We started off 2024 with our third War of the Central Coast Pinot Noirs blind tasting, a topic we last covered in November 2017. This time, we had a unanimous winner, an occurrence that seems to be less frequent these days, with a bottle that showed some age and evolution.

Everyone agreed on the best wine of the night, but we also agreed that all of the entries were enjoyable. There was a good range in prices, producers, and vintages, making it even more interesting to compare.

Photography by Andy.

First Place:  Samsara Pinot Noir 2019 (Sta. Rita Hills). We correctly identified this as being older, showing an evolved color, along with rather autumnal, woodsy scents of fall crushed leaves, underbrush, and black tea. One taster noted that it "smells warm", while another was reminded of "hairdryer". Others found scents of thyme, peach skin, brown sugar/molasses, chalk, cinnamon, and dried blueberry. The palate tasted of some age, in a mellowed sort of way, with flavors of smoldering campfire, dried fruits, dried citrus peel, dried cranberries, and sage leaves. Elegant. Matt noted that it "still tastes a lot like it smelled", while Diana felt that "it's telling the same story." Beautiful, and long on finish. Everyone's favorite of the night, for a total of 36 points. Kristin's bottle. About $40.

Second Place:  Hitching Post Pinot Noir Hometown 2020 (Central Coast). Showed some hints of brown in color. Tasters found powdery scents of baby's breath flowers, geranium, Necco wafers, and cornstarch, with a hint of cardboard. A pronounced eucalyptus flavor in the mouth, along with cherries, seaweed, licorice, pine, and the skins of fruit. Richer in mouthfeel, but also had matched acidity and tannin. 22 points. Ali's bottle. About $25.

Third Place:  Brewer-Clifton Pinot Noir 2022 (Sta. Rita Hills). A darker, mysterious nose, featuring notions of iodine, seaweed, soy sauce, shitake mushroom, jasmine, musk, and cured black olives. Heavy on the oily/salty/umami scents. Flavors included a black pepper and saline note that matched the nose, plus black fruit and tobacco. Showed more acidity than many of the others, but also a longer finish. 17 points. David's bottle. About $60.

Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir 2022 (Santa Barbara County). Pomegranate in color, with scents of cherries, sand, dried eucalyptus, high tide, wood, and orange peel. Also salty and herbaceous on the nose, and not a ton of fruit, with light smokiness. Andy decided on "wet campfire." Great texture, with ripe black cherry and blueberry flavors, though it falls a little flat at the end, where some old tobacco and red apple skin flavors emerge. Approachable. Diana was reminded of "Fanny Price of Jane Austin." 5 points. Andy's bottle. About $25.

La Crema Pinot Noir 2022 (Monterey). A little dirty on the nose, not unlike a public restroom with a hint of cleanser, plus smoke, super glue, rubber tire, chocolate, and pine sap. Andy was reminded of "funnel cake", in the portable restroom way. Robust on the attack, with cocoa, cherry, coffee, Dr. Pepper, and forest floor flavors, but not a long finish, where some pine and licorice notes show up. 4 points. Diana's bottle. About $20.

Estancia Pinot Noir 2021 (California). This bottle technically did not qualify, since it carries the generic California appellation (it previously came from Monterey), but was still interesting as a comparison, having candied, grapey scents of Jolly Rancher and watermelon Bubbalicious. Smelled like an artificial flavorant, but also had notions of beach sand and wet stone. The palate featured notions of cherry cola, Dr. Pepper, Red Hots, bacon grease, Robitussin, and Luden's cough drops. No points. Matt's bottle. About $15.

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