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Pinot Summit 2012 – Blind Tasting Fun & Games

Pinot Summit 2012 was a top notch pinot noir event featuring a fun game for tasters – namely, blind tasting. It attracted boutique wineries, many of them new to us. The tenth annual Pinot Summit was held at the San Francisco Hilton, Financial District, on February 25.

Prospective attendees could either buy an all-day ticket (afternoon and evening) or a ticket just for the evening.  The afternoon session included  3 items : the blind tasting, a choice of several breakout seminars, and a sparkling wine tasting at happy hour.  The evening session was a grand tasting, followed by the announcement of the winners from the blind tasting. The grand tasting included a mix of  some of wines that had been in the afternoon blind session but also many wines and wineries not in the blind tasting. We chose to attend everything  Our overall review: very good event, lots of fun, some education, and best of all…many interesting wineries that were new to us.  We’ll definitely plan attend the eleventh Summit in 2013.

The scene at the blind tasting Pinot Noir Summit 2012 - Hilton San Francisco

The scene at the blind tasting Pinot Noir Summit 2012 - Hilton San Francisco

The Blind Tasting

There were 42 wines entered in the blind tasting.  The organizers realized it would be overwhelming and not at all valid to try to discriminate among so many. So they split the line-up in two.  Registrants were given an admission that directed them to one group of 21 or the other.

Once you submitted your tasting ratings by voting for 1 to 5 of your favorites, you were free to browse the other  blind 21 wines on the other side of the roped room.  Each bottle was wrapped in aluminum foil with a color code for organization. At the end of the evening tasting, the event organizers distributed info sheets showing which winery went with which color.

We were not as impressed with most of the 21 wines we tasted as we had hoped.  We fear that many of the wines may have been mishandled. Perhaps some bottles got too warm, were “upset” in transit, were open too long, etc.  When you taste at a winery, the winery hospitality staff will retaste an open bottle to see if it still showing its best character–the flavor and aroma profile as the winemaker intended it.  At the blind tasting, to keep the voting “clean,” the pouring hospitality folks were event/hotel staff.

21 bottles in each section for blind tasting at Pinot Noir Summit 2012

21 bottles in each section for blind tasting at Pinot Noir Summit 2012

After some discussion and revisiting half a dozen of the wines, we settled on our favorites.  Tony chose Dark Green and Yellow.  Later we discovered those were Sharp Cellars 2009 Keenan’s Cove, Sonoma Coast ($48) and Tondre Wines 2009 Tondre Grapefield, Santa Lucia Highlands ($55).

Norma also liked the Sharp Cellars entry, followed by the Erath 2009 Prince Hill, Dundee Hills ($45).  Her third choice was the Davis Family Vineyards 2009 Starr Ridge. Russian River ($42), followed by the Kenneth Volk 2009 Garey Ranch Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley ($48).

The good news is the presence of a professional sommelier on each side of the rope.  Ours was Olin Harris, captain at The Restaurant at Meadowood (Napa, three Michelin stars).  Olin was patient and informative, a real help to us rookies.

The blind tasting was lots of fun, but the organization could have been better.  For example, when we submitted our ballots we were told to take five chips and use them to vote.  You could distribute the chips any way you wanted, up to and including voting all five chips for one wine.  There was no control over the number of chips people were taking. We could have grabbed 10, or gone back 2 to 3 times.  Worse, there were blue and red chips in separate bowls with no indication that the blue chips were supposed to be for males and the red were supposed to be for females.  We fear that the vote results by gender may not be valid.

Seminars

We chose “What Makes a Great Vintage?” moderated by Sid Sall, a pinot noir fan and a volunteer for Affairs of the Vine.org ( great job, Sid!).  The panelists were:

Pinot Noir Summit 2012 - Vintages Seminar, "Affairs of the Vine"

Pinot Noir Summit 2012 - Vintages Seminar, "Affairs of the Vine"

Yes, you read that correctly.  A winery producing pinot noir in Ontario.  Being on Prince Edward Island helps because the water in the Gulf of St. Lawrence combined with the natural protection of the Nova Scotia harbor keeps temperatures somewhat under control.

In case you don’t already believe winemakers are nuts, Dan revealed that Rosehall Run winery buries their vines during the winter. The Heart and Hands Winery in the Finger Lakes region of New York does the same thing.  We have tasted Heart and Hands pinot noir and were quite favorably impressed. Clearly vine burying is not an impediment to quality.

Prince Edward Island Map

Prince Edward Island Map

Naturally, each of the seminar panelists had brought samples of one of their wines for tasting.  Tony liked the Hahn entry best, while Norma preferred the Rosehall Run wine.  The presentations were excellent with lots of audience participation, questions and comments.  Sid Sall did a terrific job as moderator.

Sparkling Wine Happy Hour

After the seminar, there was a tasting of sparkling wine with hors doeuvres including fresh oysters.  We made a beeline for the Laetitia table where Lino Bozzano was pouring their Brut de Noirs.  While we still prefer their Brut Coquard, the Brut de Noirs was pretty terrific.  The hors doeuvres were, however, skimpy.  Given a tasting of many wines, we went out to dinner, returning about 7:30 for the grand tasting. More on that, as well as the lists of winners of the blind tasting competition, in part II of this review.