Friday, August 19, 2011

A Quick and Dirty Recap of the 2011 #PinotSmackdown

Where were you last night? If you're a wine lover, specifically a pinot noir lover, you should have been drinking the stuff! Last night, Thursday August 18th, marked the second annual "Pinot Smackdown". This unique event, started by infamous wine bloggers Ed Thralls and Joe Herrig, is a massive online tasting of pinot noir from around the world. The goal, to find a winner among the world's pinot regions, by popular acclaim, instead of having some critic appoint a region as the best in the world. Cause we all know that critics suck, right?

I'll repost the official details right here, so that you can see what you missed. *Evil laugh*
#PinotSmackdown is an all-day global celebration of the world's most expressive wine grape combined with a knock-down, drag-out cage fight between YOUR FAVORITE Pinot-producing regions!

TIME: 24 hours in order to give everyone time to share a glass when it makes sense in their time zone.

This event is FREE and all you need to participate is wine and Twitter, Facebook or your favorite social channel. Everyone is encouraged to invite wine lovers to your location and make the Twitter stream of #PinotSmackdown tweets visible to attendees. We like to use Tweetdeck, or to display all the tweets with the hashtag "#PinotSmackdown"
Here's the twist!... who makes the best Pinot you've ever tasted? To vote via your tweets simply add another 2-character hashtag after #PinotSmackdown and we'll count the votes so that region gets bragging rights for the night!
Voting region hashtags:
#OR - Oregon
#CA - California
#WA - Washington
#NY - New York
#46 - U.S. The "Other 46," outside of the Big Four
#FR - France
#IT - Italy
#DE - Germany (Deutschland)
#EU - Europe, beyond France, Germany, Italy
#CN - Canada
#NZ - New Zealand
#CH - Chile
#AR - Argentina
#AU - Australia
#SA - South Africa
#WD - World, as in none previously listed
For example, if you are drinking a Pinot from a region in California, simply tag the end of your tweets with: #PinotSmackdown #CA

Very simple, I agree, but incredibly fun and a great way to get some people together for a night of wine and discussion.

About two weeks before the event, Ed reached out to myself and a handful of other wine bloggers with a trifecta of pinot noir samples from the Sonoma Coast and Russian River Valley AVA's. Those were:
2009 Sonoma Coast Vineyards Freestone Hills - $40 SRP
2009 Windsor Sonoma Russian River Valley - $30 SRP
2010 Windsor Vineyards Pinot Noir, Sonoma County - $28 SRP
These were all wines from the Vintage Wine Estates portfolio. As a disclaimer, Ed works for them and they were a huge backer for the Pinot Smackdown.

In addition to those California (specifically, Sonoma County) pinot noirs, I opened a 2007 Kramer Vineyards Cardiac Hill pinot from Oregon to throw some contrasting style into the mix. The Kramers were hosting an event at The Friendly Vine in Forest Grove, Oregon. Apparently (according to Becky Kramer at least), the event was a real hit.

With those four pinot noirs, I was ready to go. While I could have also opened other pinots, including some great stuff from Burgundy and New Zealand, I wanted to keep it somewhat under control. I mean, I didn't want to get absolutely hammered while tasting and tweeting. Drunken tweeting, while fun, can be dangerous.

Here are the tasting notes on the four pinots I sampled last night:

2010 Windsor Vineyards Sonoma County pinot noir: Bright acid but disjointed and unbalanced. Very young and it shows. Needs time to settle down. Ripe, sweet strawberry fights with baking spices and surprisingly thick tannin. Cranberries try to come play but are smacked around and leave in tears. Perhaps a few years in the bottle will settle this wine out, perhaps not. Hardly any finish, just disappears from my palate. Tastes cobbled together, which it was. 14.5% abv.

2009 Windsor Sonoma Russian River valley pinot noir: Soft, ripe, rich, and brimming with the flavors that American oak barrels impart. This is one of those pinots that stand up well on their own due to the sheer ripeness of the fruit. Like a strawberry fruit roll-up. That's how ripe and oaky this Russian River Valley pinot is. Imagine eating vanilla-buttered raspberry/strawberry toast. If you really dig fruiter, softer pinot noir, I bet you'd love this.. 14.5% abv.

2009 Sonoma Coast Vineyards Freestone Hill pinot noir: Here we go, bright acid, restrained berry fruits, and silky tannin. Each of those three elements are in balance, creating a very nice, smooth, light mouthfeel. I liked the wild strawberry tartness mixed with a bit of raspberry puree. Both of those added depth to the mid-palate. A warm, happy baking spice flavor brought a smile to my face. While this pinot did see oak barrel aging via American oak, the effect here is merely to add dimension versus squashing the acid like in the other two California wines. 14.3% abv.

2007 Kramer Vineyards Cardiac Hill Yamhill-Carlton pinot noir: Compared to the first three, this is in another part of the pinot spectrum. Earth and sour cherry show through, supported by fresh cranberry and a bit of peppery spice. Here and there, cigar-box and a hint of plum skin make tiny impressions across the mid-palate. The '07 Kramer Vineyard had a lightness to it that reminded me of a Côte de Beaune. The tannins were nicely integrated and firm enough to give this pinot noir structure and balance. A wholly different expression of the grape but one that's perhaps focused more on terroir and less on using oak and other techniques to create a wine. 12.8% abv.

What was my favorite? I picked the 2009 Freestone Hill from Sonoma Coast Vineyards last night as the "winner". The balance was impressive and no part (flavor, tannin, acid) of this wine felt muted. The winemaker used a deft touch to express the terroir of this particular vineyard. Sure, it's $40 a bottle, but that's right about the price you start to get excellent pinot noir. The reason I preferred this (on August 18, 2011) to the Kramer Cardiac Hill pinot noir was that it spoke to me more last night. It's that simple.

Enough about me, what about the rest of the world, busily tasting and tweeting away to support their favorite region! The winner, by a relative hair, was New Zealand! I was surprised! Last night (due to the time difference) I didn't notice much if any "#NZ" tweets from the "#pinotsmackdown" but apparently when us Yanks were asleep, the Kiwis were tweeting up a storm. Congratulations to them! Now let's get the exchange rate fixed and some more pinot from New Zealand into the USA, I want to taste it! In second place, Oregon, no surprise there. Perhaps the king of domestic pinot noir producing states (sorry, California), I saw a multitude of tweets in support of their pinot noirs. California brought up third place, a respectable showing and only a few votes behind Oregon.

Ed posted a great recap of the 2011 Pinot Smackdown on his blog, go read it and you'll see the amazing reach that this event has. He breaks down the numbers to show how this is a global event and impressions that were generated across all the social media platforms is truly amazing. We gotta give it up to Ed and Joe Herrig for promoting and steering this event along. Nicely done, gentlemen.

The wines featured here were provided free of charge for the Pinot Smackdown tasting event.

Beau Carufel


  1. Thanks, Beau, for tasting these wines. You're right the 2010 WV is young... it's a brand new release and needs some time to integrate in the bottle... probably another 6 months. Thanks for the recap and glad you had fun!

  2. I think you're right Ed, in 6 months that WV is going to be a lot calmer and express some great flavors. Thanks again for sending me the samples to taste, and for all your work organizing the #pinotsmackdown. :)