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.
2017 Chateau St. Jean Pinot Noir Single Vineyard Gap’s Crown Vineyard, Petaluma Gap, CA: Retail $70. Two years ago, for the Second Annual World’s Largest Blind Tasting of American Pinot Noir, I *really* liked this wine. A lot. (94 pts). This time around, nearly two years later? The nose is once again quite fruity with rich red berry fruit, vanilla, a metallic aspect, and a hint of oak. The palate is also big, fruity, rich, and a bit extracted. Yes, this is a big Pinot, and it is “good” but it is a bit too rich and intense for my taste. Still, there are many out there who would go a bit ga-ga for this wine. Excellent. 92 Points.
2015 Coeur de Terre Pinot Noir The Heritage Reserve, McMinnville AVA, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $40. Big Ass Bottle. Another second bottle from my 2019 Blind Tasting of American Pinot Noir where we had 100 wines over two days. I liked this wine two years ago (91 pts.) and I like it now. I would have thought that the (nearly) two years additional in the bottle would have caused to cause the wine to settle down a bit. While that may be true, the wine seems richer and more concentrated with that additional age. Fairly dark in the glass with dark fruit (blackberry, plum) on the palate–fairly brooding for a Pinot, in fact. The palate also focusses on the Dark Arts, er, fruit, with black cherry, blackberry, ripe blueberry. Certainly on the bigger side of Pinot, but perfectly delightful with plenty of spice and more than ample acidity. I would imagine that this is one of the fruitier, deeper, concentrated Pinots from the McMinnville AVA.. 92 Points.
2016 Elizabeth Chambers Cellar Pinot Noir Lazy River Vineyard, Yamhill-Carlton, OR: Retail $55. Another “second” bottle from my Second Annual World’s Largest Blind Tasting of American Pinot Noir in 2019. While I liked this bottle then (90 pts), I feel it is a couple of notches above today. Dark in the glass with rich black and red berry fruit, this wine, at least in the glass, would fall into the “brooding” category. Vanilla, earth, and hints of anise and oak are also present on the nose. The palate is rich, fruity, full, voluptuous, and engaging. Yes, there is a ton of fruit, but it is balanced by the zingy tartness, earth, and subtle tannins. Excellent. 92 Points.
2016 King Estate Pinot Noir Domaine, Willamette Vally, OR: Retail $70. Another second bottle tonight from the Second Annual World’s Largest Blind Tasting of American Pinot Noir. King Estate is one of the largest producers in the Willamette Valley and most of the wines that I have tried have been solid, but a bit lacking in soul. That is not the case here: rich, earthy, fruity, loaded with menthol, vanilla, oak, and herbal notes. While this is far from its Burgundian brethren, it is fruity, fun, tasty, and lasting. Fantastic. Outstanding. 93 Points.
2018 King Estate Pinot Noir Inscription, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $20. Under screw cap. From one of the larger producers in the Willamette, this is another affordable yet still solid effort from King Estate. Fairly dark in color, at least for a Pinot, with plenty of red berry fruit, a bit of forrest floor, and touches of eucalyptus and anise. The palate is quite fruity with a healthy dose of tartness coming in on the mid-palate, followed by earth and then more fruit before an above-average finish with just a hint of tannin. Quite lovely regardless of price (but that makes this wine close to a steal). Excellent. 90 Points.
2019 Raeburn Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, CA: Retail $25. A relative newcomer to the Russian River Valley Pinot Noir (and Chardonnay) scene, I have tasted a few bottlings of Raeburn now and I am impressed (particularly given the price point). I have maintained for some time now that “good” Pinot starts at right around $30/bottle and heads north rather precipitously. This challenges that assertion. Fruity (but short of a “bomb”), earth, tart, balanced–pretty much everything one looks for in a Pinot. Sure, it is a bit lacking in depth, but for right around twenty bucks? This really delivers. Very Good. 89 Points.