While I may never get the hang of the full-on Twitter tasting, I’m certainly enjoying the benefits of the integration of social media into the wine tasting experience. I received notification that August 18th was the “2nd Annual Pinot Noir Smackdown.”
According to the release, this day-long event was an online competition among the pinot noir growing regions. Participants tasted pinot, tweeted (or Facebooked) their reviews, and voted for the region they felt was superior. Ed Thralls, marketing manager for Sonoma Coast Vineyards, Windsor Vineyards, and Windsor Sonoma, was good enough to send along a few samples from Sonoma County for the occasion.
I had three bottles to check out:
- Sonoma Coast Vineyards Freestone Hills 2009 Pinot Noir ($45)
- Windsor Sonoma Russian River Valley 2009 Pinot Noir ($30)
- Windsor Vineyards 2010 Pinot Noir ($25)
We started with the Windsor Sonoma. At first pour, even after being allowed to breathe for 45 minutes and aerated, it tasted a little harsh and heavy on the fruit. We split a glass, and we were a bit confused by it. I think we expected a softer profile. This was initially a fruit bomb of a pinot. We finished a glass, recorked it, and decided to try it again in a day.
That next day, we opened the Sonoma Coast Vineyards and poured it side-by-side with the W-S. The Windsor Sonoma had mellowed a bit. It still had a bit of a “spiky” flavor. What’s “spiky?” You’d get big fruit, then an acidic bite, then some smoke. The flavors were all there, but they just didn’t balance as well.
The SCV was a better wine. The flavors were much more integrated initially, but we had to give this one the same treatment. The fruit on the front was just too strong, washing out much of the subtlety usually found in a pinot. After a day, the wine mellowed considerably. It was still fruit forward with lots of cherry and cola flavors, but there was at least a silky smokiness to back it up. I think I liked it more than the Sweet Partner in Crime, who is a huge fan of Burgundy (French pinot noir) which is much more earthy and is a lighter-styled wine.
This lends itself to the idea of terroir. Terroir is the term for the location where a wine’s grapes are grown. More specifically, the climate and the soil where grapes are grown. Sonoma does a lot of things well. Some of our all-time favorite cabernet sauvignons and zinfandels hail from Sonoma. Those wines are big, fruit-forward, and high alcohol. Pinot noirs from Sonoma tend to have that sort of flavor profile, which isn’t generally the characteristics we’re looking for when we crack a bottle of pinot.
Interestingly, our favorite of the three was the least expensive. The Windsor Vineyards was ready to drink right out of the bottle. Even though it was still “Sonoma-ish” with a strong fruit flavor, the cherry and smoke balanced exceedingly well. We tried it with a chicken souvlaki, which had a range of flavors – grilled chicken, lemon, cucumber, yogurt – and it held up extremely well. It was just a plain ol’ nice wine.
Based on these wines, my vote in the Smackdown went to my old standby. I still think that Burgundy makes the world’s best, most consistent pinot noir – my 1st place vote went to the French. The worldwide smackdown winner? New Zealand. I just so happen to have a few bottles of New Zealand pinot down in the cellar. Perhaps next year…