful and elegant young pinot. (91 points)

2011 Hahn Estates Pinot Noir California ($13)
Pretty cherry color, very clear. Soft and inviting on the nose with cherry cola, rose petals and rich soil. Fine-grained tannins and just below medium acid. Juicy flavors of cherry preserves, red plums along with that same rich soil note that’s so nice on the nose. Sweet cherry, earth and mocha carry the finish. A big, fruity pinot with decent structure. (86 points)

2010 Gainey Pinot Noir California, Central Coast, Santa Rita Hills ($29)
Raspberry jam colored. Lots of cedar on the nose, along with raspberry and sour cherries. On the palate, a burst of sour cherry fruit and acid leads the way to a richer, blackberry flavor, along with some vanilla and toasted oak. Very pretty, with medium-grain tannins and a Thanksgiving dinner-like finish of cranberry sauce and pepper. It has a unique sense of purity and balance. (90 points)

2010 Hahn Estates Pinot Noir SLH California, Central Coast, Santa Lucia Highlands ($29)
Vibrant red plum color. Plum skins and cherry jam on the nose, mixed in with a sweet, almost molasses-like aroma. On the palate, the wine is surprisingly smooth, with tannins like satin and medium acid providing a soft background for the bright red and black fruit. Notes of baker’s chocolate, coffee and coconut-toasty oak round out the finish. Unashamedly delicious. Very silky, but the structure hints that it could last a few years. (88 points)

This single-vineyard pinot from Breggo was my favorite of the lot.
Even when blind tasted, Anderson Valley pinot noir comes out on top.
2010 Breggo Cellars Pinot Noir Savoy Vineyard California, North Coast, Anderson Valley ($60)
Medium ruby colored. Aromatically, this wine explodes with sweet berries, rose petals, vanilla bean and a hint of coconut. Firm tannins on the palate, medium acid, and gushing cherry and raspberry fruit combine in a full-bodied, but juicy style. This wine has a great herbal-savory kick that adds complexity. Tinges of sweet mocha and oak linger onto the finish, but not enough to overwhelm the wine’s other aspects. Despite its richness, the wine somehow maintains lightness and balance, which will probably only improve with time. (93 points)

2010 Robert Mondavi Winery Pinot Noir Reserve California, Napa, Carneros ($55)
Bright ruby colored. Very dense on the nose, a bit closed, but with swirling the aromas of cool plum and pomegranate came out, also some notes of pine needle and dried leaves. Very full on the palate, with medium acid and incredibly silky tannins. It’s got the big flavors of cherry pie, vanilla cola and milk chocolate, but it’s accented with notes of cinnamon stick and pine wood. Toasty oak lingers on a long, creamy finish. Seems like it has a long time ahead of it. Very impressive. (91 points)

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