A while back our friends Inna and Igor – fellow wine afficionados – proposed a novel idea for a wine tasting: a side-by-side tasting of the same varietal – in this case, Pinot Noir. What made this proposal particularly novel is that all four wines would be from the same producer, Etude Wines. We have visited Etude on two occasions and posted about our very first visit there last summer (Wine With A ‘Tude.). On our visit to Etude we sampled Pinot Noir from vineyards in Napa Valley’s Carneros region. Our friends’ proposed tasting would consist of four Etude Pinot Noir wines that were new to us: one from Sonoma Coast, two from the Santa Barbara area, and one from Oregon’s Willamette Valley.
We didn’t spend too much time thinking about the proposal, quickly agreeing to the idea and setting a date for the tasting. When we arrived at our friends’ house we saw right away how seriously they were taking the tasting endeavor.
Not only were the wines poured but there was a tasting sheet to write notes and comments and tally scores. Like all athletic endeavors, wine tasting needs the right level of hydration and nourishment.
When we took our seats at the table each of us sized up the wines and took a few minutes reading the labels and tried to find some nugget of information that would give us an edge in the wine tasting challenge. For the record, the four wines were:
2014 Etude Ellengach Vineyard Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast
2014 Etude Fiddlestix Vineyard Pinot Noir, Santa Rita Hills (Santa Barbara County)
2014 Etude North Canyon Vineyard Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley (Santa Barbara County)
2014 Etude Yamhill Vista Vineyard Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley (Oregon)
While there were no financial stakes in this great wine taste-off, pride was certaintly at stake and each of the four participants was hoping to show off his or her wine acumen and ability to distinguish aromas and flavors. For the first several minutes only murmurs could be heard as we lifted the glasses and tried to make sense of the different color shades in each glass. Hmmm, the first one looks slightly darker than the second, perhaps that signifies that it was grown in a hotter climate and the grapes ripened more? Then came the sniffing excercise – trying to identify aromas that would distinguish the four Pinot Noir wines from each other.
Looking back, we have to laugh a little bit because we set ourselves up for quite a challenge: identifying which wines came from which region even though 3 of the 4 wines are from California and two of them were from wine regions separate by just a few miles. Finally we got to the tasting, which resulted in more murmurs and mutterings under our breath and furious note-taking. After each wine we confidently assigned it to a region only to furiously cross it out immediately after tasting the next wine and confidently jotting a region down next to it. By the fourth wine almost every confident prediction had been changed to something else, changed back, and then changed again.
When we finally made our collective way through the four Etude Pinot Noir wines and made our “matches” to wine region, the time came to uncover the bottles and reveal their geographic identity. Despite all of our cumulative years of wine tasting, the best effort in the wine tasting match was 2 out of 4, with at least two of us guessing only 1 out of 4. Stubborn people that we are, we decided to do a second round of tasting, mixing the wines up again and trying to apply the lessons learned from the first round. Memory is somewhat hazy after the amount of wine consumed but I recall that no one did better in the second round than the first. Naturally, we concluded that another round of tasting would be a good idea, for some reason expecting that the cumulative effect of the two previous rounds of tasting would promote greater accuracy. Round 3 was no more impressive than than the earlier efforts; clearly none of us is ready to take on the Master Sommelier exam just yet.
Rather than proceed to a round 4 we decided instead to polish off the remaining Pinot Noir and enjoy them just for their own sake, with no competition involved. To top off the afternoon we enjoyed a fantastic lunch paired with one of the Croatian wines that we will soon be introducing to the United States market.
John & Irene Ingersoll
July 18, 2017