The Fourth Annual Blind Tasting of American Pinot Noir (Part One)

About a month ago, I set the date for my Fourth Annual Blind Tasting of American Pinot Noir for November 6th. 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).

November 6th had to be the day since I was once again to be a judge for the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, which was scheduled to occur over the second weekend in November. And since Thanksgiving would follow the third weekend, it had to be that first Saturday in November. Then I realized that my favorite college football team would be playing a big game during the scheduled tasting, I scurried to change the day to Sunday.

Luckily, each of the other three writers that I invited could still attend.

Phew.

That was a good thing since last year, I cancelled the tasting not for football but for a thing called “the corona virus.” You may have heard of it.

This year, there were 48 wines to go through, which took up about 5 hours. Pour. Swirl. Sniff. Sip. Slurp. Spit. Scribble. Repeat.

All 48 lined up, ready to be popped.

Here are the first 12 wines, in the order we tasted them:

2018 Davis Bynum Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $35. Very light in color. Lovely Bing cherry and eucalyptus with some earth, maybe some stem inclusion? Lovely nose, whoa. Fruity and fresh on the palate with some slate and plenty of acidity. Whoa. We are off to a really great start here. Outstanding. 93 Points.

2019 Chehalem Pinot Noir Chehalem Mountains, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $30. Under screw cap. Dark color with a sweet nose of lovely baked cherry and a bit of raspberry. Rich and profound with maybe some anise and rose petal. Surprisingly a bit thin on the palate here, particularly given the rich nose. Very Good. 89 Points.

2018 Rodney Strong Pinot Noir Reserve, Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $55. A dirty nose, with black cherry and some slate, earthy, savory and a tad stemmy (whole cluster?). Rich and brooding on the palate with layers of intrigue and fruit. Very nice with a lengthy finish. Excellent. 92 Points.

2019 Bells Up Winery Pinot Noir Titan, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $44. Rich, fruity, almost sweet with a hint of slate and flint. The palate is quite tart with the acidity really dominant here, the fruit (sour cherry) taking a back seat. Long finish, but just a bit too tart for me. Excellent. 90 Points.

2018 Davis Bynum Pinot Noir Dutton Ranches, Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $55. Medium color, clear, dark sour cherry, meaty and savory with a bit of lavender and rose petal on the nose. Big and fruity on the palate yowza. Rich, full, fantastic fruity, bold. While I usually prefer the brighter fruitier style, this is really fantastic and makes me reconsider that previous sentence. Outstanding. 95 Points.

2018 Davis Bynum Pinot Noir Clone 667 Jane’s Vineyard, Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $58. A bit on the darker side in color with some barnyard elements here. A touch astringent with sour cherry, maybe some olive and a bit of earth. The palate is much more inviting with great rich fruit, but also that astringency and some dirt. Hard to score this one. Very Good. 89 Points.

2018 Torii Mor Pinot Noir Select Yamhill-Carlton, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $49. Really meaty on the nose, maybe some blood, even. Solid on the palate, quite drying and tart. A fine wine, just pales a bit among the others thus far. Excellent. 90 Points.

2019 Roco Pinot Noir Marsh Estate Vineyard, Yamhill-Carlton, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $60. Under screw cap. Medium ruby color, rich and candied nose of ripe cherry and red raspberry. Lovely. The palate is rich, fruity, and engaging, this is great on the fruit and might need a bit more acidity, but it really is fantastic. Excellent. 92 Points.

2018 Lange Pinot Noir Freedom Hill Vineyard, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $70. Quite dark in the glass, almost opaque, really standing out for the color. Dark and rich on the nose with some black pepper and ripe, even baked cherry. Spicy. Fruity, ripe, deep, and quite drying tannins, suggesting some age-ability. I think this wine needs considerable time to have those tannins calm down a bit, but once they do? I think that it will improve remarkably. Now. 91. In five years? 94-ish? Excellent. 91 Points.

2019 Hyland Estates Pinot Noir Old Vine, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $45. A bit dark in the glass with a real meaty, almost salami-like aspect. Interesting. Fruitier on the palate than the nose suggests, with a unifying acidity. Perhaps a bit dry and short on the finish, but pretty nice overall. Excellent. 91 Points.

2020 Flaunt Wine Company Pinot Noir, Sta Rita Hills, CA: Retail $40. Medium color with an interesting cola aspect joining the fresh cherry and even sarsaparilla on the nose. Really fruity on the palate with layer upon layer on various cherries and a balancing acidity. Nice. Excellent. 92 Points.

2019 Domaine Carneros Pinot Noir Estate Clonal Series – Dijon 777, Carneros, CA: Retail $60. Medium dark color with a dirty cherry and come vanilla. Really fruity (and a bit dirty) on the palate with some lovely acidity and a lengthy finish. Very nice. Outstanding. 95 Points.

A few of the crew, from two years ago.

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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3 Responses to The Fourth Annual Blind Tasting of American Pinot Noir (Part One)

  1. Next year, you’re going to need a bigger island in your kitchen!

    Like

  2. Glenn says:

    I’m curious to know how the wines were chosen for the tasting, and were they organized by any category (price, vineyard vs. blend, region). It seems some familiar brands are intermixed with wines I have never heard of, and most of the top names are missing. Or have we just not gotten to them yet?

    Like

    • Thanks for the comment Glenn! I conduct three large tastings like this a year (rosé in the Spring and sparkling before the holidays are the two others) and my approach in getting the wines is pretty much the same. I send out a few general notices to regions (e.g., Willamette Valley, Russian River), and then I contact some producers directly. It is not an exact science, nor is it meant to be all-inclusive, but it does serve (at least for me) to get some general impressions and hone my tasting skills.

      Like

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