The Wine Idiot Reviews: A to Z Pinot Noir, 2014 ($13.99)
(A quick note about the picture above: Yes, that is a Starbucks gingerbread store. See, I'm sort of a gingerbread house aficionado, and I also used to work at Starbucks--and once a partner, always a partner. So my brother saw this at Starbucks and bought it for me and it was put together the next day because I do not mess around with Christmas.)
OK, so I splurged a little on a wine I already knew I liked. My brother Patrick and his fiancé Jon were coming over for steak night, which is when they bring over filet mignon and I provide the wine and the grill and then we all eat on the coffee table like college students instead of at my very grown-up table that can expand to seat up to six. Go figure.
So they wanted to start with a cheese plate comprised of brie, Humboldt Fog, and my trusty 3-cheese Spanish cheese sampler from TJ's. While I know conventional wisdom dictates a white to go with a cheese plate, they wanted a red. Pinot noir seemed like a good compromise--not heavy, not sweet, with just enough kick to clean your palate with every sip.
The A to Z Pinot Noir had been recommended to me years ago by a coworker who takes his wine seriously (he even makes his own!), but I only recently started seeing it at Trader Joe's. And, if memory serves, the price point is about the same that I paid at whatever wine store I got it from a few years back. So this isn't one of those screaming hot deals on a brand-name wine, it's just convenient that you can now get this at TJ's.
It was as good as I remembered it. Smells fruity almost but not super sweet, and surprisingly I couldn't smell alcohol. And the first quaff was smooth, light, and dry--just like I like pinot noir. It's a teensy-weensy bit mouth-puckering at the end, but in a good way. Tannins, right? I think so. I asked Jon and Patrick what they thought; Jon said "tart," and Patrick said "tastes like plum." At first I was like "oh noooooo, so wrong," because fruity is not what I would call the dominant element in this wine. But he fought back and said, "yeah, like a black plum that's not quite ripe." And instantly I flashed back to the last time I bought unripe black plums from Ralph's--I was upset because instead of crazy-sweet, dripping red flesh inside, it was crisp and tart. Still tasted like plum, but with lots of mouth-puckering. And I gotta hand it to him, Patrick is totally right on this. If I was going to describe this as tasting like any fruit, I would say it has a firm touch of unripe plum.
This wasn't great with the brie, it was tasty with the Spanish cheeses, and it was UNBELIEVABLY FUCKING AWESOME with the Humboldt Fog. If you've never had this divine cheese, I can't really explain it so here's Wikipedia: "Humboldt Fog is a mold-ripened cheese with a central line of edible white ash much like Morbier. The cheese ripens starting with the bloomy mold exterior, resulting in a core of fresh goat cheese surrounded by a runny shell. As the cheese matures, more of the originally crumbly core is converted to a soft-ripened texture. The bloomy mold and ash rind are edible but fairly tasteless. The cheese is creamy, light, and mildly acidic with a stronger flavor near the rind." It's soft and almost sticky, and it coats your mouth with delicious cheesy-ness. Which is where the wine comes in--it cleans everything off, and the flavors complement each other wonderfully. 10/10 would recommend.
What the bottle says: "The Essence of Oregon."
What the Wine Idiot says: Incidentally, I grew up in Oregon, but I never drank a sip of wine until I moved to California. But it does NOT taste like pine needles and mud, which is the TRUE essence of Oregon, so I gotta disagree.
Who's responsible for this? "Produced & Bottled by A to Z Wineworks"
Do I need a corkscrew? No! Dunno why, but this baby is a screwtop.
What do smarter people say about it? Well, I don't have much for you, I'm sorry to say. On the one hand, Wine Enthusiast was really mean about the 2013 vintage: "Light, earthy and thin, this doesn't bring much in the way of either fruit or pleasure. Tannins are substantial, which may be a plus if you want to pair it with a burger." Truth is, I totally agree with "light, earthy and thin," but like in a GREAT way.
My perennial question is whether reviews of a previous vintage can be extrapolated in ANY way to later vintages (the one I had is a 2014). So then I stumbled across this post on the Costco Wine Blog; published in 2015, they compared the 2012 and 2013 vintages of A to Z Pinot Noir and found quite a few differences. Soooo...maybe Wine Enthusiast would have a different take on the 2014. Who knows.
The big takeaway for me here is that you can find A to Z Pinot Noir at Costco, but it's $2 cheaper at Trader Joe's!
Should I bring it to a friend's house? Well clearly not if your friend writes for Wine Enthusiast. But I highly recommend you bring it, a baguette, and a wedge of Humboldt Fog. No one will hate you.