Every year for the past 13 years Barbara Drady, of Affairs of the Vine, has been organizing the Pinot Noir Shootout and subsequent Pinot Noir Summit. The Shootout is not one event, but a series of blind tastings held over several months in which professional wine judges rate 32 wines per day in flights of 8. Each wine is blind tasted twice, so as a judge I might taste a certain wine in November and again in February. Since winetasting is a very subjective sport, it’s sometimes humbling and often heartening to compare the results and find that one’s scores are relatively consistent (or not). I often find that my descriptors less consistent than my overall point scores, which is to say that I’m only moderately successful at describing a wine, while I’m better at judging a wine’s overall quality.
After the various Shootouts the top wines are pitted against each other in a Shootout Final. The top wines from the final go on to the Pinot Noir Summit, a trade and consumer event where Pinot Noir lovers like yourself can taste the best of the best. This year’s Summit took place in July at the Atlantis Casino in Reno (as will next year’s Pinot Noir Summit — (see http://www.affairsofthevine.com for details). The results are unusual, as they are broken out by gender and by professional versus consumer.
This year our Shootout judging panels tasted 497 wines. The top 46 went on to the Pinot Noir Summit. The following are my favorite dozen, which range in price from $18 to $50. If the point scores are rather uniform, it is only because these are the cream of the crop, all bobbing to the top of the barrel.
Consistency is important, so it’s worth noting that the only wineries to score in the top dozen in my assessment of both the 12th and 13th annual Pinot Noir Shootouts were Schug and Cline.
2011 Double Bond, Edna Valley, Wolff Vineyard:
Enormously complex and layered, this is not a wine that will appeal to everyone, but I love it. Vibrant and silky, it has scents of camphor, cocoa, cinnamon, candied cherry and a hint of forest floor. Ranked third among male judges of our Shootout Panel. 350 cases produced. $48. 95 points.
2013 Portalupi, Sonoma Coast:
Appealing violet aroma with citrus pith, subtle leather, and a hint of sweet spice (cinnamon, nutmeg, clove), backing a core of black cherry fruit. Reveals itself slowly and elegantly through a long expressive finish. Not a powerhouse, but a thoroughbred. 273 cases produced. $32. 94 points.
2013 Schug, Carneros:
Consistently producing wonderful Pinots for over 30 years, the 2013 serves up ripe cherry aromas over a complex forest floor background. Voluptuous texture, perfect balance and structure. The flavors mirror the nose and aeration brings out subtle dried flower impressions. The finish is vibrant, long, subtle and complex. Good value and readily available. Ranked in second place by the female judges of our Shootout Panel. 6,243 cases produced. $30. 93 points.
2012 Graton Ridge Cellars, Russian River Valley:
I admit my powers of description are lacking here. There is something arresting and alluring about this wine that I cannot define. It has an elegant cherry-strawberry nose that follows to the palate with mineral notes. Soft tannins, silky texture, chalky-fruity finish of great length. This wine was ranked first by our female judges on the Shootout Panel, and ranked first by male consumers at the Pinot Noir Summit. 212 cases produced. $45. 93 points.
2011 Chesebro, Arroyo Seco, Cedar Lane Vineyard:
Black cherry and violet aroma follows to the palate with a hint of tomato and a forest floor. Delicate and light bodied with no tannin to speak of, but a firm acid edge. 148 cases produced. $23. 93 points.
2012 Double Bond, Edna Valley, Wolff Vineyard:
Quite different than the 2011 reviewed above, having a heady nose of violets and hawthorne blossoms. Bright and inviting, on the palate it’s silky smooth with firm structure, fine minerality and a bing cherry finish. 400 cases produced. $48. 92 points.
2013 Lucas & Lewellen, Santa Barbara County, Goodchild High 9:
This widely available beauty shows off a lush cherry cola aroma with just a hint of earth, leading to a silky palate despite crisp acidity. Very light tannin, but firm and well structured through the long finish. 975 cases produced. $30. 92 points.
2011 Costa de Oro, Reserve Oro Rojo, Santa Maria Valley, Gold Coast Vineyard:
Expansive ripe strawberry aroma with violets that life the aromatics. Tart yet ripe strawberry on the palate, with roasted tomato, a hint of cocoa powder and a light ginger finish. 280 cases produced. $50. 92 points.
2012 Ser, Santa Cruz Mountains:
Rich, vibrant and full-bodied, with cherry cola flavor and floral notes that come out with aeration. The mineral and fruit finish lingers for minutes. 200 cases produced. $36. 92 points.
2013 Cline, Sonoma Coast:
Rich, silky and complex with layers of black cherry and pepper over a substrata of forest floor/potting soil. There is also plenty of oak character, but perfectly integrated with the fruit. Complex, balanced and long. Excellent value at $18. 92 points.
2012 Venteux Vineyards, Paso Robles:
A floral nose of violets with a touch of marigold leads to a rich, deep, yet tart palate of cherry, vanilla and red plum, with a hint of wet earth and an extraordinarily long sour cherry and plum finish. 235 cases produced. $38. 92 points.
2012 Balverne Reserve, Russian River Valley:
Strawberry core with light forest floor and cocoa powder accents, vibrant acidity and lingering finish. Good food wine. This wine was ranked first by women at the Pinot Noir Summit. 245 cases produced. $40. 91 points.