Eleven people participated in the tasting that featured wines from Oregon, California and New Zealand all for under $25 per bottle. The wines were placed in brown bags, and then randomly numbered 1-12. The wines tasted were:

  1. 2010 Spy Valley, New Zealand, 14%, $21.60, Wine Spectator 90.
  2. 2011 Evesham Wood La Grive Bleue, Eola-Amity, 13%, $25 Wine Advocate 90.
  3. 2009 Calera, Central Coast 14.3% $20 (WA 92, single finest value in American pinot – Parker).
  4. 2011 Siduri Sonoma Coast, 12.9%, $25, (WA 90)
  5. 2009 Morgan Twelve Clones, Santa Lucia – CORKED
  6. 2011 A to Z, Oregon, 13%, $15, (Wine Spectator best Oregon wine under $30 in 2013).
  7. 2012 Mirassou, CA, 13.5%, $6.50
  8. 2007 Cardewell Hills Estate, OR, 13.2%, $20 (Wine Spectator – No. 1 Oregon wine under $30 in 2009).
  9. 2010 Nautilus, New Zealand, 14%, $20 (WS 91)
  10. La Crema, Monterey CA, 13.8%, $13.50 (WA 90)
  11. 2011 Oyster Bay, New Zealand, 13.5% $13.50
  12. 2009 Melville, Santa Rita CA 14.1%, $27(Tanzer 92, WA 91)

After tasting all twelve of the wines we ranked our top three (5 points given to our favorite, 3 pts for 2nd and 1 point for 3rd). My top three were Evesham Wood, Oyster Bay, Cardwell Hills (two of my top three were Oregon Wines). The group ranked Calera #1 (26 points, 4 1st place votes), #2 was Nautilus (20 points, 3 1st place votes), #3 was the Mirrasou (9 pts, 3 2nd place votes).

The point of the tasting was to see the difference in regions and to see if highly rated wines that are a good value are indeed a good value. I had no problem picking out California wines, the lone exception was the Sidiri. California wines have darker color and riper fruit. The Sidiri had a coniferous forest like nose with a lot of dried herbs, and the color wasn’t as dark of the other CA wines. The only reason I got it was because I tasted it back in November at another blind tasting of higher priced Pinot Noir and remembered the coniferous forest aroma. My favorite wine was the Evesham Wood. It had delicate floral and bright cherry notes and had a long finish. It was clearly Oregon having a lighter color and brighter acidity. Cardwell Hills was very unique having a distinct earthy aroma that I liked. It held up very well for a 2007, having nice structure. The Mirassou was easy to detect, being the most one dimensional and having a sweetness to it. Several people in the group liked it because it was easy to drink and had little acidity to go along with a sweet fruitiness. The Calera was the favorite of the group. Robert Parker said that this might be the best value Pinot Noir in America. In general, he likes wines that are soft, show some oak and display dark fruit. The Calera isn’t the style of wine that I like but I could see why people like it.

While comparing regions the easiest way to tell them apart is by color. CA is usually darkest, OR is usually the lightest. Sometimes color isn’t obvious so you have to look at other characteristics. The aroma of CA wines usually have dark, ripe fruit notes while OR wines have brighter red fruits and often have an earthy or spicy quality. On the palate CA wines tend to be softer and more round while OR wines have more acidity. These are very general differences that aren’t always true but they held true in this tasting. The NZ wines had more color than OR but they had more acidity than the CA wines. I detected spices and dried herbs in the NZ wines.

After tasting the twelve wines and ranking them we were served a goat cheese, a blue cheese and some smoked salmon. We tried all three with the Spy Valley, which went very well with the goat cheese and salmon. Then we tried the Cardwell Hills which over powered the salmon but went nicely with the blue cheese. We used a chart that said Pinot Noir went well with smoked salmon and goat cheese. Obviously there are many styles of Pinot Noir and not all of them go well with salmon or goat cheese. We tasted several of the wines with the food and only a few really improved the food. There are a lot of good resources on the internet where food/wine pairings are suggested. Andrea Immer has a good book “Great Tastes Made Simple” that goes over several food/wine pairing suggestions.

This tasting showed me that it is hard to find very good Pinot Noir under $25 but it isn’t impossible. With so many new wineries popping up it is important to keep exploring and disovering high quality wines. I love wines that show a sense of place like Evesham Wood. I don’t want too much oak or too much softness, but a wine that expresses where the grapes come from. I often disagree with certain critics who have a preference for oak and softness. Wine is meant to go with food, oak and softness often detract from the food.

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