It was a packed house last Saturday, as 50+ K&L customers put their palates to the test in the Redwood City tasting bar. The annual CA vs OR Pinot Noir Blind Tasting Challenge is one of our most fun and popular customer tastings, drawing an enthusiast crowd of eager and open-minded Pinot aficionados.
In the end, California won by a landslide. Three wines were head and shoulders above the rest in terms of customer's votes. There was a tie for first place, each wine with 12 votes. Those wines were the 2009 Au Bon Climat Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir ($19.99) and the 2009 Calera "Mills Vineyard" Mt. Harlan Pinot Noir ($44.99) with the 2008 Holdredge Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($32.99) coming in second with 11 votes.
Out of the Oregon entries, the 2009 Soléna "Grand Cuvée" Oregon Pinot Noir ($22.99) was the most popular, with 5 votes.
The Winners (both with 12 votes):
Known as one of the “god-fathers” of Central Coast Pinot Noir Jim Clendenen began Au Bon Climat in 1982. Since then he has made some of the best wines in the area. This Santa Barbara County bottling in Jim’s Words is, “Just easy to drink…There is nothing pretentious here, just well balanced, nicely textured, brightly fruity wine that seems to go with everything.” We couldn't agree more, but the wine speaks for itself.
In 1975, Josh planted his first 24 acres of Pinot Noir in three separate parcels. Since then Calera has been widely recognized as one of the leading producers of Pinot Noir in the United States. The Mills Vineyard was originally planted in 1984 at an average elevation of 2,200 feet on pure limestone soils. The wine saw 16 months of 30% new French Oak. 1,599 cases were made from certified organically grown grapes as are all the grapes that are grown at Calera.
K&L's Domestic Wine Buyer Bryan Brick assembled a lineup of 10 Pinot Noirs, 5 from Oregon and 5 from California, in the $19.99 to $49.99 price range and from vintages ranging from 2008 - 2010. The wines were brown-bagged and noted with a number. Tasting patrons received a blank piece of paper, with the numbers 1-10. The point of the challenge was not to guess all the wines correctly, but rather to thoughtfully evaluate the wines based on merit without letting preconceived notions obscure judgment and - most importantly - pick a personal favorite!
Tasters' "best-of" votes were submitted at the end of the tasting and tallied. The results reveal that the majority of tasting attendees showed a clear preference for fruit-forward and lush Pinots over lighter, brighter styles at this tasting.
What didn't seem to tip the scale much was price, with one of the least expensive wines ($19.99) tying with one of the most expensive ($49.99) for first place.
Looks like CA Pinot producers don't have to worry about losing their loyal K&L Redwood City customers anytime soon!
The Complete Lineup: CA vs. OR Pinot Noir Blind Tasting Challenge 4/28/12
For more information about the Pinot Noirs featured in the tasting, click on the links below:
Wine #1: 2010 Patricia Green Cellars “K&L Cuvée” Willamette Valley Pinot Noir ($27.99) We work with Patty Green directly to bring in this exclusive bottling for K&L. The fruit in this bottling comes mostly from her Estate vineyard. Aged in less than 20% new oak we think this is a fantastic value.
Wine #2: 2008 Holdredge Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($32.99) John Holdredge produces less than 700 cases of this Russian River Pinot Noir. Using numerous vineyards throughout the appellation brings added complexity and depth. John is a “hands-off” guy letting the wine make itself, he likes to intervene as little as possible to let his raw materials shine through.
Wine #3: 2008 Easton “Durate-Georgetown Vineyard” Sierra Foothills Pinot Noir ($21.99) Bill Easton has been making wonderful wines under the Easton and Terre Rouge labels for years from his high elevation estate located in the Shenandoah Valley. This Pinot Noir was grown at 2,500 feet elevation and planted in 2007. 50% of the fruit was whole cluster fermented. The wine spent 11 months in 25% new French Oak.
Wine #4: 2009 Londer Anderson Valley Pinot Noir ($24.99) Shirley and Larry Londer began looking for a vineyard site in 1997 and settled in Anderson Valley a few years later. Focusing on Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer mainly from the valley they have created some beautiful wines over the last decade. This Pinot comes from four vineyards including their Estate Vineyard and Ferrington Vineyard and is aged in 30% new French oak. 1532 cases were produced.
Wine #5: 2010 St. Innocent “Villages Cuvée” Willamette Valley Pinot Noir ($21.99) St. Innocent Winery was founded in 1988 by Mark Vlossak who continues to be the winemaker and President. Originally produced in 2002 the Villages Cuvee was an outlet for fruit from newly planted vineyards. Currently the vineyard blend is 65% Vitae Springs Vineyard, 15% Momtazi Vineyard, 17% Zenith Vineyard and 3% Freedom Hill Vineyard. The wine spent 12 months in 23% new French Oak before bottling.
Wine #6: Cristom “Mt. Jefferson Cuvée” Willamette Valley Pinot Noir ($25.99) Cristom may be the K&L staff’s favorite winery in Oregon currently. Steve Doerner has been the winemaker since the wineries inception in 1992, previous to that he made over 15 vintages at Calera Vineyards. Coming from both estate (38%) and purchased fruit this Pinot comes from 12 different vineyards throughout Willamette Valley. 37% of the wine was fermented Whole Clusters and wild yeast was exclusively used. Just short of 6000 cases were produced.
Wine #7: Arterberry Maresh “Maresh Vineyard” Dundee Hills Pinot Noir ($49.99) Jim Maresh maybe the most talented young winemaker in the Willamette Valley right now. Maybe that comes from his intensive knowledge of the Dundee Hills where he has lived his entire life and where 100% of his fruit originates from. It also doesn’t hurt that his family planted what is now the 3rd oldest Pinot Noir Vineyard in Willamette Valley and the oldest in the Dundee Hills sub-appellation. Jim’s wines are all about finesse and grace which we think this wine personifies.
Wine #8: 2009 Au Bon Climat Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir ($19.99) Known as one of the “god-fathers” of Central Coast Pinot Noir Jim Clendenen began Au Bon Climat in 1982. Since then he has made some of the best wines in the area. This Santa Barbara County bottling in Jim’s Words is, “Just easy to drink…There is nothing pretentious here, just well balanced, nicely textured, brightly fruity wine that seems to go with everything.” We couldn’t agree more.
Wine #9: 2009 Soléna “Grand Cuvée” Oregon Pinot Noir ($22.99) Laurent Montalieu (Mumm, Willakenzie) and Danielle Andrus Montalieu (Archery Summit) purchased an 80-acre estate to commemorate their marriage. In May 2002, they launched Soléna by releasing their first bottling and, shortly thereafter, opening a tasting room in Carlton. This 3,500 case cuvee comes from 5 vineyards located throughout Willamette Valley and is aged for 10months in 25% new French Oak.
Wine #10: 2009 Calera “Mills Vineyard” Mt. Harlan Pinot Noir ($49.99) In 1975, Josh planted his first 24 acres of pinot noir in three separate parcels. Since then Calera has been widely recognized as one of the leading producers of Pinot Noir in the United States. The Mills Vineyard was originally planted in 1984 at an average elevation of 2,200 feet on pure limestone soils. The wine saw 16 months of 30% new French Oak. 1,599 cases were made from certified organically grown grapes as are all the grapes that are grown at Calera.
Shop our wide selection of Pinot Noir and stage your own Pinot Noir Blind Tasting Challenge with friends at home!