I am currently experiencing a phenomenon that I could not have fathomed a decade ago: I am awash in samples. According to my inventory, I am currently hovering around 400 bottles that were sent to me to taste. Since I am a bit of a math geek, I did some calculations: If I average going through 15 bottles a week (three a day—I try not to “work” on the weekend), that comes out to about 26 weeks of wine.
Half a year.
But that does not tell the whole story as they also keep coming, day after day, week after week. I do not recite this as a sort of “ humble brag” but rather to point out that I had no idea it would ever get to this point—I am having to tell people that I can’t try their wines for the time being. That is a tough pill since many of them have supported me from the beginning.
There is an additional issue: often suppliers send two bottles of the same wine (essentially, it is sent in case the first bottle is flawed in some way). I have no idea what to do with those bottles (there are currently close to 200 bottles that fit that description). Most of the time, I just toss them into the cellar, hoping I figure it out at some point.
Then, one day it hit me: I should drink them. Yeah, I know, a radical concept.
Despite adding roughly 13 weeks to the above timeline, I am determined to catch up by the end of the year (I am not quite sure what being “caught up” will look like yet, but that’s immaterial at this point since I am certainly not there right now) and in that vein, while trying to keep up with current samples, I have begun to pop the second bottles that were sent for my Second Annual Blind Tasting of American Pinot Noir which occurred in the Fall of 2019 and included 100 different wines, about half of which also included a second bottle. I toned it down a bit this past year (100 wines is just too many) for the Third Annual World’s Largest Blind Tasting of American Pinot Noir when we tasted “only” 54 wines, with again, about half sending a second bottle.
So here are a few of those second bottles.
2015 Brittan Vineyards Pinot Noir Cygnus Block, McMinnville AVA, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $65. Back when I first tasted this wine in 2019 as part of Second Annual Blind Tasting of American Pinot Noir, I was not a huge fan of the nose, but the palate blew me away, and I rated it a 95. Now, about 18 months later? It is surprisingly similar. The nose remains a bit stewed, but holy cow is it fantastic on the palate. Rich, but balanced fruit is paired with a lovely tartness that maintains a solid presence all the way to the well-above average finish. Fantastic. Outstanding. 94 Points.
2015 Brittan Vineyards Pinot Noir Basalt Block, Willamette Valley, OR:Retail $48. I first tasted this wine nearly two years ago as part of my Second Annual Blind Tasting of American Pinot Noir. I loved it back then (93 Pts.), and it is still quite tasty now. Dark red berry fruit, plenty of acidity, black earth, and a distinctive minerality. Dare I say “basalt”? The palate initially is quite fruity, perhaps even overly so. But. After some time open, this wine really comes together with brilliant fruit, a flinty, wet rock aspect, a near-bracing acidity, and a lengthy finish. My 93 18 months ago seems just about right. Excellent. 92 Points.
2018 Cambria Pinot Noir Julia’s Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley, CA: Retail $22. I was sent a bottle of this wine for the Third Annual World’s Largest Blind Tasting of American Pinot Noir this past Fall, and I really liked it then (92 Pts.). Cambria sent me another bottle a few months later and I opted to open it on a night when my team squandered a 26 point lead and ended up losing. So, yeah. Grumpy. Rich nose of intense black cherry (almost to the point of “extracted”), a bit of pine, some forest floor, but make no mistake, this is a fruit-driven wine. Fruity on the palate as well, with all that black cherry, some spice and earth, and a healthy dose of tartness. While I loved this six months ago (92 Pts.), today, it is fruity and fun, but would I buy it? Close, really close. At fifteen bucks? Prolly. At MSRP? Well…. Very Good. 89 Points.
2017 Hyland Estates Pinot Noir Coury, McMinnville AVA, Willamette Vally, OR: Retail $64. Under cork. When I first tasted this during the Second Largest Blind Tasting of American Pinot Noir, I liked it. Nay, I loved it (93 pts.). Well. It might just be better. Whoa. Black cherry and an abundance of clove and Christmas spice. Yowza and a Whoa just on the nose. And even a Holy Cow. The palate might be even more extraordinary: rich fruit, but in balance with the near-bracing acidity, this is, well, amazing. Rich, but far from ridiculous; expressive, but far from effusive; luscious, but far from… no, this is luscious. Whoa. Outstanding. 95 Points.
2016 Stoller Pinot Noir Helen’s, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $75. Another remnant from the Second Annual Blind Tasting of American Pinot Noir, which I loved eighteen months ago (94 pts.), and I feel just about the same way now. A dark color in the glass with oodles of dark fruit, primarily black cherry, with hints of earth and oak. The palate is delightfully fruity with ample tartness and silky tannins. Yet another wine that is doing fantastically well close to two years out from that original tasting. Outstanding. 93 Points.
2018 Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Noir Whole Cluster, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $24. DIAM2 closure. When I first tasted this blind two years ago for my Second Annual Blind Tasting of American Pinot Noir, I was not a fan (86 pts). This time around, almost two years later? Yum. Sure, it is fruity, even really fruity, with tons of red berry fruit (cherry, duh), black earth, just a touch of spice, and fruit. Wait, I already mentioned that. Oh, and there is fruit. Dammit, there I go again. No, this is not the deepest, most introspective Pinot I’ve had, but I have come around on this fruity, tasty, gem. Very Good. 89 Points.