The Third Annual Blind Tasting of American Pinot Noir–COVID Edition (Part One)

A couple of months ago, I set the date for my Third Annual Blind Tasting of American Pinot Noir for November 14th. That would give me enough time to clean up my notes and publish them in time for Thanksgiving, essentially the Super Bowl for Pinot Noir (Pinot is perhaps the most versatile of wines, able to handle all of those crazy flavors on the Turkey Day table).

Then, I was selected to be a judge for the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, which was scheduled to occur, yep, you guessed it, over that second weekend in November. Since the previous weekend (November 7th) did not make sense for a number of the other Houston-based wine writers whom I had invited to partake in the tasting, I rescheduled the tasting for this past weekend, November 21st.

Due to Coronovirus concerns, I had already limited the tasting to four people (three other writers and me) so that we could maintain a physical distance of six feet. Then the pandemic got worse. A lot worse. So bad, in fact, that medical officials were urging people to stay at home for Thanksgiving, to limit all social interaction, particularly indoors, with those outside of their immediate family.

Thus, it seemed to me to be particularly cavalier at best, and stupid, at worst, to have other people over to taste 54 Pinot Noirs. So, Friday evening, I canceled the tasting.

When I had sent out the notice about the tasting, asking for wineries to participate, I indicated that there would be other writers in attendance and that the results would be published before Thanksgiving. After negating the former, I decided I had to try to deliver on the latter. Thus, this past weekend, with the help of my lovely wife, I sat down and tasted all 54 bottles, blind, over the course of several hours.

All 54 lined up, ready to be popped.

Here are the first 18 wines, in the order I tasted them:

2018 La Crema Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast, CA: Retail $25. Medium to dark color, sweet, rich nose of ripe cherry, vanilla, freshly-turned earth, and five-spice. Yum. Great fruit (cherry, red currant) and acidity on the palate, with depth and length. Yowza. A great start to the tasting. Excellent. 93 Points.

2016 Montinore Estate Pinot Noir Reserve, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $30. Translucent, medium to slightly dark color. A fruity (ripe dark cherry) and a bit of funk that dissipated after a few swirls. Dirty, flinty, both good things. Quite flinty and even chalky on the palate, but the fruit is on the subdued side. It’s there, but just not that prevalent. Still, great tartness just would like a bit more fruit. Excellent. 90 Points.

2018 Broadley Vineyards Pinot Noir Jessica, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $55. Quite subdued and shy on the nose—there is fruit, but it takes a while to coax it out. More of a sweet, almost Maraschino with some wet earth. Flinty and earthy on the palate with a bit of astringency and noticeable tannins on the finish. This clearly needs some time. I need to revisit this one. Upon revisit, after opening a bit, this is fairly big and muscular. Still needs time—I would love to see it in a couple of years. Excellent. 92 Points.

2018 Hartford Court Pinot Noir Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $35. Medium color, translucent. Sweet corn and red cherry on the nose. Big, luscious fruit on the palate, more of a ripe style here. Lovely tartness, a touch of earth. Fantastic. Excellent. 92 Points.

2017 Dutton-Goldfield Pinot Noir Fox Den, Green Valley of Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $62. On the dark side in the glass with more of a candied fruit (cherry Jolly Rancher) on the nose along with some cardamom and baking spice. Really fruity on the palate, a crowd-lover’s kind of Pinot. Still, this is particularly well-made with some tannin on the finish. Still? I really like it. I guess I am part of the crowd?. Outstanding. 94 Points.

2018 Torii Mor Pinot Noir Select Yamhill-Carlton, OR: Retail $45. Medium color, with a touch of funk on the nose and plenty of sour, under-ripe cherry. Solid palate, well-balanced, but maybe lacking a bit of fruit here. Still, I would never complain if I found this in my glass. Excellent. 91 Points.

2018 Kendall-Jackson Pinot Noir Vintner’s Reserve California, CA: Retail $20. Rich and a bit dirty from this above-average colored wine. Black cherry, a tad on the sweet side on the nose. Also comes off as a tad sweet on the palate, but that comes from the fruit (I doubt there is RS). Tart, bright, not exactly my style (I would like some earth or spice), but this is another strong iteration of the variety. Excellent. 91 Points.

2018 Cambria Pinot Noir Julia’s Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley, CA: Retail $22. Meaty and iodine on the nose, the fruit is pretty much hidden behind those two elements. Maybe a little herbal as well (mint?) or eucalyptus. This is “different” as it seems to focus on secondary (or even tertiary) elements over the fruit. But me likey. Excellent. 92 Points.

2018 Stoller Pinot Noir Dundee Hills, OR: Retail $32. An odd and funky nose. After a bit of time open, this was meaty, a bit funky, and difficult to coax any fruit out of. Lacking fruit on the palate as well. There is nothing “wrong” here, but I just wish there was more fruit. Very Good. 89 Points.

2017 Gary Farrell Pinot Noir Martaella Vineyard, Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $65. A bit of subtle Bing cherry here, ruby-colored with pink highlights. The fruit is subtle on the palate as well, but there is plenty of acidity. After a bit of time in the glass, however, this really opened up to lovely fruit and great balance. Excellent. 91 Points.

2018 Chehalem Pinot Noir Chehalem Mountains, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $30. Medium color, sour cherry aromas, with bits of spice and minerality. The palate is quite tart, under-ripe cherry abounds. That minerality comes in on the mid-palate and dominates through the finish. Very Good. 89 Points.

2018 Siduri Pinot Noir Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $35. Whoa. A bit on the dark side, with a rich and lovely nose. Whoa. As I had hoped, the palate delivers on what the nose suggested. Whoa. Fantastic fruit, balanced acidity, lengthy finish. Whoa again. Excellent. 95 Points.

A few of the crew, from last year.

2017 La Crema Pinot Noir Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $35. Sweet nose of ripe cherry, molasses, and spice. Yum. Whoa. This is another wine that is quite rich and fruity on the palate, but also well-balanced with a tart acidity that bookends all of that fruit. It might come off a bit thin on the mid-palate, but that is countered by the finish. Whoa? Excellent. 93 Points.

2018 Broadley Vineyards Pinot Noir Claudia’s Choice, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $55. On the dark side in color and initially quite dirty and flinty with maybe some subtle mocha. Really austere on the palate as well. A wine that likely needs time as this is fairly closed right now, even after considerable time open. Very Good. 89 Points.

2016 Brewer-Clifton Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills, CA: Retail $45. Back to the fruit here, albeit on the subtle side, with some smoke and flint but it is also rich and inviting. The palate is quite nice, with subtle fruit and plenty of that flint. Very nice. Excellent. 91 Points.

2018 Siduri Pinot Noir Santa Barbara County, CA: Retail $30. Plenty of meat here, maybe some blood and iodine for good measure with some tart cherry and cranberry behind all that livestock. Plenty of fruit on the palate, but might be lacking in the acidity department just a bit. Still, good flavors. Very Good. 89 Points.

2017 Rodney Strong Pinot Noir Estate Vineyards, Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $20. A Classic New World Pinot nose here: plenty of fresh red and black cherry, eucalyptus, and touches of spice and earth. Yum. The palate more than holds up to the nose with luscious fruit, balancing acidity, and a marvelous finish. Gangbusters. Excellent. 94 Points.

2018 Bryn Mawr Vineyards Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $30. I swirled, I sniffed, I sloshed. Hard to find much fruit in the glass here. There is some fresh earth and flint, but fruit? There is much more fruit on the palate, though, with good acidity and balance. Very nice. Excellent. 90 Points.


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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