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2015 Pinot Noir All-Americans

"The wines that most capture my imagination seem imbued with a kind of meaning
that no other beverage can match, their tastes conjuring cultural values that often
tap into deep emotions."

Elin McCoy, The World of Fine Wine 47:2015

At the end of each year, I name my favorite Pinot Noirs for the year. It is the American way to name the best, but there were so many exceptional Pinot Noirs reviewed in California and Oregon, the task was extremely challenging. Because of the excellence of the 2012 vintage in California and Oregon, there was an unprecedented number of wines scored 92 and above.

Picking the best in any lineup of wines is going to be controversial, so this issue always provokes a response from readers. Remember that some of your favorite wines or producers may not be included since tasting every American Pinot Noir release in any one year is a Herculean task. There are well over 2,500 producers of Pinot Noir in California and Oregon, and almost every producer releases multiple bottles of Pinot Noir, meaning there could easily be 10,000 American Pinot Noirs released into the marketplace each year. For the Pinot Noir wines that were left out of the All-American awards this year, the words of Mark Twain ring true. “It’s better to deserve honors and not have them, then to have them and not deserve them.”

In choosing the All-American Pinot Noirs, I follow several dictums.

1) I take my responsibility seriously and follow a number of regimented steps to arrive at the wines that I consider truly extraordinary and deserving of the title, “All-American.” All wines under consideration are tasted in private at my home in a quiet setting in the late morning, and often the same bottle is rechecked again later in the day or the following day. Extended evaluation of the wine gives me special insight into quality, balance and age ability of wines. The wines are tasted at about 63ºF and are sampled in Burgundy stems. I usually taste 8 to 12 wines a day to give each wine the appropriate attention it deserves. Occasionally I will decant a wine if the winemaker recommends it or I think aeration will benefit the evaluation.

2) I do not taste wines blind, but strive for integrity, consistency and objectivity. I frequently have tech notes on each wine available, and that assists me further in understanding the winemaking and the wine. As the Hosemaster of Wine™ says, “Actually reviewing wines blind is honorable work, though far too humbling to pursue for a living.”

3) I focus on current drinkability, since most consumers prefer to drink their American Pinot Noir relatively young.

4) I score all wines using the 100-point scoring system, but my emphasis remains on concise, unpretentious, and understandable tasting descriptions intended to reveal the style and quality of the wine, and in turn, guide the consumer toward Pinot Noir that they might enjoy.

5) My score guidelines are as follows: 94-99-Extraordinary; 90-93-Outstanding; 86-89-Very Good. I do not publish reviews of wines that score less than 80 since I cannot recommend them. I use the Pinot Noir Geek icon for Pinot Noir signifying wines rated as extraordinary. The Pinot Noir Value icon designates wines that offer an exceptional price/quality ration. Generally, this is a wine priced at or below $36 that is also in the Very Good or above category.

6) I also review Chardonnay and my procedures are the same. Occasionally I will review sparkling wines, and rarely other varietals.

7) I wrestle with stylistic differences among Pinot Noir wines. I make a concentrated effort to separate my personal Pinot Noir stylistic preferences from the objective assessment of the wines. In other words, I try to reward wines for their excellence regardless of style. It comes down to distinguishing between appreciating and liking. As wine writer Jake Lorenzo has noted, “If the style is not one of my favorites, I hope I have the experience and generosity to appreciate what the winemaker set out to do.”

8) Pinot Noir is a chameleon of wine making critical and precise evaluation very challenging. Pinot Noir can vary from bottle to bottle, day to day, and week to week. Bottle variation is troublesome, but fortunately I often have two bottles available, and I only report a review of the better bottle.

9) The 2015 All-Americans were judged on merit, independent of price, case production, vintage and region of origin. Most wines tasted in 2015 were from the 2012 and 2013 vintages. It is somewhat unfair to compare wines from disparate vintages, but the evaluation of each wine is taken on its own merit in the context of the vintage.

10) I have no monetary arrangement with any winegrower or winery and I do not accept advertising on my website. I do not receive or demand compensation from wineries to review their wine or publish their reviews or label images.

11) The reviewed wines are culled primarily from winery submissions with some coming from my personal cellar of purchased wines.

12) Only finished bottled wines formally reviewed in controlled, and therefore comparable circumstances, are candidates for All-American consideration. I sample many wines casually at home, at wineries, at social dinners, at walk-around tastings at wine festivals, at competitive wine judging events, at organized wine tastings, and at winery-hosted dinners, but I do not include these wines in the All-American selection process.

13) I review more California Pinot Noir than Oregon Pinot Noir. This is because I am based in California, I travel more often to California wine regions, there are significantly more producers of Pinot Noir in California compared to Oregon, and more samples are submitted to me for review from California. This in no way is a reflection of comparative quality or my personal preference between Pinot Noir from the two states.

14) Some expensive “cult” Pinot Noirs are not reviewed because they can only be tasted at wineries and are to costly to purchase and subject them to the rigorous tasting procedure I follow at home for all submitted wines.

15) Some wineries submitted wines for consideration and are deserving of multiple major All-American awards, but are only allowed a single first or second team award. Considering that some wineries only produce one or two Pinot Noirs, while others release multiple wines, it seems only equitable to limit an All-American first or second team award to one wine per winery.

16) As in American college teams, there are eleven offensive Pinot Noir All-Americans on a team plus a kicker for a total of twelve so each team of All-American Pinot Noirs has 12 members.

17) Some wines may still be available from the winery, retailers, or the secondary marketplace. If you cannot obtain a certain coveted All-American wine, remember that there will always be another vintage. Try to focus more on the producer than on any one wine as the best producers consistently craft quality wine across their lineup in each vintage. An alternative wine may not be the same song, but it will have the same composer.

18) I recognized wineries whose wines I met for the first time in 2015 and show special promise. I call this “Wineries Met With for First Time in 2015.” These wineries are singled out later in a special section of this issue.

Average price for 2015 California First Team Pinot Noir All-Americans: $70 ($55-$120)
Average price for 2015 Oregon First Team Pinot Noir All-Americans: $70 ($45-$100)
Average price for 2015 California and Oregon First Team Chardonnay All-Americans: $62 ($30-$115)
Average price for 2015 California Value-Priced First Team Pinot Noir All-Americans: $33 ($25-$38)
Average price for 2015 Oregon Value-Priced First Team Pinot Noir All-Americans: $31 ($25-$35)

ABV (label) of 2015 California First and Second Team Pinot Noir All-Americans: 12.2%-14.9%
ABV (label) of 2015 Oregon First and Second Team Pinot Noir All-Americans: 12.4%-14.3%
ABV (label) of 2015 California and Oregon First Team Chardonnay All-Americans: 13.1%-14.5%

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