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2020 Pinot Noir All-Americans

It has become an annual tradition to name the best Pinot Noir performers of the year as “All-Americans.” I have been proclaiming All-Americans from the array of Pinot Noir wines from California and Oregon since 2004. With each passing year, this has become more of a challenge since the bounty of stellar Pinot Noir wines has steadily increased, a testimony to the cadre of passionate winegrowers and winemakers who have successfully corralled the temperamental nature of Pinot Noir.

The All-Americans are selected not only for their fruity and flirty New World hedonism and description-defying sensuality, but also for the emotion they illicit. The All-Americans have a powerful charisma that is hard to describe. Another factor that comes into play in the decision-making process is distinctiveness. Many Pinot Noir wines taste the same and I look for uniqueness.

There are a number of steps I take to arrive at the wines I recommend in the PinotFile each year. I do not taste the wines blind but strive for integrity, consistency and objectivity. There are two important reasons I do not taste blind. First, I prefer to evaluate wines in the same manner as the consumer experiences them. Second, an essential part of judging wine is to know what you are drinking. I tend to focus on current drinkability since most consumers drink their Pinot Noir wines relatively young. I most appreciate wines that are at or close to their best the days I taste them. That said, credence is given age-ability particularly in the context of balance. If a wine is balanced when I taste it young, it is almost certain to hold up for several years. A wine that is out of balance initially will never become balanced over time.

The All-American Pinot Noir wines are judged on merit, independent of price, style, vintage or region of origin, and are listed by scores, beginning with the top-scoring wines. Since I was “semi-retired” in 2020, I tasted fewer wines and the list of All-Americans including Oregon will be shorter.

I taste Pinot Noir in a consistently calm setting in my home office in the late morning. The wines are brought directly from my cellar and are tasted over an hour or two after opening at 63ºF in a relaxed, quiet atmosphere. I usually taste 6 or 7 wines at a time. I give the wines adequate time to open up and make several passes as I taste and spit each wine. Occasionally, I will decant a wine if the winemaker recommends it or if this will benefit the evaluation. I use wither Riedel Vinum Burgundy or Riedel Oregon Pinot Noir glasses exclusively. Often I will re-taste the wines briefly later the same day with dinner to replicate the consumer’s drinking experience, and or the following day from an opened and re-corked bottle. The latter helps to indicate quality and balance and an estimate of longevity.

I have no monetary arrangement with any winegrower, winery, winemaker, retailer or wholesaler and accept no advertising. I review mostly wines sent to me for review, but some are purchased directly from wineries or retailers. I do not charge wineries for inclusion of reviews in the PinotFile.

The All-American awards are unique in that the winners include trophy and cult Pinot Noir wines that are infrequently if ever, reviewed by major wine publications or wine competition tasting panels. If there is an All- American Pinot Noir you can’t obtain, keep in mind that there will always be another vintage. The wine may not be the same song, but it will be the same composer. Membership on winery mailing lists and in winery wine clubs are both essential methods of insuring the acquisition of a producer’s coveted Pinot Noir wines.

For the Pinot Noir wines that were left out of the awards this year, the words of Mark Twain ring true, “It is better to deserve honors and not have them than to have them and not deserve them.”

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