About a month ago, I set the date for my Fourth Annual Blind Tasting of American Pinot Noir for November 5th. 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 5th 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 soon follow, 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 panicked. Too late to change the date, I sucked it up and hoped that my team would still win without the benefit of me screaming obscenities at the TV during the game. They did.
This year, there were 55 wines to go through, which took just over four hours. Pour. Swirl. Sniff. Sip. Slurp. Spit. Scribble. Repeat.
Here are the first 20 wines, in the order we tasted them:
2021 Cambria Pinot Noir Julia’s Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley, CA: etail $25. Beautiful translucent ruby, wonderful fruit on the nose, close to a black cherry kool-aid, along with earth and mineral notes. Quite dry and fruity, great depth, really fantastic. Outstanding. 95 Points.
2021 La Crema Pinot Noir Monterey, CA: Retail $25. A bit on the dark side when it comes to Pinot Noir but still translucent. Dark earth on the nose with dark berry fruit. Dark on the palate as well with bright acid and earth. Nice. Excellent. 92 Points.
2019 Sangiacomo Family Wines Pinot Noir EDEN DALE, Sonoma Coast, CA: Retail $30? Somewhat of a candied nose with considerable earth and a bit of funk (I love the funk). Mineral on the palate with a brightness on the finish. A little light in terms of fruit, but very nice. Excellent. 91 Points.
2019 Alma Rosa Pinot Noir Rancho la Viña Vineyard, Sea Rita Hills, CA: Retail $68. A bit of oak and vanilla with a cherry cream pie vibe. Loads of fruit on the palate with considerable earth. The acidity doesn’t really kick in until just before the finish. Excellent. 90 Points.
2020 Siduri Pinot Noir Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $30. Plenty of earth on the nose but rather faint fruit, dark in color for a Pinot Noir. Really nice fruit, however, on the palate with nice balance and a bit on the sour side. Nice. Excellent. 91 Points.
2019 Sante Arcangeli Family Wines Pinot Noir Lester Family Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains, CA: Retail $49. Dirty and fruity on the nose, with dark cherry. Quite fruity on the palate, with considerable earth and some tannin kick on the backend. Excellent. 92 Points.
2021 La Crema Pinot Noir Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $35. Fruity, Cherry Jolly Rancher on the nose. Rather non-descript on the palate, with very light fruit, and a light dose of acidity. Very Good. 88 Points.
2020 Murphy-Goode Pinot Noir, California: Retail $20. One of the better noses in the tasting of 55 Pinots, with lovely red berry fruit. The palate is quite fruity, ripe, and creamy. Really fantastic. Outstanding. 93 Points.
2020 Siduri Pinot Noir Anderson Valley, CA: Retail $30. Quite tart and sour on the nose. Some fruit, but a bit hidden. Weighty on the palate, on the verge of heavy. Thick rich fruit, pretty good balance, certainly on the big end of Pinot Noir. Not my style, but I really like it. Excellent. 92 Points.
At this point, we tasted a Willamette Valley Pinot from the 2020 vintage which clearly had some issues. I can’t say for certain that there was smoke taint, but here is what I wrote: A real meaty and medicinal nose. On the verge of odd. Smoke taint? The palate follows the nose here with some fruit, but there is a decided smoke aspect. Flawed? Second go around—there is clearly some smoke issues here with a band-aid aspect, and really not much fruit on the nose. While the palate is better (by a fair margin), I don’t think this is what is intended. Unrated.
2019 Pellegrini Family Vineyards Pinot Noir, Sta Rita Hills, CA: Retail $40. A lovely Pinot nose with great red cherry and a hint of vanilla. Good weight and fruit on the palate but a bit lacking in acidity until the finish. Very Good. 89 Points.
2018 Brooks Pinot Noir Crannell Eola – Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $55. Dark colors and aromas with almost raspberry notes. The palate is fruity and wonderfully tart with a bit of tannic grip on the finish. Fantastic. Outstanding. 94 Points.
2021 Stoller Pinot Noir Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $35. Lovely fruit to start off this flight with considerable dirt and a touch of funk. Relly fruity on the palate but paired with a great tartness and shades of dark earth. One of the better wines thus far. Outstanding. 95 Points.
2021 Domaine Carneros Pinot Noir Avant Garde, Carneros, CA: Retail $32. Light fruit on the nose but more dark and brooding on the palate with tons of black cherry. Quite tart and rather big. Nice, but not my style. Excellent. 92 Points.
2019 Sanford Pinot Noir Founders Vines Sanford & Benedict Vineyard, Sea Rita Hills, CA: Retail $140. Rich fruit, lovely red berries, fantastic on the nose. On the fruitier side of Pinot on the palate, but lacking in the depth department. Still a lovely wine, but not as complex as others here. Very Good. 89 Points.
2018 Brooks Pinot Noir Red Letter, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $80. This is quite shy, but holy cow, this is fantastic. Subtle fruit, but incredible balance with rose petal, tart cherry, cranberry, subtle. The palate is harmonious and lovely, holy cow. Outstanding. 95 Points.
2020 Siduri Pinot Noir Santa Barbara County, CA: Retail $30. Meaty, smoky, savory nose. Fruity on the palate but that meaty thing is still prevalent here, too, quite savory. Very Good. 88 Points.
2019 Stephen Ross Pinot Noir Stone Corral Vineyard, Edna Valley, CA: Retail $55. Tart bing cherry on the nose with a touch of earth coming through. The palate follows with a quite tart, even sour cherry dominating. Considerable depth. Whoa, really good with maybe a bit of mint on the backend. Outstanding. 95 Points.
22019 Palmeri Pinot Noir McCoy Vineyard, Sonoma County, CA: Retail $50. Quite dark in color and fruit on the nose dark cherry a go-go. Still dark on the palate, but not so forcefully so. A bit hot on the finish. Very Good. 88 Points.
2021 Archery Summit Pinot Noir Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $65. Quite shy with some subtle bing cherry and a bit of earth coming thru eventually. Rich, even unctuous, on the palate with a bit of stewed cherry and off the charts acidity. Outstanding. 93 Points.