Tasting within a category
There are over 7500 wines from which we must choose to fill the only 500 (ish) options that occupy our shelves. While some of those are the same wine in different sizes, realistically there are at least 5500 possibilities. We can’t taste them all. We can’t even bring in all of them that we have tasted and like. One of the ways that we discriminate among the candidates is to taste within a category. By that, I mean to identify a variety like Pinot Noir then hold constant other variables like vintage and price to attempt to compare apples to apples. Tasting “within” allows us to understand better both similarities and differences. After all, it is hardly fair to compare an entry level Willamette Valley Pinot Noir to a cru level Burgundy. If we taste 7-10 entry-levels Willamettes from the same vintage, or at least from those currently available to us to offer, then we know that we have selected the 2-4 within that category that express well the typicity of the variety and some specificity of that vintage, all while paying attention to the quality to price.
The quartet of Pinots recommended below does not quite capture that experiment, but it does allow you to hold constant the grape and the level (all are either the only Pinot made by that producer or their entry-level). We collected a group of Pinots that we have carried in the past and then added some new ones from unusual places (well, unusual for us for Pinot Noir, like Slovenia, Germany, Australia and Argentina).
If you elect to give these a try, we recommend gathering a group of family and friends so that you can open all of the bottles together and try them comparing one to the other. While there is no “best wine” here (they all made our list), trying them together will tell you more about your palate and your wine preferences.
Weingut Anton Bauer
Pinot Noir (13.5%)
We have not tasted the Anton Bauer, Pinot Noir, for at least 4 years. If the other vintages tasted like this one, our loss! We tried the Bauer Pinot Noir at the same time that we tried the Silent Way (below) and three other Pinots from alternative areas (Argentina, Italy) and one Bourgogne. Three of the six did not make the cut.
The Bauer 2020 shows both the fruit and the pretty earthy aromas and flavors that make Pinot so compelling when it is good. What made the Bauer a shoe-in was the silky mouthfeel that sealed a trifecta — aromas, flavors and mouthfeel all say Pinot Noir. One taster described it simply as a “wonderful pleasure.”
Pinot Noir (14%)
Vipava Valley, Slovenia, 2020
$29, organic, biodynamic
We’ve had white wines from Slovenia (Pinot Gris, Rebula, Sauvignon Blanc, Zelen), but this is our first red, and what a winner!
Aromas of pomegranate and red currant, bay leaf and peat. In the mouth, it is medium-plus weight with flavors of dried cranberry, raspberry and tons of spice, from pepper to clove. There is a bit of peat and a beautifully integrated acidity that gives it an elegant, lifted finish.
Scar of the Sea
Pinot Noir (12.8%)
Vino de los Ranchos
Santa Maria, 2022
$28: organic, biodynamic
What a beguiling wine! There is just so much going on from the sweet, ripe fruit that characterizes Pinot Noir, more strawberry and raspberry here than cherry, beautifully complemented with earthier forest aromas of dried leaves and pine needles, wild flowers and a compelling minerality.
Pinot Noir (13.2%)
We had the broadest range of aromas and flavors on this Pinot, but all of us gave it a strong endorsement– not just interesting, but exciting. We wanted more.
The nose included cranberry, pink grapefruit, an earthy slate and a vague spice that we could not quite put our fingers on– clove was the closest. On the palate, the wine was elegant, lighter in weight but that may have been largely due to the vein of acidity that balanced the fruit– tart cranberry that opened to orange– and the deeper earthy note of something like cardamom or bittersweet chocolate.
Silent Way is named for the iconic Miles Davis album that owner-winemaker Matt Harrup takes as inspiration to learn from experience and use that to innovate.