Saturday, June 27, 2009

WN: A Costco Budget Pinot Battle

The contenders:

On the left is the Cambria 2006 Julia's Vineyard Pinot Noir. To its right is the Erath 2007 Oregon Pinot Noir. Both hail from Costco, costing $16 and $14, respectively, which are quite modest prices in the world of Pinot Noir.

The play by play:

The Erath opened up first with an intriguing bouquet of cranberry, strawberry, dust, earth and pine. Although it's not generally a good policy to judge a Pinot contender by its color, the light color, more reminiscent of rosé than a red wine, was the first sign that this wine wasn't really packing a strong punch. Indeed, the attack was non-descript and the mid-palate hollow, though a flourish on the finish was pleasantly earthy and floral. While the acidity, alcohol and tannins were all nicely balanced, there just wasn't much fruit or concentration of flavor on the palate. 13.0% ABV.

The less reticent Cambria replied with a salvo of cherry, sage, earth and a hint of caramel on the nose. The attack and round mid-palate displayed a significant burst of fruit, and the texture was much fuller. It was a Pinot with some body and depth, but not over the top as evidenced by a good balance. The finish is not quite seamless, but a little oak tannin did give it a little grip. It's fair to say the oak influence is a more pronounced in this wine, though its presence is well-measured and serves to enhance the wine. 13.9% ABV.

And the winner, by unanimous decision:

The Cambria 2006 Julia's Vineyard Pinot Noir. Maybe I've become accustomed to the fuller-bodied style of California Pinot, but the Cambria is just a flat-out superior wine in comparison to the Erath. It's still distinctly a Pinot Noir, so there's no compromise of varietal charactistic, either, in the interest of producing a more appealing wine. (An oddly dark and syrupy glass of Chalone Monterrey County Pinot Noir my girlfriend ordered at a restaurant, after some research, turned out to be spiked with Petite Sirah.) Oregon has a reputation for producing world-class Pinot Noir. Thus it's surprising that out of the several inexpensive Oregon Pinot Noir's I've tried, I haven't yet found a really good wine. For $2 more, I'll buy local and stick with the Cambria from the Santa Maria Valley. A top quality, albeit very large single vineyard trumps whatever generic Oregon appellation grapes are going into the Erath.

Cambria 2006 Julia's Vineyard Pinot Noir
$16 from Costco

Erath 2007 Oregon Pinot Noir
Score: 80-83
$14 from Costco


maulmatt! said...

i agree with you there. i've had both of these in the past year. i ate at a place with the erath by the glass and ordered it, there just wasn't much to it.

i tasted through the cambria wines at the winery and thought the julia's was comparable to their higher end stuff. i like cambria overall, it's one of those brands you don't want to give props to, but have to in the end. and $16 is a great price for that wine, i usually see it hovering at or above $20 in GA... even the discount wine stores.

CabFrancoPhile said...

Yeah, Cambria is too big to love, but too good to hate. At least they own their fruit, so you know what you're getting. Good QPR.

Jeff said...

I haven't had the Erath, but the Cambria is fairly good. I don't normally really care too much for California either. It's no Burgundy, and it's pretty big for Pinot, but it is a screaming value at 16$ and very nice to drink. It seems strange to me that some of the cheaper Oregon Pinot's that I have had are not better, but I think that's because it's way easier to make a really ripe, fruit-driven Pinot than to make a delicious wine that is balanced, elegant, and complex. Think about it--if your fruit is really ripe, you're going to end up with fruity flavors. If you're trying to make something more in between, you have to use a lot more judgement in terms of when to pick, etc...

CabFrancoPhile said...

Jeff, I think you're spot on. "Garden variety" ripeness makes for a good QPR, which is why I think a lot of good inexpensive wine comes out of Spain, southern France and California. But more marginal climates where perhaps not every vintage will yield immense fruit flavors have much more upside when they have a good or great vintage (or with the more rigorously selected cuvees). Or at least that's my working hypothesis on CA vs. WA & OR and why more balanced climates aren't matching up with CA on $15 wines.

Jeff said...

Just in general I've had much better luck with wines other than Pinot out of Washington/Oregon vs. California. Pinot is so hard to grow that a ripe one is miles better than an unripe one...but as far as other grapes are concerned, man have I had some good Washington/Oregon wines. You should try anything from Owen Roe or K Vinters for a start.

CabFrancoPhile said...

Thanks Jeff! I'm a big fan of your blog, by the way. Owen Roe is definitely on my radar, but those NWesterners seem to keep most of it up north. I'll also watch for K Vintners.

Jeff said...

Glad you like the blog...I like yours too. I used to take notes just for myself in notebooks, but it's so much easier to put it on the web. I'm surprised how many people read averages about 50 a day, which isn't much, but still seems like a lot to me.

Haha, yes, in California it's really hard to find stuff from Washington. I don't get the whole obsession with California. It's really expensive compared to comparable wines from other areas that in my opinion are frequently better.

Your profile says you're in Santa Barbara, so I don't know if you ever get to LA, but K&L in Hollywood has a limited but good selection of Owen Roe in particular. They have real time inventory plus if you want to buy something, you can will call it for pick up there.

CabFrancoPhile said...

I don't make it to LA often, but I place web orders from K&L pretty regularly. I'll try some Owen Roe next time I'm buying from them. What I really want is the Rosa Mystica Cab Franc, but that's both expensive and hard to find.

Yeah, the lesser-known parts of Italy and France are usually superior QPR compared to CA, though there's the occasional ripe Cali wine that shows good balance and restraint. It's hard to understand why a really good Chinon can cost less than an average Central Coast Cab. I'll have a post soon comparing a Santa Barbara and Dogliani Dolcetto--the Dogliani was definitely better for the same price.

Jeff said...

I've had the's different than what you're going to find out of the Loire. It's much riper, but it's still got a lot of olivey savory character. It just doesn't have any of the leafy green aromas. It's a really interesting wine (I actually got it at K&L)...also, you might try finding Walla Walla Vintners Cab Franc, that's really good too. I don't know where to find that in California, but I'm from Seattle, and it's really easy to find there.

CabFrancoPhile said...

Riper or more oak is OK as longer as the savory character as you put it is still there. A sacrifice in minerality and complexity for better texture and fruit can be worthwhile for me if there's good structure and balance.

Jeff said...

Yeah totally agree. The Rosa Mystica has a lot of fruit, but there's a lot going on. It's definitely not California. You should really try it if you can find it. I think that it would appeal to your sensibilities based on reading your blog. K&L is out of both the 05 and 06, but I'm sure there's someone that has some floating around.

The one thing that I think is a lot different about Washington in particular is that they are all new world wines, and they are styled in a new world way, but they still have all their balance. So in a lot of ways, I think of the really good stuff from Washington as a cross between France (especially the more traditional areas) and California. And together.

Oh and one other thing--all of the Italian varietals that I have ever had out of California have been pretty underwhelming. I think it's because Italy is so much about acid. Most of their grapes have a lot of acid, but they get all top-heavy and silly when they get super-ripe. So of course California is going to be bad. I fairly certain that whatever Dolcetto you were tasting from Italy would have blown Santa Barbara out of the water.

CabFrancoPhile said...

It kind of seems like Italian grapes should do well in California, or at least better than those typically grown further north in Europe (Syrah, Cab Franc, Pinot). Similar latitudes, Mediterranean climate, little rain, and so on for both Italy and CA. And the cooler parts of Santa Barbara can produce wines that retain their acidity. But they still end up too ripe. Seems like they're still figuring things out.