Pinot Soiree 03/07/11

Those of you who know me probably know that, when it comes to wine, I’m not much for credentials. This stems in part from my not having any, and in part from my staunch insistence that wine is a subjective hobby. Still, sometimes it’s fun to pretend that I actually know what I’m talking about; and occasionally, when I’m feeling particularly pretentious, I may just go all out and put together a soiree (or Noir-ee!) of my own.

The theme I chose for my tasting this weekend, if you somehow still haven’t guessed, was Pinot Noir. I’m a big fan of Pinot Noir wines, to be sure, but my decision was mostly due to the fact that Pinot is – with the possible exception of Zinfandel – the grape with the greatest capacity for punning.


Seriously, just…wow.

That being said, I further opted to hold a horizontal tasting (“Pinot Noirizontal,” if you will), with representatives from three different countries. In a horizontal tasting, the wines generally come from the same year but different locations, while a vertical tasting implies the opposite. Hang onto your monocles though, because in our case, only two of the wines on the agenda were from the same year (2008), with the third being slightly older (2007). I know: we’re terrible, aren’t we?

The wines were Sartori di Verona Pinot Noir ($7-10) from Veneto, Italy; Joseph Drouhin Laforet Pinot Noir ($10-15) from Burgundy, France; and Solena Pinot Noir Grand Cuvee ($20-25) from Willamette Valley, Oregon, USA. Tasting with me were two friends, whom I shall refer to as “Cyd” and “Christine,” because those are their names. On the menu for pairing were awesomely seasoned pierogis, courtesy of Cyd; and the classic 1980s Arnold Schwarzenegger/Danny Devito character study, Twins. Indeed, the movie proved the perfect foil for our tasting, as we investigated the profound impact that upbringing can have on otherwise identical grapes.


“If we’re so the same, how come we’re so different?!”

nullFirst we opened the Sartori, an offering from Casa Vinicola Sartori (and the elusive 2007 wine of our trio). This was the first Italian Pinot Noir I’d ever tried, so that alone had me devoting my full focus to the experience right from the get-go. It poured a mostly-clear (but still dark) garnet, with a nose of sour cherries, strawberries, and caramel after some time in the glass, although a tinge of excess alcohol to boot. On the palate this tasted of berries and creamy oak, but with a hot finish confirming the balance issues I sniffed out (and Cyd too, I guess).

Still an enjoyable Pinot, especially for $8. Sartori earns a solid thumbs up.

nullNext I tried to throw them off a bit, so along came the Solena, the priciest of the bunch. This poured a brilliant ruby in the glass, with more subtle aromas at first than the Italian Pinot – mostly raspberry. As the wine breathed, however, vanilla emerged, along with – believe it or not – paprika. The palate, on the other hand, was an almost cordial-tasting blend of raspberries and cream, with good balance, good focus and a nice, long finish. Cyd enjoyed this wine but it wasn’t her favorite, while Christine, for whatever reason, absolutely hated it.

I award the Solena Grand Cuvee thumbs up; paprika won the day for this elegant Pinot Noiregon (ha!).

nullLast came the Joseph Drouhin Laforet – the lowest-level Burgundy offered by the producer, but a Burgundy nonetheless, and therefore still well worth drinking. In the glass it was lighter red than the other two wines, with a much spicier nose. I suggested cinnamon, but Cyd insisted that it didn’t “smell like Christmas.” Also ruled out were clove, pepper and nutmeg, leaving us with allspice (though neither of us knew what it smelled like). After some time, there were cranberries, and the palate was a spicy cherry-vanilla. This was the heaviest of the three.

The Drouhin Laforet gets thumbs up. It was also Cyd’s favorite (Christine did not have a favorite; she just really hated the Solena).

One final note I’ll share is that Cyd and Christine had the benefit of tasting blind (or price-blind, at least): I didn’t tell them what the bottles cost until after they’d decided which they liked. This is a fun and, dare I say, morehonest way to taste wine, and I definitely recommend giving it a try if you can find someone willing to set it up for you.

As for me – the only one there who didn’t taste blind – well, there’s no denying that my ratings do fall in line with the wines’ price points. But is this symptomatic of my being a mindless slave to the arbitrary value of a dollar, or are Cyd’s and Christine’s palates simply less sophisticated than mine?

What do you think? How does price factor into your wine tasting? Does knowing a wine is cheap predispose you to dislike it? Does knowing it’s expensive make you rate it more highly?

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5 Responses to this article

Ben March 7, 2011 Reply

Price definitely factors in to my leanings although at the end of the day, terrible wine is still terrible and awesome wine is still awesome. It’s that middle of the road stuff where you can be swayed by the almighty dollar the most.

I also think I give nods to varietals I enjoy, such as Carmenere, as well as deliberately lambaste shitty and easy-to-produce varietals, such as Merlot.

Jeffrey March 9, 2011 Reply

When I purchase a wine price usually factors into my choice, but I find it hasn’t helped me much in determining what I’ll like. Granted, my price range is only like $5-$30 so I haven’t had the widest price selection of wines. However, there hasn’t been much of a correlation for me between price of wines and which ones I liked most.

Jason March 13, 2011 Reply

What I’ve begun to wonder is at what point price stops reflecting quality – $1,000? $10,000? It might be a moot point, given I’m not likely to enter that realm for a while.

Tom` December 2, 2011 Reply

Unknown cheap wines are not a instant dislike factor for me but make them suspect at the time of purchase. Funny, I lived in the US all my adult life, but grew up in Germany drinking wine at dinner since I was 12. A good, honest local wine will cost you to this day just a few bucks and I’m sure it’s true in all European villages. In our stores you get what you pay for,mostly.I have had $8 California and $12 French imports that I would not buy again for even $4. I’ts hard not to get disinchanted sifting through overstuffed shelves of semi bargain, overpriced, mediocre wines looking for the quick payoff. Once a year I treat my tastebuds to a $100 Dom Perignon to level the keel and yes you do taste the difference. I’m not sure it’s worth the $100 but hey, you only live once. Anyone with a Vintners “weedeater”?

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