Blind Pinot Noir Tasting – Oregon vs California

It has been a busy summer at Oregon Vine2Wine. The Willamette Valley set a record for number of days above 90 so the harvest has already started! I was fortunate enough to make time to attend a recent blind tasting featuring Pinot Noir from Oregon and California. Each bottle was in a brown bag and there were 3 mystery wines to throw people off as well. I wanted to share the results and my impressions.

The Wines tasted:

Oregon:

08 Domaine Serene, Evenstad Vineyard 14.1 % $68 WS 93 WA 92

2007 Penner-Ash, Dussin Vineyard 13.5 % $60 WA 91 ST 91 WS 90

2010 Shea Cellars, Shea Vineyard 13.5 % $84 ST 91 WS 91 WA 90

2009 Archery Summit, Dundee Hills, Arcus Estate 14.5% $99 WS 93 WA 92 ST 93 WE 94

2011 Cardwill Hill Cellars Estate Willamette Valley $13% $17 WS 91

2007 Stony Mountain 14.0% $13 (Brought as a mystery wine)

2013 Sweet Cheeks Estate 13.0% (Brought as a mystery wine)

2013 Sweet Cheeks Single Block 13.5% (Brought as a mystery wine)

California:

2011 Brewer Clifton, Santa Rita Hills, 14.0% $35 WA 92

2012 Siduri, Santa Lucia Highlands, Pisoni Vineyard 14.9% $50 WA 91-93

2012 Loring, Santa Lucia Highlands ,Garys’ Vineyard 14.8% $43 WS 92 WA 91-93

2010 Walter Hansen, Russian River Valley Cahill Lane Vineyard 14.5% $39 WA 91 ST 92

2011 Melville, Santa Rita Hills Estate 14.2% $30 ST 92 WA 91

The wines ranged in age from 2007-2013 so we had a wide range of vintages. The three mystery wines threw us for a loop as well. During a typical Oregon vs. California tasting it is normal to find California wines showing more ripe fruit – raspberry and stewed strawberry – while Oregon wines show more herbal notes, cherries and spices. Oregon wines also show a lighter color because of cooler temperatures during the growing season, sometimes a giveaway when blind tasting. I had four the five California wines pegged after the first round (Walter Hansen being the lone excetption because it showed earthy notes on the nose). Determining the producer of the Oregon wines proved more difficult since the 2007 Penner Ash showed very little signs of aging. I usually count on color to give me some hints in guessing where wines come from.

Overall, I was impressed with the lineup and had Oregon slightly ahead of the California competition. As a group we voted for our top 3 – 3 pts for 1st, 2 for 2nd, 1 for 3rd – the results were as follows: 1st Shea (25 pts), 2nd Penner Ash (14 pts), 3rd Loring (8 pts) 4th Archery Summit (4 pts), 4th Brewer Clifton (4 pts). I ranked Shea first like the group, but had Loring 2nd and Archery Summit 3rd and Penner Ash 4th.

This was an educational tasting where wines varied in ages and price. I think if all wines were served at cellar temperature results would have been different. It is amazing how much temperature influences the aroma and flavor components of the wine. Alcohol is emphasized in warmer conditions and tannin is emphasized in cooler conditions. It is very important if you are holding a tasting that temperature is taken into consideration.

Tasting Pinot Noir is something that is unique. These wines show an elegance and complexity that I haven’t experienced in other varietals. They can be fruity, earthy, show minerality, and showcase aromas that can’t be put into words. Each terroir is unique to region and each region is unique within a specific site. I have yet to find a grape that excites my palate like Pinot Noir. It is also a grape that is not widely appreciated in the United States. It has higher acidity and it is thinner skinned so the varietal has a lighter body than bigger/bolder reds. However, once you taste a truly great Pinot Noir, you will find that there is no other grape you would rather drink.

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