My First Annual Blind Tasting of American Pinot Noirs (Part One)

On National Rosé Day (June 9th), I invited a few writers here in Houston to my house for what I believe to be was the largest blind tasting of American True Rosés in history. It was both very informative for all (I think) and a ton of fun to get geeky colleagues together and taste a bunch of wines having little idea what we were drinking.

Why taste blind? Well, it helps to recenter one’s tastebuds a bit—without knowing the producer, the retail price, or even the blend, one can better focus on what is actually in the glass rather than, perhaps, what the wine “should” taste like.

Given the relative success of that tasting, I decided to stage another—this time Pinot Noir. I gathered 31 Pinot Noirs (and one Gamay, just for fun) from the West Coast (Oregon and California) and invited my wine peeps over once again for a blind tasting.

My general observations? Blind tasting is tough, while simultaneously being a bit liberating since all that matters is what is in the glass before you. It was a bit surprising that my ratings had no correlation with the Suggested Retail Price of the wine (r= -0.11 for the stats geeks out there—you know who you are). There was also no correlation to rating and where in the tasting it was served (r= -0.01), thus allaying my fear of palate fatigue (the theory being that after trying several wines, your taste buds get tired and one looses the ability to distinguish differences).

I also realized that there are only so many ways that one can describe “cherry” but that is probably best left for another post.

The full line-up.

Here are the first sixteen we tasted, I will publish the other half next week:

2015 Gary Farrell Hallberg Vineyard Russian River Valley: Retail $55. Great bright cherry and a bit of earth and black pepper. Really nice fruit and balance this is an excellent way to start. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.

2013 Fiddlehead Cellars Seven Twenty Eight Fiddlestix Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills: Retail $44. Darker nose with cherry cola here and darker in the glass. Big fruit and a lot of spice. Very nice Very Good to Outstanding. 89-91 Points.

2015 Kramer Vineyards Heritage Yamhill-Carlton OR: Retail $48. A little brett here. And some dark cherry. On the palate a bit thin, lacking a bit of depth. Very Good. 87-89 Points.

2016 Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Russian River Valley CA: Retail $45. Big nose with dark cherry and cola. Good flavors with a bit of spice on the palate, but a bit lacking in depth. Very Good to Outstanding. 88-90 Points.

2015 Lucas & Lewellen Estate Santa Barbara County CA: Retail $20. Dark, deep nose, by far the best thus far. Rich and full with dark cherry, a touch of orange zest, and a dash of coffee grounds. Much the same on the palate with big fruit and great balance. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.

2015 Kramer Vineyards Estate Yamhill-Carlton OR: Retail $28. Sweet nose here with oodles of cherry coke and dark earth. Surprisingly reserved fruit and really drying tannins on the finish. Really good flavors (although subtle). Very Good to Outstanding. 88-90 Points.

2016 Hess Select Central Coast CA: Retail $20. Dark in the glass and on the nose, rich black raspberry and earth. Really nice fruit, and comes off sweet. But this is certainly a crowd pleaser. Very Good to Outstanding. 89-91 Points.

2015 Black Magnolia Willamette Valley OR: Retail $22. A really odd smell initially, but it blew off a bit after a bit of swirling leaving not a whole lot on the nose, though. On the palate, there are some good flavors, but a bit lacking in acid.  Good to Very Good. 86-88 Points.

I opened and bagged the wines and then a couple of others randomly numbered the wines.

2016 Stoller Estate Dundee Hills OR: Retail $30. Dark and even a bit brooding with a tad of funk and dark cherry and plum. Good tartness and lovely fruit on the palate with a lengthy finish. This is wonderful. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.

2015 Cambria Estate Winery Julia’s Vineyard Santa Maria Valley CA: Retail $25. Another deep, lovely fruity nose with black cherry and spice. Really big fruit on the palate, which thins out a bit on the mid-palate, and the spice comes in on the finish. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.

2015 Steele Block N Bien Nacido Vineyard Santa Barbara County CA: Retail $36. A little vanilla cola and luscious fruit. On the palate great fruitiness, depth, length. A very well-balanced, lovely wine. Outstanding. 92-94 Points.

2016 Argyle Reserve Willamette Valley OR: Retail $40. A touch of funk here with earth and subtle fruit. A bit thin on the palate, but good acidity. Very Good. 87-89 Points.

2017 Baileyana Firepeak Edna Valley CA: Retail $30. Bing cherry and a touch of spice. Fruity and sweet almost. This was a difficult one to place, since it seems like there might be some residual sugar. Still, Very Good. 87-89 Points.

2015 Sostener Santa Lucia Highlands CA: Retail $20. Dark cherry and black pepper on the nose, and comes off quite sweet and a bit smoky on the palate. Another one on the sweet side, residual sugar again? Very Good to Outstanding. 88-90 Points.

2016 Davis Bynum Jane’s Vineyard Russian River Valley CA: Retail $35. The nose has a bit of a sweet, perfumed smell. The palate is actually rather nice, still a bit sweet. On second swirl and sip, this seemed to settle down some, exposing depth. Very Good to Outstanding. 89-91 Points.

2016 Tongue Dancer Sonoma Coast CA: Retail $50. Wonderful nose, this has that Sonoma Coast kind of vibe with dark cherry and spice. This is likely a fairly expensive wine and a critic pleaser. And a “me” pleaser. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.

The crew hard at work.

About the drunken cyclist

I have been an occasional cycling tour guide in Europe for the past 20 years, visiting most of the wine regions of France. Through this "job" I developed a love for wine and the stories that often accompany the pulling of a cork. I live in Houston with my lovely wife and two wonderful sons.
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7 Responses to My First Annual Blind Tasting of American Pinot Noirs (Part One)

  1. Andrea says:

    We had the 2016 Black Magnolia recently and loved it. Still had an odd nose for a Pinot, but really delicious and enjoyable to drink.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m looking for posts about bicycling bit don’t see any less they are hidden amongst the wine posts? Your travels are amazing though, I’m very envious!

    Liked by 1 person

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