Plugging Away on the Pile of Pinot (Take 4)

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.

2016 Apolloni Pinot Noir Estate, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $40. When I first tasted this nearly two years ago for the Third Annual Largest Blind Tasting of American Pinot Noir (100 bottles), I really loved it, like, a lot (94 pts.). While this second bottle is certainly tasty, and quite good, I am not as enthralled as I was back then (if ever so slightly). That just serves as more proof for the axiom that “There are no great wines, only great bottles.” Still, don’t get me wrong, this is a stellar wine: relatively dark in the glass with dark berry fruit and plenty of spice on the nose. The palate is a bit of a fruit infusion, even (close to) five years out with healthy doses of mocha, black pepper, and a hint of anise. Yeah. This is good juice, particularly on Day 2. Excellent. 92 Points.

2016 Cast Wines Pinot Noir Bacigalupi Vineyard, Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $60. I first tasted this for the Second Annual Blind Tasting of American Pinot Noir. I was not enthralled with it back then (89 pts.) but it seems to have improved considerably over the last two years. Sure, it is a fruity Pinot, even a really fruity Pinot, but this wine comes from a fairly hallowed vineyard; the name “Bacigallupi” is enough to evoke goose bumps and chills. As I mentioned, fruity, with boatloads of red, black, and blue berries, spice, and a bit of depth. I could not find the pH for this vintage, but the 2018 is listed at a 3.88 which confirms my feeling that this could use a bit more acidity. Still, Excellent. 91 Points.

2016 Saffron Fields Vineyard Pinot Noir Dijon Clones, Yamhill-Carlton, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $60. DIAM 10. Another wine that when I tasted it for the Second Annual World’s Largest Blind Tasting of American Pinot Noir, I loved it (94 pts). And I still do. Even close to two years later, this wine is still singing the virtues of its fruit, its tartness, its balance. Lovely. On the dark side for a Pinot in both color and aromas (black cherry, plum, cassis), but it is fairly light on the palate as it dances on the tongue with healthy doses of fruit, acidity, and earth. I have never visited Saffron-Fields, but now, after having tasted through many of their wines (this is the last bottle of the dozen or so I have tried), I feel like I need to at least drop in and say hello since I imagine it is a rather special place. Outstanding. 93 Points.

2016 Sokol Blosser Pinot Noir Orchard Block, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $70. Another second bottle from the Second Largest Blind Tasting of American Pinot Noir and another case of a wine improving with the extra time in the bottle. Quite fruity on both the nose and the palate with darker red berry fruit, some earth, and even a hint of anise. The palate is, as mentioned, fruity, but there is also more than ample acidity and a touch of tannin on the finish. I would not call this an “earthy” Pinot by any means, but it certainly works. Excellent. 90 Points.

2017 Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Noir Estate, Willamette Vally, OR: Retail $32. DIAM5. Yet another leftover from the Second Annual Largest Blind Tasting of American Pinot Noir back in November of 2019. I was a fan of this wine 18 months ago, and I still am. Tons of cherry on the nose with some black earth, a touch of vanilla, and some black pepper on the nose. The palate is appropriately fruity, but also balanced by a zingy acidity, with the aforementioned fruit, earth, and just a hint of anise. Very nice. Excellent. 91 Points.

2015 Yamhill Valley Vineyards Pinot Noir Reserve, McMinnville AVA, Willamette Valley. OR: Retail $40. I guess this bottle falls more in line with the first iteration that I tried, in 2019: “Pretty light in the glass, with aromas of coffee and red fruit. Fruity, almost sweet, but lacking a touch of depth. Good acidity and finish. Very Good to Excellent.” 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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