In my blind Pinot Noir tasting experiences, Oregon wines tend to not show as well because they are not as big and fruit forward as California wines. I provided both of the Oregon wines in the tasting – the 2011 Estate from Ayoub (rated 94 by the Wine Advocate) and a 2010 Scott Paul Audrey (93 from Tanzer). I felt going in that the Oregon wines were at a disadvantage being so young and from cooler vintages. 2011 was a very cool vintage and produced wines that are higher in acidity and lighter in color.

There were ten wines all of which were in paper bags, so no bias due to price or expert ratings could be shown during the tasting. Of the ten bottles, six were from California, two from Oregon and two from Burgundy. The wines were tasted in the following order:

1 – Ayoub 2011 Estate 13% $65 – 94 Wine Advocate

2 – Belle Glos 2008 Clark & Telephone Vineyard Santa Maria Valley 14.7% $42 Wine Spectator (WS) 92

3 – Siduri 2011 Sonoma Coast 12.9% $28 Wine Advocate 90

4 – Donum 2008 Carneros Estate Grown 14.4% $55 93 (WS)

5 – Tally 2008 Rincon Vineyard Arroyo Grande Valley 14.5% $55 93 Tanzer

6 – Scott Paul 2010 Audrey Dundee Hills 13.1% $70 Tanzer 93 Wine Advocate 92

7 – Littorai 2006 Sonoma Coast The Haven Vineyard 13.9% $75 91 Burghound

8 – Domaine Faiveley 2009 Premier Cru Les Cazetiers 13% $65/$95 94 WS 93 Burghound

9 – Zotovich 2008 Estate Santa Rita Hills 15.5% $40 Tanzer 90

10 – Domaine Joblet 1996 GIVRY Clos de Servoisine 13%

The wines were highly rated from various publications. The first time through the wines I picked out the Oregon wines based on having a lighter color and picked out the two Burgundy wines based on their earthy aroma. The six California wines were a different story. All were darker in color and most had a very ripe aroma – the Belle Glos smelled like stewed strawberries. My top three wines were the Domaine Faiveley ($95 retail), Zotovich (I would later change this), Scott Paul. There were ten people at the tasting and we did a total count for everyones top three (3 pts for 1st, 2 pts for 2nd, 1 pt for 3rd). For the group the Talley was 1st (13 points but I didn’t rank it in my top 3), Zotovich was 2nd with 11 pts (I had this 2nd the first time through) and Domaine Faiveley was third with 9 points.

After the wines opened up for a couple hours I retasted them. The Zotovich had completely fallen apart, having no aroma and a lot of alcohol came through on the finish. The Domaine Faiveley was even better, showing a very complex mushroom/cherry nose and great balance on the finish. I thought the Scott Paul was improving and the Ayoub was much better as well.

It is hard getting enough wine lovers together for a blind tasting where the bottles are similar price point and close to the same age. Wine #10 Domaine Joblet 1996 did very well for an older wine but due to its aged color (slightly brick) and aroma, it was easy to detect from the younger wines. The two Oregon wines were too young for this tasting but I think both of them will get better with age (they are already very good). This tasting showed me that wines that have riper fruit aromas/flavors and higher alcohol do well in blind tastings. The more subtle and delicate wines don’t do as well.

One of the goals of this tasting was to see if we could identify which wines were from Oregon, California or Burgundy. Most of the tasters were successful in doing that. I will attend another blind tasting in a few weeks that will focus on value Pinot Noirs ($6-$25) to see if we can identify wines of exceptional value.

My observations:

Santa Rita Hills is a cool climate but produces high alcohol wines with balancing acidity because it has a longer growing season with cool evenings. I tasted in that AVA a few years ago. Some of the Pinot Noir I tasted showed hints of ruby grapefruit while having 14.8% alcohol. These higher alcohol wines don’t age as well because as wines age the tannin, which balances the alcohol when young, recedes and alcohol becomes more prominent.

California, in general, produces more fruit forwards wines and the fruit tends to be riper (more darker, lush fruits compared to brighter red fruits).

Oregon wines are less fruit forward as a whole and have a lighter color.

Burgundy often produces wines with an earthy aroma. Both Burgundies in this tasting were given away by their earthy aroma.

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