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All Pinots Great and Small

”It’s not the size of the Pinot that matters, but the magic you make with it,” said my drink coaster. I was at a tasting dinner organized by Pinot Days 2011. The quote, from Adam Lee of Siduri, neatly captured the evening’s theme.

logo2Twelve Noble Stars: Celebrating Pinot’s Diversity of Style was a tasting and food pairing for consumers, as opposed to trade, industry insiders or critics. The idea was to expose non-professional Pinot Noir enthusiasts to a very broad range of Pinot Noir styles and let the wine drinkers decide for themselves what they like. There were fourteen Pinot Noir — that’s right, the “label” said twelve but the real number was higher. The wines ranged from opulently high-octane to lean and, ever so slightly, mean.

Several times throughout the evening, host Lisa Rigisich asked the question, “How many points did this Pinot get?” She would quickly answer her own question, “Who cares?” Essentially, she and Steve Rigisich (the organizers of Pinot Days) were staging a small-scale intervention between Pinot-loving consumers and those wine pundits who want to tell them what to like.

The debate over what constitutes excellence in California Pinot Noir has gone on for years. And on. And on. Does this state’s Pinot Noir need to emulate the weight of Burgundy? Or should the wines proudly wear the power and concentration that sunny California allows? Critics weigh in on both sides. The dispute will never be resolved. Regardless of how much opinion leaders suggest otherwise, it is simply a matter of personal preference. The same is true, by the way, about similar wrangling over Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, etc.

But the arguments do have an impact on consumers who are often unsure of what they are “supposed to like.” There is nothing wrong with having the discussion and nothing wrong with consumers hearing both sides of the story and forming an opinion. But consumers should also be given a chance to taste the wines and decide what appeals to them based on the wine itself, not just numbers or philosophies.

At the Twelve Noble Stars Tasting, opinion was split among the consumers I talked to. Some reveled in the darkest, boldest wines. Others preferred those wines so “elegant” that you could read a faded love letter through them. Still others, like me, gravitated to wines that split the difference.

Several upcoming events will expose your palate to a variety of Pinot Noir. Some, due to regional focus, will tend toward one end of the Pinot Noir spectrum or the other. Pinot Days 2012 offers the full gamut.

These gatherings are great opportunities to make up your own mind about what you do and don’t like in Pinot Noir. Dozens, sometimes hundreds, of wines will be on hand for sampling. Yet, wineries know that the average wine drinker lacks confidence in their own taste. Some will want to tell you the scores or what to look for in their wine.

Don’t let them do that to you. Try not to look at the tasting notes. If a pourer starts to tell you too much about a wine before you can taste it, politely ask them to wait. They can give you the rundown after you’ve had a chance to sniff, sip, consider and spit.

Russian River Valley Passport to Pinot — June 9 & 10 at Russian River Valley wineries

Taste of Mendocino — June 11 in San Francisco

Pinot Days 2012 — June 16 in San Francisco

West of the West — August 3 - 5 in Occidental

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This article is original to Copyright 2012 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.