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November 6, 2000 • Vallis Restaurant

In preparation for Thanksgiving and, because PfW is SO thankful for Pinot Noir, we wanted to see how an assortment of young and old Pinots would match-up to the traditional fare of the occasion. Baked turkey is a can't-miss natural, but the challenge of sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce is formidable! Jim and Rosemary Vallis treated us to an excellent meal and also shared Jim's grandfather's Sweet Potato Dressing recipe. Tasty and enjoyable as our meal was, our overall advice would be to pick young wines that emphasize straight forward fruitiness and low tannin -- Gamay, Valdiguie, Sangiovese. Save the mature Pinot Noirs to serve with savory meals that spare the sugary dishes.

Vintage & Varietal/Type
Appellation -$ price / Alcohol
Consensus Tasting Notes
Notes in bold type indicate three
or more comments in agreement.
(enclosed ?) = comment on a possible flaw
Buying Advice

David Bruce
1996 Pinot Noir
Russian River Valley
$27. / 13.0% alcohol

Very dark ruby; sweet, intense strawberry, cherry, raspberry fruit aroma with hints of cedar, orange peel, cola, coconut, vanilla, spice, bubblegum, cinnamon, leather, peppermint, tar, smoke, earth, mushroom, and alcohol; big, rich, ripe, deep fruit, with an attractive but exotic, somewhat non-typical (dill) flavor; full-bodied, chunky body, with very good balance; oaky, big tannins, yet well proportioned to fruit; long finish. Slightly over-the-top style is still appealing.

#1 (tie)
Very Highly

1998 Pinot Noir
Paso Robles
"Hoffman Mountain Ranch"
$40. / 13.5%

Medium-light ruby; attractive, complex, cherry, rhubarb, and ripe tomato aroma, with green tea, perfume, smoke, oak, meat, leather, popcorn, cinnamon, spice, barnyard, and barbecue sauce notes (too herbal?); rich, smooth, beefy, beety, big, strawberry, cherry fruit "bomb" flavors with complexities of earth, mint, and herbs; very well balanced; medium tannins in a long finish with faint heat. Another big, full-blown wine.

#2 (tie)
Very Highly

Napa Ridge
1998 Pinot Noir
North Coast
$9. / 13.1%

Medium ruby; youthful, light, pomegranate, grapey, strawberry, cherry aroma with hints of gunpowder, dried mint, cola, vanilla, peppermint, and caraway; good, soft mouthfeel (slightly chalky?), slightly rich; light, clean, simple, fruity, tart flavors ; medium body; slightly tart balance and a little youthfully harsh in the medium-length finish.

Very Highly


Robert Sinskey
1997 Pinot Noir RESERVE
Napa Valley
$38. / 14.0%

Medium ruby; young, intense black cherry aroma with complex touches of rose petals, perfume, rhubarb, candy, cinnamon, spice, bubblegum, vanilla, citrus, peppermint, and terpine; smooth entry; attractive, light, slightly rich, young tart black cherry and strawberry fruit flavors with a hint of almond or rose water; medium-body; good balance (sweet?); soft tannins and a long finish. Very charming.

Very Highly

Gary Farrell
1997 Pinot Noir
Russian River Valley
$22. / (table wine)

Light crimson; lovely, subdued, lightly floral, raspberry, cherry fruit with oak, spice, charcoal, cola, a rhubarb, bell pepper, or herbal component, and a hint of leather, earth, or barnyard; light (weak?), but attractive and deep flavors with a silky mouthfeel; seamless, excellent balance (low acid?); medium-full body; very long, complex finish with very soft tannins. Drinks well now.


Estancia Reserve
1997 Pinot Noir
Monterey "Pinnacles"
$22. / 14.1%

Medium ruby; fresh, intense aroma of beet, tomato, cherry, berry, and slightly raisined with hints of vanilla, candy, caramel, olives, smoke, and tar; sweet entry with pleasant, tight, simple, cherry fruit flavors that are somewhat spicy, cola, smoky, toasty, and oaky; slightly rich, medium body with good balance; pleasant, but somewhat tannic finish. Drinks well with food.


Domaine Drouhin
1994 Pinot Noir
$30 [at release] / 13.5%

Medium garnet and a little dull; subtle cherry aroma with a developed nose of flowers, barnyard, earth, leather, mushroom, smoke, tar, cheese, cinnamon, and cocoa, showing maturity and bouquet (some thought "Burgundian"); very light, tart cherry, complex, attractive flavors; light body (hollow middle?); good balance, quite tart (sour?); slight heat in a short, slightly tannic finish. Ready to drink up.

#7 (tie)

Gary Farrell
1994 Pinot Noir
Russian River Valley
$15.50 [rel.] / (table wine)

Medium garnet; violet scents over vaguely dried cherry fruit aromas, hints of sage, orange, plum, leather but definitely mature; slightly sweet entry leads to smooth, ripe sour cherry, coffee, and cola flavors with good depth and a slightly earthy note (rubber?); mouth-filling, medium body, needs richness; slightly tart, faintly hot finish.

#8 (tie)

Hartford Court
1995 Pinot Noir
Russian River Valley
$38. [rel.] / 13.5%

Medium ruby; complex, bright, ripe aroma of tomato and black cherry with violet, vanilla, oak, smoke, pepper, leather, and cinnamon hints and a green, tea-leaf note (stemmy?); earthy, gamy, smoky, dried cherry flavors are quite tight, lean, austere; good balance, slightly tart; medium-to-full body; chalky tannin with faint heat in the long finish. Noticeably better with food. Still youthful, could age longer.


1994 Pinot Noir
Russian River Valley
$20. [rel.] / 13.5%

Medium ruby with some sediment; musty, funky, (possibly corked?), mature big, tarry, leathery aroma with touches of spice, pepper, cinnamon, red currant, cherry, coconut, and mint; big, rich, ripe, extracted flavor has a slightly spicy, saccharin-like, or green quality; medium body; balance slightly flat; long slightly tannic finish (slightly bitter?). Drinks better than it smells.


This Panel included REGULARS Mark, Deanna, Glenn, Roy, Marlene, Jon, Ray, Jim, Ron, and James and GUESTS Kevin, Tammy, and Patrick
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