Monday, March 19, 2012

Blind Tasting Oregon Pinot Noir, Round Two

After the last post on a blind tasting of Oregon pinot noir I did garnered some attention, I am writing up another blind tasting I did recently. Our friends Lars and Dave hosted Becky, Kim, and me at their beautiful house for a blind tasting of six pinot noirs, five from Oregon plus a ringer bottle I brought. More on that ringer bottle later...

The theme again was Oregon Pinot Noir, but the vintages and regions were up to us. As it happened, every pinot noir was from the Willamette Valley and the vintage spread was 2004-2010. Next time I am going to try to bring an older bottle and see if anyone mistakes it for a Burgundy.

I've been pretty down on 2009 Oregon pinot noir because most examples I've tasted were too ripe, flabby, and high in alcohol for my tastes. 2008 offers better age-ability and the 2007's are drinking fantastically well despite the many critics who gave the vintage a poor score. As an aside, I feel that the issue with the 2007 vintage illustrates another flaw in our continued reliance on supposedly "expert" wine critics who make proclamations which then have a very real impact on the sales of those wines.

Critic-bashing aside, I've been also very keen on 2010 pinot noir, because I love the acidity and more delicate fruit flavors compared to 2009. In the interests of integrity, I did try my best to throw my preconceived notions out the window for this blind tasting. It helped that the wines were in brown paper bags.

Below are the tasting notes for each wine, in order of tasting. I'll include my rankings, subjective as they might be, at the bottom of this post. The notes below are mostly unedited too, in the hopes that you'll see my thought processes as I tasted each wine.

1. 2010 A.F. Nichols Lillie's Vineyard Dundee Hills:
N: Aromas of grape stem, red cherry, and hints of herb and cola. Might be a touch of VA on the nose too, almost medicinal in nature. Smells young, this might be a 2010 or lighter-style 2009.
P: Light but with great acid, more of the grape stem quality. Red cherries and soil come through, very clean tasting. Good finish, a little bit sudden though. Lots of potential, could be great in a few years.

2. 2004 Left Coast Cellars Suzanne's Estate Reserve Willamette Valley:
N: VA? (ed: volatile acidity) Caramel..oak..darker fruit like wild strawberry mixed with black cherry. Some green stemmy qualities too. Could be a 2008, maybe older though? 2004/5?
P: Dried cherry, stemmy notes. Good acidity, really zings. Hints of rhubarb, minerality, and cola. A bit astringent on the finish, also somewhat evaporative. If this is young, it's got potential...if not, drink now..

3. 2009 Antica Terra Willamette Valley:
N: Earth and red fruit, smells young! Vibrant acidity but also some noticeable oak. Baking spices, something like damp forest floor too. Intriguing!
P: Ripe, rich style. 2009? Raspberry and strawberry fruits give it good acidity but it's just a bit too fleshy for my taste. Oak notes come through, not as strongly as on the nose. Easy drinking, good wine.

4. 2008 Vista Hills Tusculum Estate Dundee Hills:
N: Smells bad, like a skunk. Also some meaty, minty aromas. The skunky smell is distracting for me. Puzzling. Has some boozy thing too, an alcoholic burn in my nostrils.
P: Puzzling, there's a nice Oregon funk note, but also something almost Brettanomyces-like. Dark fruit and bramble on the finish. Tastes better than it smells but it's kind of rough going.

5. 2009 Lenne Yamhill-Carlton District:
N: Cherry/Strawberry candy, cherry pie, grape stems. Baking spices and lots of wood! Wowie.
P: Very ripe mouthfeel, interesting acidity, seems to weave in and out of the palate. Cola, cedar, and a peppery finish. Not that bad but it's not that good either. Most interesting aspect is the acidity and it's effect on the palate.

6. 2008 Elizabeth Spencer Special Cuvee Sonoma Coast:
N: Cherry preserves, a touch of alcoholic heat, but a lightness too. Ripe red fruits dominate but behind that is a spicy component which was immensely pleasing.
P: Light red fruits, it's muted compared to the aromas. Lower acid levels than the other wines, it is probably the California wine. Clean, easy drinking, touches of oak around the periphery.

Thanks for making it all the way down here! Here's my list, in order of preference. I've linked to too so that you can get an idea of what the greater wine drinking community thinks too.

1. 2010 A.F. Nichols
2. 2009 Antica Terra
3. 2004 Left Coast Cellars
4. 2009 Lenne
5. 2008 Vista Hills
6. 2008 Elizabeth Spencer

In terms of rating, I held the Elizabeth Spencer out because it wouldn't be fair, but if I had to rate it, the third spot would be appropriate. Out of all the wines, the Antica Terra surprised me, and while I feel it is overpriced, the quality is undeniable. I'd never had Lenne or Vista Hills wines before, but know them by reputation, and I've heard good things about both producers. Stylistically, they're not what I look for in an Oregon pinot noir and I still struggle to figure out what that skunky smell was in the Vista Hills.

Blind tasting is a great way to find out where your bias lies, as long as you make the effort to toss out preconceived notions. While we don't blind-drink our wines, for educational purposes, blind tasting is perhaps the best way to get acclimated with a region new to you, or even to stay sharp on a region you're familiar with. In addition to all of that, blind tasting with your friends is a blast, as you all finish your own observations, the guessing game becomes a really fun activity. What blind tastings have you done recently?

Beau Carufel


  1. Good stuff, Beau! I still think that Vista Hills bottle deserves another day in court, but then again, you are such an acidophile I know it's a losing battle!
    Anyway, it was awesome having Kiom, you & The Boo and we hope you'll come to our next either clonal or vintage tasting next time! - @ZTypeAlpha

    1. Thanks for reading Dave :) I do want to give the Vista Hills wines another shot, and will gladly do so. I figure what we got was just a case of bottle variation, it happens.

  2. Blind tastings are difficult but great fun and a great opportunity to learn as well. I know what I like and can often recognize the nuances you mention...but only after prompting! I seem to be deficient in the area of descriptors!

    I enjoyed your comparisons, and admit to a special affinity for AF Nichols wines as well! Thanks


    1. Hey Jim, thanks for reading! I claim to know what I like..sometimes I get away with it and sometimes not ;) That said, I immediately knew the AF Nichols wine and it just sung to me that night. There were some pleasant (and unpleasant) surprises too, but such is the nature of blind tastings.

  3. Hope to be a part of the next one. Must try Antica Terra, but when I am flush with the cash.

    1. That Antica Terra was surprisingly good, I really enjoyed it..But it's nearly $50 and I have to be wowed by a wine to spend that much money. As such, I had to be honest and say that I feel it's overpriced. Then again, so much wine (not just Oregon wine) is overpriced, that we as consumers just have to be more picky.

  4. Knowing you like acid and food friendly wines, I invite you to taste Youngberg Hill from the McMinnville AVA in Oregon. Our wines usually have higher acidity and yet have balance with flavor components,earthiness, and tannins. They tend to be a little bigger and more intense than the standard Oregon Pinot, but it is due to the age of the vines and the terrior rather than over extraction.
    Hope you have the opportunity to check them out.

    1. Hey Wayne, thanks for commenting! I'd love to taste the Youngberg Hill wines, do you have a tasting room in Mac? I work in Dundee so it would be easy for me to come by and taste sometime. Cheers!

  5. Yes, Beau, we have a tasting room at the vineyard just outside of McMinnville. We are always open because we have the Inn here as well. Look forward to seeing you. Cheers.

    1. Look forward to stopping by sometime, see ya soon! Cheers.

  6. The skunky smell is h2s a form of reduction. The blog is great great source for information on pinot noir producers from oregon. Thanks

    1. Kris, thanks a lot for the info. I'm still learning about wine faults and I appreciate the contribution. Cheers!