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.
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.
First 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.
Next 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!).
Last 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?