Nov. 30, 2007, marked the 16th year of our blind wine tastings on the eve of the USC-UCLA football game. Venom and Vinum we coined it. Venom, referring to the sports rivalry, and vinum, the wine. The Trojans won again (they’ve now beaten the lowly Bruins 8 times in the last 9 years), but that’s another story. There is a secret wine group we’ve cultivated – we were 16 tasters this year – we get together and bring a bottle based on the evening’s theme. Most of the time we’ve gone with cabernets, but we’ve changed up the last few years and did zinfandel, then syrah, and this time pinot noir. The particulars are that everyone had to bring a bottle of 2005 pinot noir from anywhere in California, priced between $15 and $40. We do the tasting after dinner. The bottles are wrapped in foil so (presumably) no one knows which bottle is theirs, and we pour the wines one at a time. There were 9 wines, so everybody had to bring 9 glasses.
It was quite a sight to see a table of 16 with 9 glasses in front of everyone! Click here to see. 9 x 16 + 144 glasses After everyone has tasted all the wines and gone back to compare, we each rank them from best to worst and tally up the votes. To read the details on how He scores wines, click on the post titled He shoots, He Scores! Here are notes from He and She in the order the group ranked the 9 wines, from worst to first. Prices are what people paid in L.A. Scores and comments follow. 2005 Valley of the Moon Pinot Noir ($18)– He said: I gave this a 14 (avg). It has pretty good body, but was a bit acidic, which other tasters didn’t like. Not great. It placed 9th in the tasting. SHE Said: eh? (short and to the point) This means not particularly memorable to her. Sort of like the guy you made out with in the parking lot when you were in high school and he remembers it, and still talks about it, but even if you try, really, you’re sorry, but you just don’t recall. 2005 Chalone Pinot Noir (Monterey) ($35) – He said: I scored this 15+. This wine changed a lot in the first 5 minutes in the glass. It started out kind of funky, but with air it got much better. It had a good body and decent acid levels. The funky first tastes and acid probably led to lower scores from the group. I ranked it based on the final tastes and had it as my third best wine. SHE Said: A day in a dusty attic is what this wine is. A day in an empty, dusty attic. Way too dusty to be only 2 years old. 2005 J Pinot Noir (Sonoma-Russian River Valley) ($30) – He said: I gave it a 15. This was a nice, simple wine. Almost Carneros pinot style. Pleasant to drink, but in a big tasting like this it wasn’t big enough to stand out. SHE Said: It just disappears…like so many blind dates. Pfft. 2005 Hartford Family Vineyards Pinot Noir (Sonoma) ($40) – He said: 15 points. My friend had high hopes for this wine, basing it on tasting reviews. It had a very berry nose, was soft and easy drinking, but not as complex as some others. Similar to the Dierberg, but with more acid. You’d want to drink this wine soon. SHE Said: Strong on the tongue – and that’s all I’ll say about that one. 2005 Capieaux Pinot Noir (Santa Lucia Highlands) ($40) – He said: I gave it 14+. An earthy pinot with medium tannins. It was kind of dry. It was OK, but not great. Certainly not worth the high price tag. SHE said: What’s with the fizz? 2005 Dierberg (Santa Maria) ($37) – He said: I gave it 15+. This was a nice wine with great color and inviting berry flavors. It had decent acid, so it could age. The Dierberg vineyard has been one of the premier pinot vineyards in the Santa Barbara county, but this is the first time I’ve had a wine under their label. I’ve had several nice bottlings from other vineyards in year’s past, so it’s a very solid bet. SHE Said: I gave it a 5 on a scale of 1-10, but I’ll be darned if I can remember why. It came in 4th place, so it’s a decent wine.
2005 Alma Rosa Pinot Noir (La Encantada, Santa Rita Hills) ($40) — He said: Well, here’s the story on this one. This is the bottle I brought because I had tried it in the summer at the winery and thought it was terrific. Alma Rosa is the winery run by Richard Sanford, who put Sanford winery and much of the Santa Barbara wine region on the map. I gave it a 17 at the time, which is an outstanding score for me. It was a tremendously delicious wine with cherry berry fruits. Big, but approachable and happy. A wine to drink now or in 1-2 years. So, flash forward to the tasting, and the same wine I give a 13+ and have comments like “nothing special and thin.” How to explain this? I can’t. I’ve never had something like this happen before. The rest of the group scored it high enough to place it a respectable third. It couldn’t have been corked because it has a screw cap. Maybe it was me – I’d like to give this another try. SHE Said: I LOVE it! He finally spends $40 on a bottle of wine and he hates it. Oh the irony! Oh, the pain! It took him days to recover, poor thing. As for the wine, I loved it, it was one of my favorites of the evening. SHE’s final word on that wine, “O000h!…it’s like an interesting friend from Chicago…” 2005 Rusack Pinot Noir ($32) – He said: I gave this a 16. It was a very nice wine, easy drinking, good body. A very solid effort from this winery between Los Olivos and Solvang in the Santa Barbara region. This finished in second place for the group. SHE said: Nice, very interesting. But over time, just a bit too spicy. Like a dancer I knew who I thought would make a good friend. Over time, I was so very wrong. 2005 Orogeny (Sonoma, Green Valley) ($30) – He said: This wine earned a 17+, which is excellent/outstanding. The plus probably reflects that I had a bit too much to drink. But it was the clear winner in the group, earning the most number 1 votes by far. It is a yummy, delicious pinot noir. Lots of cherry/berry fruit, great balance. Simply terrific. I wrote that it is the Santa Barbara style (like wines 2-5), but it’s from Northern California. I’d never heard of this winery, but Manhattan Fine Wines was carrying it and recommended it and they were right on the nose with this. Orogeny, I learned from the label, is the greek word for a geologic term for mountain creation. Turns out their grapes are from the Dutton Ranch, which I knew was highly acclaimed for chardonnay, but I had never had pinot from them. Their first vintage release was 2002, so they’re relatively new, but they certainly are worth keeping an eye on. This 2005 pinot is worth seeking out and is the only wine that I think was well worth the price. Get some and enjoy. SHE said: Very nice. A happy wine, right from the start. Doesn’t make me work to hard to figure it out. Ahhhh, my new best friend.