It's probably the most maddeningly difficult grape in the world. In Burgundy, where it's been grown for centuries, there are hundreds of individual plots, some as tiny as half a dozen acres, with individual names and identifiable characteristics. (And yes, there are people who can tell them apart.)
Forty examples of pinot noir were poured for Panel 9 at the Sunset Magazine International Wine Competition this morning, and 39 of them were pretty similar. They weren't from Burgundy but from the "New World." That is, Oregon, California, New Zealand, Australia. They had similar characteristics, berry in the nose, smooth on the palate. Nothing that knocked our socks off, but nothing particularly off-putting, either.
And then there was one more. It wasn't flawed, but it was very unusual. Paler than most, the lack of pigment suggested overcropping in the vineyard. Crazy aromatics suggested bacterial problems in the winery. But the wine had a lazer-like focus. Someone wanted the wine to taste like this, all candy-like, and gussied up as if the wine maker had dropped a shot of tequila into every bottle. It had to be a small winery with a feisty owner, right? Because if more than one or two people had tasted it before bottling, someone would surely have said, "You know, boss, this ain't right."
But that's what makes for interesting wine competitions. For almost 3,000 bottles, wine makers showed enough confidence in their wines to spend $100 to enter the competition. And this particular pinot noir had someone who was willing to say, "What the hell, I'll put up a hundred bucks and show those bastards."
Of course, this particular wine was dreadful, way off the mark. And we'll never know who made the bet, since everything's coded and double-blind. But the whole thing kind of took me back to the time, 30 years, ago, that people were telling me, at gas stations and diners throughout the Yamhill Valley, that "there's no wineries here." And yet you'd find them, in their turkey sheds or filbert farms, or ramshackle hillside cabins, proud parents of a rag-tag gang of street urchins they called their best bottles of pinot.
UPDATE July 25th, 2012: Results are in. Link is at https://www.enofileonline.com