The Fifth Annual Blind Tasting of American Pinot Noir (Part Three with Final Results)

As I mentioned Monday and yesterday, earlier this month, I and a group of other Houston-based wine writers, tasted 55 American Pinot Noirs on a Saturday afternoon. The design was to taste through the wines blind, which means that I did not know which wine was ever in my glass (well, my four glasses, as I tasted that many at a time).

Tasting wines blind is always a good exercise as knowing what a wine is can always introduce bias when it comes to evaluation. Blind tasting also can produce a few surprises, as was certainly the case this time around.

When I tell people about these tastings I hold at my house, the response is nearly uniform: “Oh, sounds like really tough work.” Truth be told, while it might fall short of “tough work” it certainly is not “easy.” Tasting so many wines within a fairly narrow band of flavors and attributes (they all come from the same grape, after all), can be difficult to verbalize the subtle differences.

It is also tough on the teeth–by the end, we were all in need of a toothbrush. Badly in need.

55 bottles of Pinot on the counter. 55 bottles of Pinot.

Here are the final 15 wines, in the order we tasted them:

2020 Sailer Family Wines Pinot Noir, San Luis Obispo County, CA: Retail $50? Medium color. Muted nose, minty, sage, dark berry. Whoa, quite tart, but really luscious fruit, rich and decadent. This is a classic American Pinot and it is big and glorious. Outstanding. 95 Points.

2021 Elk Cove Vineyards Pinot Noir Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $30. More purple than ruby, particularly on the brim. A nose of red cherry cough drop and a bit of earth. Good tartness and more than ample fruit on the palate with some complexity. Very Good. 89 Points.

2018 Brooks Pinot Noir Toluca Lane Vineyard, Eola – Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $55. Dark, even really dark color with a near-brooding nose of black cherry and spice. Maybe cinnamon? Quite fruity initially, with an intense acidity coming in on the mid-palate. Some chewy tannins on the finish. Excellent. 90 Points.

2018 Gary Farrell Pinot Noir Hallberg Vineyard, Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $65. Lovely ruby color in the glass with considerable earth and Bing cherry the nose. Initially quite tart on the palate with plentiful fruit which is surprisingly delicate at the same time. Excellent. 92 Points.

2019 Pellegrini Family Vineyards Pinot Noir Olivet Lane Estate, Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $57. Translucent medium ruby color with tart cherry and just a hint of mustiness on the nose. None of that funk on the palate, which is simply delightful: bright, tart, and well-balanced.  Outstanding. 94 Points.

2021 Chamisal Vineyards Pinot Noir, San Luis Obispo County, CA: Retail $25. A bit of cherry cola on the nose with dusty earth. The palate is really fruity perhaps even a little extracted, but nice acidity and some tannic grip on the finish. Very Good. 89 Points.

What 55 bottles of Pinot look like in brown paper bags.

2021 Stoller Pinot Noir Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $25. A decided herbal aspect (celery) and a distinct earthy, dirtiness on the nose. Dirty and certainly tart, but lacking a bit on the fruit. Very Good. 88 Points.

2019 Virginia Marie Lambrix Pinot Noir Starscape, Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $66. Cherry ice cream on the nose with a touch of earth and a hint of funk. The palate has that same ripe cherry ice cream “sweetness” to it on the palate, with a balancing dose of tartness. Very Good. 89 Points.

2019 La Follette Pinot Noir Sun Chase Vineyard, Sonoma County, CA: Retail $65. Bright Bing cherry with just a touch of earth and the palate is absolutely fantastic. Holy cow. Wonderful fruit, great balance, considerable depth. Outstanding. 96 Points.

2020 Tongue Dancer Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, CA: Retail $55. A stunning nose of a darker Pinot: earthy dark cherry, with fantastic fruit on the palate, a bit of forest floor, and a whole lot of verve. Whoa. Outstanding. 94 Points.

2019 WillaKenzie Estate Pinot Noir Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $28. Mostly a muted nose, but a bit of fruit that is mostly dark cherry. Nice wave of fruit on the palate, a bit light in tartness (but I nitpick), with a lingering finish. Excellent. 90 Points. 

2021 Chehalem Pinot Noir, Chehalem Mountains, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $25. Earthy cherry fruit, with bits of oak and spice on the nose. Pleasant if unremarkable on the palate, with all the requisite component parts. Just lacking a bit of chutzpah. Very Good. 88 Points.

2019 Truett-Hurst Pinot Noir Black Sheep, Sonoma County, CA: Retail $52. Lovely, just lovely nose with gorgeous red berry fruit (cherry, strawberry), vanilla, and just the slightest hint of earth. Big and fruity, even really big on the palate. This is the style of Pinot that Europeans hate, but it is certainly a soft spot for me. Whoa. Outstanding. 93 Points.

2019 Elk Cove Vineyards Pinot Noir Five Mountain, Chehalem Mountains, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $60. An inviting nose of candied fruit and a bit of cherry “marmalade” with a touch of strawberry rhubarb pie, even cranberry and clove. Yeah, a lot going on with the nose. Fruity and big on the palate with a wave of earth and tartness on the mid-palate. Impeccable balance and intrigue. Whoa. Outstanding. 93 Points.

2021 Cattleya Pinot Noir Alma de Cattleya, Sonoma County, CA: Retail $45. Dark color, with a bit of a muted nose, with some faint dark cherry coming through. The palate is also rather shy until the mid-palate when the fruit and tartness both jump in. Very Good. 89 Points.

 

Top Wines 

Before I enumerate my top wines, I have to say that I was impressed by the overall quality of the wines this year, which I think was a solid notch or three above any of the previous four years. I personally scored almost a third of the wines “Outstanding” or higher (which certainly caused me to pause, but the wines were really good).

The task I presented to the other writers at the tasting was rather simple: give me a list of the “top wines.” I did not ask for a minimum or a maximum, just the “top wines.” Curiously, both of the other writers this year included 11 wines on their respective lists.

There were two wines that appeared on all three lists:

  • 2020 Tongue Dancer Pinot Noir Fox Trot ($45)
  • 2019 La Follette Pinot Noir Sun Chase Vineyard ($65)

And there were another six wines that appeared on two of the three lists:

  • 2021 Cambria Pinot Noir Julia’s Vineyard ($25)
  • 2021 Stoller Pinot Noir Dundee Hills ($35)
  • 2019 Alma Rosa Pinot Noir Radian Sta. Rita Hills ($68)
  • 2020 Sailer Family Wines Pinot Noir ($50)
  • 2019 Pellegrini Family Vineyards Pinot Noir Olivet Lane Estate ($57)
  • 2019 Truett-Hurst Pinot Noir Black Sheep ($52)

As for my own “top wines”? Whoa. It was really difficult to choose, but here are my top dozen (a much better number than 11, by the way):

  • 2020 Tongue Dancer Pinot Noir Fox Trot ($45)
  • 22019 La Follette Pinot Noir Sun Chase Vineyard ($65)
  • 2019 Stephen Ross Pinot Noir Stone Corral Vineyard ($55)
  • 2021 Cambria Pinot Noir Julia’s Vineyard ($25)
  • 2021 Stoller Pinot Noir Dundee Hills ($35)
  • 2020 Sailer Family Wines Pinot Noir ($50)
  • 2018 Brooks Pinot Noir Red Letter ($80)
  • 2020 Tongue Dancer Pinot Noir Pinot de Ville ($69)
  • 2020 Tongue Dancer Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast ($50)
  • 2019 Pellegrini Family Vineyards Pinot Noir Olivet Lane Estate ($57)
  • 2018 Brooks Pinot Noir Crannell Eola – Amity Hills ($55)
  • 2020 Our Cellars Pinot Noir Photograph ($18)

Many thanks to my partners in crime: Sandra Crittenden (Wine-Thoughts) and Rebecca Castillo (MyVinoRules) for their help and expertise!

Coming in December: Tasting American Sparkling wines!

 

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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