After our October Napa trip, I came away with some great bottles of red, but most of them were a bit above my normal wine-buying price range, and many of them could stand to be aged a few years before drinking. So this has left me with a gap in my “everyday” red wine consumption (which isn’t to say that I’m drinking wine everyday, not to worry 🙂 )…something drinkable with or without food, not too expensive, and not hard to find. My test is this: can I sit on the couch and watch a movie on a weeknight and have a glass without feeling like I have to finish the bottle (because it was expensive) or save it for a special occasion or drink it with a specific meal.
I have my go-to white, Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio, that I stock up on every year at the Stella Maris Wine Tasting, held each April in Baltimore (tickets for the April 26th event are on sale now if you call the Development Office 410-252-4500 ext 7570). I love this event because bottles are marked down from retail and proceeds benefit the long-term care facility.
And I have my favorite rose: anything from Cotes de Provence which can be more difficult to find and is way marked up from the ~5 euros per bottle I found in France. But reds…I’ve had great bottles here and there, but nothing that I’ve pinpointed as “I can buy a case of this and know that it can be drunk at virtually any occasion.”
I generally like Pinot Noirs that are light and can be sipped over the course of an evening, rather than anything that is definitely better with food. Knowing this, I decided to do a head-to-head Pinot Noir wine tasting last Wednesday. I was at Kroger anyway (not the best wine selection obviously, but I wanted to find something that I could pick up on my typical errand route), so I pulled three Pinot Noirs in the $10-$20 range from various regions.
1. Louis Jadot, 2010, from Bourgogne (Burgundy, France) for $18.99
2. Toad Hollow, 2011, from the Russian River Valley, Sonoma County (California) for $17.99
3. Hedgeline Vineyards, 2011, from Oregon for $12.99
They were each incredibly different. Here are my thoughts, but first some caveats:
1. I’m trying to practice really smelling and tasting wines such that I can discern scents and flavors, rather than “I like this” or “I don’t like this”…but note I said “practice” which is to say that I could be way off the mark and I get really excited if someone corroborates what I’m describing.
2. I didn’t decant any of these initially, just swirled them in the glasses. I’ve since tasted each after they’ve had time to breathe and I’ll discuss that more below.
3. I think I probably went in the reverse order of how I should have tasted these: it seemed like I went from boldest to lightest, but again, maybe that was just my impression.
So here they are in the glasses. All looking pretty similar to me in terms of color.
1. Louis Jadot – When I smelled this initially I got a lot of wood, and specifically pine scent, running into the smell of tobacco. The taste was smooth and smoky with a little bite at the end (which definitely mellowed out over time in contact with the air). When I tasted it later, I got more raspberry flavor, and I could drink this alone (slowly) or with dark chocolate. In comparison to the Toad Hollow, it was less tannin-y.
2. Toad Hollow – I instantly got whiffs and flavors of vanilla from this bottle. I was quite pleased with myself when I read the label and confirmed it had been aged in oak barrels (I learned at least this one point from our Napa trip). At first the taste was tart with kind of an acidic finish, but as it opened up, it felt sweet, which I think is really just that buttery/vanilla-ness that the oak imparts rather than actual sugar. It had more of an aftertaste than the Louis Jadot.
3. Hedgeline – Woah. Should’ve gone with this first. The initial smell was pungent and stiff with alcohol. It definitely needed some decanting. At first the taste was biting and acidic, but it completely smoothed out to a bit of strawberry and light vanilla with time. I felt those tannins on the sides of my tongue and I would want this with food.
I had second glasses of all three in the ensuing days, and each was better with time and air. While all three were enjoyable in their own ways, here are my conclusions:
1. Each was more enjoyable when it was the first and only glass of the day. Comparing them side-by-side left me not really loving any of them.
2. Since each of these was better with some time after opening, I can’t see how any would become my go-to red. The beauty of a go-to is that you can open it with unexpected company or on a whim without forethought and decanting.
3. I would buy any of these again in a pinch knowing what I was getting, but I’m going to continue searching and tasting because that’s half the fun!
Any recs on what to try next?!?!