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Pinot Noir lovers are the most passionate wine drinkers I know. To my mind, all Pinot Noir drinkers and certainly winemakers who produce Pinot Noir are hedonists. I think they love the danger and challenge...drinking Pinot Noir is like a roller coaster ride. Vintages matter, clones matter, appellations matter, vineyard techniques matter, and the winemaker is essential to producing a Pinot Noir that creates an unforgettable experience. Pinot Noir at its best shows complexity and delicacy at the same time. It is unpredictable and yet the best Pinot Noirs are seductive with intense aromas, complex flavors and velvety textures. Affaires of the Wine - Passionate About Pinot Noir
 

We finished the year with a fun Christmas party featuring a Pinot Noir tasting. With everybody bringing a different wine, we were able to taste (not blind though) and compare 9 bottles from California, Oregon, Chile and New Zealand.

Characteristics of the grape

Romans cultivated Pinot Noir in Burgundy as early as the first century AD. Although transplanted now to many wine regions in Europe, America, Africa and Australia/New Zealand, this thin-skinned grape is prone to many afflictions and difficult to vinify. It produces a wine with a low level of tannins and pigments and when young, exhibits fruity aromas of cherries, rasberries and strawberries. As it matures, the aromas become more complex with a display of smoky, gamey as well as delicate floral flavors. Great Pinot Noir wines have a soft, velvety texture that gently caresses the palate and makes them unforgettable.

The wines

The first wine we tasted was a Chilean wine from the recently discovered Leyda Valley. At only 14 km from the Pacific Ocean, its cool conditions during spring and summer due to maritime influence make it the ideal region for producing top Pinot Noir. The 2003 Leyda Reserve Pinot Noir Cahuil Vineyard exhibited an attractive nose with fruity and spicy aromas. On the palate, it was well balanced with some fresh acidity. I found it quite enjoyable to drink. It came fourth in our tasting.

The second wine came from the Willamette Valley, the coolest of Oregon's wine regions and particularly well suited to Pinot Noir. The 2000 Argyle Reserve Pinot Noir displayed a bright color and offered a berry flavored nose with notes of mint and vanilla followed by a firm structure with some acidity. I found it to be a good food friendly wine. It came #3 in our tasting.

The third wine was also from Willamette Valley but did not have the success of the Argyle. The 2000 Brick House Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Cuvée du Tonnelier was a bit cloudy with a weak fruity nose and a light mouthfeel. The group rated it last.

With the fourth wine, we moved to Santa Ynez Valley in Central California. Once mainly ranch country, this region now produces a diverse range of superb varietal wines, including Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Syrah. The 2001 Babcock Pinot Noir Grand Cuvée Santa Ynez Valley offered a nice fruity nose with some sweetness on the palate. Some people in the group found it rich and spicy and other people didn't like it at all. It came #5 in our tasting, not far from the Leyda.

The next wine was from Oregon. Thanks to this region's northern latitude, summer brings long hours of sunshine to a vineyard tempered by maritime breezes. These conditions encourage a long maturing process and help develop complex flavors in the fruit. The Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir Laurene Oregon offered a discreet nose with smoky notes. On the palate, it was well balanced with some earthy character. I enjoyed it much more later in the evening when it revealed a attractive aromatic bouquet. The group ranked it #7.

The following wine came from Los Carneros. This is the wine producing area the closest to San Francisco, at the southern end of the Napa and Sonoma valleys. The proximity to the bay gives Los Carneros a climate similar to San Francisco: temperate, without drastic variation through the year, with frequent night and morning fog and cool breezes. The 2001 ZD Reserve Pinot Noir Los Carneros was dark with a fragrant fruity nose, a rich complex palate and an elegant finish. This was the wine that everybody preferred and was ranked first.

With the next wine, we moved to Central Otago. Fine wine, and especially Pinot Noir, is the new gold in this region of New Zealand, the most southerly wine region in the world. Vineyards enjoy long hot dry austral summers with cool evening temperatures, allowing for a long, slow ripening period. The 2002 Mt Difficulty Pinot Noir Central Otago offered a discreet nose with some dried fruit and mineral notes, good fruit on the palate, with some acidity and tannins at the same time. Maybe this wine could reach a better acidity/tannins balance overtime. The group ranked it #6.

With the last two wines, we were back to California. The 2002 Miner Family Pinot Noir Gary's Vineyards comes from Santa Lucia Highlands, a region that has become a highly-regarded viticultural area. It is a cool, foggy area located in Monterey County, on the west side of the Salinas Valley. The wine displayed a dark, dense color with an attractive fruity nose. It was rich, slightly sweet on the palate with some vanilla notes. The group found it unanimously delicious and ranked it second.

The last wine was from Los Carneros again. The 1999 Richardson Pinot Noir Sangiacomo Vineyard Los Carneros offered a peppery nose with some woody notes. On the palate, it was light to medium-bodied with some acidity. Overall, I found it too acidic for its body. This wine was tied for the 7th place.

See our other tasting reports.