Thursday, April 15, 2010

TN: Blind Chardonnay and Pinot Noir

Our local wine shop held a blind tasting of Santa Barbara and Burgundy Chardonnay and Pinot Noir last week. Six wines were tasted in pairs, with one Santa Barbaran and one Burgundian in each set. The first pair was Chardonnay, with the remaining two Pinot Noir.

Wine #1 - Tropical, citrus, almonds, some caramel & vanilla, hot finish, medium acidity, some minerality. My guess: California Chardonnay.

Wine #2 - Super toasty. Lighter, more acid, less body, dry, lean and clean. Toast oak. My guess: White Burgundy.

Results - I was right. #1 was Daniel Gehrs 2008 Unoaked Chardonnay ($12) and #2 was Olivier Leflaive 2007 Bourgogne Les Setilles ($21). Interestingly I had some sense the first wine was oaked, but clearly it was not. Still, the tropical fruit in #1 and the acidity and body of #2 helped me get this set right.

Wine #3 - Volatile acidity, mild funk, light body, earthy/toasty flavor, rough finish, some tannin and minerality. My guess: $10-$15 (cheap) Red Burgundy.

Wine #4 - Cali Pinot 'perfume', full body, little structure, chemical finish. My guess: $20-ish California Pinot Noir.

Results - Again, I got them right. This one was fairly straight forward. #3 was Laboure-Roi 2006 Maximum Bourgogne ($16) and #4 was Babcock 2008 Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills ($20). The body, funky and earthy qualities in #3 and the aroma and missing structure in #4 made the differentiation easy. Neither was very good, though.

Wine #5 - Favorite of the tasting. Metal, flowers, high acid, good tannins, toasty/earthy, fresh plums, light. My Guess: Red Burgundy.

Wine #6 - Volatile acidity/glue, pepper, dusty rocks, floral, earthy, tannic, My guess: California Pinot Noir.

Results - I missed this one completely. #5 was Rusack 2007 Pinot Noir Santa Barbara County ($29) and #6 was Bouchard Pere & Fils 2007 Bourgogne Reserve ($26). I was convinced the alluring, high-toned aromas and elegant, structured profile of #5 had to be French. And #6 was simply some poorly made example from California. In retrospect, I probably should have associated plummy fruit with California. In my defense, the lab numbers on the Rusack Pinot (Alcohol: 13.7%, pH: 3.49, TA: 0.672 g/100ml) are atypically restrained and acidic for a California Pinot Noir.

The bottom line is out of these six wines, only #5 is something I'd buy. If these two Red Burgundies are representative of what one can find in the $15 to $30 range, I'd simply avoid this region if looking for mid-priced wines. Both wines had mild flaws and off flavors, though perhaps they'd be better food wines than the California Pinot Noirs. But I doubt it. The bottom line for me is that for an expensive varietal like Pinot Noir, buying lighter styled domestic wines is probably the way to go. Any Burgundy has to be imported, which knocks the price up significantly. That means you're probably paying $20 for a wine that would cost $10 in France. $10 domestic Pinots are similarly mediocre in my experience. Buying domestic is greener, and more of what you pay is actually for the quality of fruit and wine making.

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