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2002 Castle Rock Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley

I really enjoy blind tastings -- it's amazing how much a known name can really prejudice anyone's reading of a wine, even despite our best attempts at objectivity. Last night I sat down with 5 winemakers for a blind tasting of 8 California Pinot Noirs over $20. The host, a good friend of mine, threw in one "ringer" -- he wouldn't tell us what kind of ringer it was, but we were on the lookout for a different varietal or two-buck-chuck. The results after a couple hours of careful tasting? Most of us (but to be fair, not all) had gravitated to one wine which, although it was not in the style that most of us preferred for California Pinot, it was the best integrated and most drinkable wine in the group.

Which one did we pick ? The $9 ringer.

We were all floored. This little winery which buys grapes in bulk and has a consultant winemaker had leveled the competition, which included wines from names like Siduri, Dehlinger, Seasmoke, Hartford Court, and Williams-Selyem. Not only that, but some of those wines, at least one of which is going for $120ish at auction right now, tasted downright bad.

Castle Rock is a great find, and an incredible value, if you like the more fruit forward style of California Pinot, a la the Paul Hobbs I reviewed earlier in the week.

Tasting Notes:
Bright ruby in color, the wine makes a clear, bright impression in the glass with a big nose of chocolate, black cherry and cola. It feels very round in the mouth with light cranberry, bigger cherry, and hints of plum flavors. The finish is clean, albeit a little short.

Food Pairing:
All of us agreed that this was a wine that was probably better appreciated on its own, or with some soft cheeses, rather than the standard fare you might put with a Pinot. Because of its fruit you might want to treat it more like a Syrah or Zinfandel and drink it with some grilled meats or even BBQ. My recommendation for the day is beef and andouille sausage burgers with asiago cheese.

Overall Score: 9

How much?: $9

You can buy this wine at lots of places -- supermarkets (e.g. Andronicos) and online.

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