Master Sommelier Chuck Furuya recently held a Pinot Noir tasting at Hiroshi Eurasion Tapas.
However this wasn’t your usual make-your-reservations-sit-down-sample-wine type of event. It
was a “bring your own bottle” or BYOB tasting where every participant was asked to bring one
bottle of Pinot Noir that retailed for at least $30. We were also asked to cover the bottles in
bags or wrappers so no one could determine their identity. Cool.

Too Much of a Good Thing

Chuck originally intended on keeping the tasting to a small group – a dozen but as the calls
came in to place “reservations” for the tasting, that number quickly swelled to 27. Of course
that would mean 27 bottles of Pinot Noir and given that the tasting started at 9:30 pm, the
tasting could have easily gone past midnight if we didn’t set a rapid pace. Hmm, perhaps too
much of a good thing?

Chuck’s Selections

Chuck started with four of his own selections to highlight the complexities of Pinot Noir. The
first wine smelled of spice and pebbles that gave way to ripe red fruit. It had a nice balance on
the palate and a medium long finish. It was then revealed as the 2006 Whitcraft Morning Dew
Vineyards (4).
With the second wine, your nose was immediately met with earth and leaves and soil and was
supported by subdued red fruit. It was velvety and seamless on the palate – in other words, all of
the flavor and textural sensations just flowed over the tongue like the way a good melted vanilla
ice cream would. This wine was the 2002 Francois Jobard Blagny Premier Cru “La Piece Sous de
la Bois” (4.5). I decided right there that I needed to add this wine to my collection of “children”.
The third wine was a balance of ripe fruit and spice on the nose and a seamless balance of flavors
on the palate with a long finish. This wine turned out to be the 2002 Costa de Oro Oro Rojo
Reserve (4.5). Also another ‘child” that I felt like immediately adopting.
The last Pinot Noir that Chuck provided was a German Pinot Noir or Blauburgunder. However
there is no tasting report on this specimen as it was corked. In this case it didn’t give off that
characteristic wet towel aroma; it just smelled bad (and would have tasted the same).

Pinot Noir from the Gallery

At the pace of an auctioneer, Chuck proceeded to pour each wine with a minute or so of
contemplation. He then asked everyone their opinion of each wine following the basic tasting
algorithm promoted by the Court of Master Sommeliers. FEW. F for fruit, E for earth and W for
wood. Is the Fruit concentrated or subdued, does it immediately jump out at you or does it
appear after other aromas and flavors, is it rich and ripe or just another component of the wine?
Are there any Earthy qualities on the nose or palate and if present are they like pebbles, granite,
limestone, dirt? Or are they simply mineral in quality like iron or chalk? Finally, do you detect
any Wood on the nose or palate? Is it like frank oak, cedar or redwood or is it simply a subtle
sensation hiding behind the fruit and earthy qualities of the wine? Or it can be as subtle as dill,
vanilla and butter instead of “woody’ qualities.

As we tasted through the various Pinot Noirs which predominantly were from California, Chuck
did mention that most of the high end, rich on the palate, fruit driven Pinot Noirs came from
the Dijon clones 667 and 777. He stated that he wasn’t against wines made from these clones
and did mention that many are made very well but pointed out that the trend for Pinot Noir
seems to be “fruit bomb” wines that are dark and ultra concentrated, coincidentally the type of
wines that garner 90+ Robert Parker scores. What this may eventually lead to is Pinot Noir that
taste the same whether it’s from the Santa Rita Hills, Russian River or Sonoma Coast.

Tasting wines side by side and blinded also lets you select exactly which wine you like based on
its own merits without letting a label prejudice your opinion. When trying 25 bottles of the
same grape varietal, you can really pick up superlative or negative qualities in the wine. You can
see that winemaker X’s wine is a little hotter (or has detectable alcohol) compared to
winemaker Y. And that winemaker Z has the same fruit as winemaker A but fades faster on the
palate and has touch more bitterness at the end.
With blind tastings, you also realize that you just gave a wine 2.5 out of 5 points and it just
happened to be a 2004 Mongeard-Mugneret Richebourg Grand Cru. That’s why I’m not a
Master Sommelier (and in my own defense, I don’t have ANY Grand Cru wines from the Vosne
Romanee in my cellar).

Unfortunately, like the Blauburgunder that Chuck provided, two other bottles were corked and
it was doubly unfortunate that they were both from Burgundy. Alas the taste comparisons were
mainly with domestic Pinot Noir save the Richebourg from Burgundy (which I didn’t care for
anyway). This also highlighted the prevalence of corked wines in general. Since 3 out of 25
bottles were corked, that’s roughly one out of every eight or three out of every two cases. That’s
the main reason you’re beginning to see Stelvin closures (or screw caps) on many wines today –
even high end wines whose prices approach $100. Stelvin closures reduce the incidence of corked
wines down to almost nil.

Despite the corked wines (which also were educational in themselves), this BYO tasting was very
enjoyable and I encourage you to attend wine tasting like this if they are available in your neck
of the woods. Or perhaps, organize a blind tasting of your own with a dozen friends.

Other Favorites

I’ll spare you the minute details of each Pinot Noir tasted. Here’s a short list of my favorites
that night (the numbers in parentheses are my own ratings based on 5 as perfection):

2002 Francois Jobard Blagny Premier Cru "La Piece Sous de la Bois" (4.5)
2002 Costa de Oro "Oro Rojo Reserve" (4.5)
2006 Roar Santa Lucia Highlands (4)
2006 Foley Santa Rita Hills (4)
2006 Whitcraft "Morning Dew Vineyard" (4)
Pinot Noir by the Case