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Tuesday Tributes
Pinot Noir Wins The Fourth of July Shootout

By Charles Olken

Let the world have its County Fairs. I have the Fourth of July Shootout. And this year, the results are in. Pinot Noir bested Zinfandel, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon in that order.

Put in pseudo-scientific terms, the Fourth of July Shootout is a consumer-based tasting of wines across a broad spectrum. Every wine tasted is personally selected by yours truly from wines that have been recommended in Connoisseurs’ Guide. They are poured for a cross-section of regular wine drinkers and the winner is determined by that most precise of methodologies—which bottle gets emptied first.

I assemble this same panel every year on the Fourth of July in the afternoon, after the great Alameda parade has passed by, for the express purpose of consuming great quantities of beef. I would love to tell you more about the great Alameda parade (it lasted an hour and a half this year), but what is there to say about a parade of flatbed trucks with high school bands, children in every sporting uniform that appears here on our island in the Bay and new Mercedes convertibles with every possible politician waving to crowds and no one really paying attention to them. I took all this in with a glass of decent bubbly in my hand, and that glass of bubbly made things a lot more palatable—so to speak.

I try to avoid the parade most years, but even a curmudgeon has to get out once in a while and sit there whilst half of Alameda parades by for ninety minutes and the other half lines the sidewalks. No one is excused. But, giving credit where credit is due, the parade does a decent job of working up an appetite for the long-cooked proteins that are about to follow.

This year, it was friend Joe who was doing the cooking and he had his own parade—of marinated tri-tips just waiting to be called into action. The Olkens do the cooking for this event every few years, and we specialized in 24-hour brisket that imitates the incredible barbecued brisket we found in Austin, Texas hill country years ago courtesy of the Salt Lick Restaurant.

But cooking for the Shootout is only an occasional thing. Providing the wine is where the Olkens really shine. And it is in the measurements of wine consumed that the Shootout provides perhaps the finest test of consumer sentiment this side of the Pedernales.

In past years, such events have seen Pinot Grigio inexplicably best all of the reds. This year, we could not give the stuff away. Cabernet Sauvignon is often the big winner, and that is to be expected because we make more Cabernet here than any other red wine, and every wine on the Fourth has already been certified recommendable by the pros. The problem is that the pros on our tasting panel may know what the wine geeks like, but they are often out of touch with the ordinary punters.

On the Fourth, at the Shootout, with its assemblage of friends and neighbors, there are no pros out there to skew the results. These folks are drinkers, not geeks, and what they drink always fascinates the hell out of me. This year, it was the Pinot Noir—Stemmler Russian River to be exact—that took top honors. I am not one for Zin with beef, even marinated beef, but the Novy Zinfandel was the second fastest consumed bottle while the Rock Syrah came third and, to my surprise, Prevail West Face Cabernet, a great bottle by my lights, brought up the rear.

Here is my quick analysis of the results:

--Pinot Noir has surpassed Cabernet as the “go to” wine for this crowd. Indeed, several folks commented that it was because it was a Russian River Pinot that it was so well liked. It is worth noting that no one complained about an alcohol level above 14%. These were drinkers, not geeks from New York, Burgundy aficionados or sommeliers.

--I wondered, because the Cab was from the Alexander Valley, whether its appellation held folks back. They may not really know where the Alexander Valley is (one person insisted that it was where Boonville was until it was pointed out that he was confusing the Alexander Valley with the Anderson Valley), but they do all know about Napa Valley. Was there a snobbism factor at work here?

--It struck me that most people tasting these wines had not heard of any of them. No one knew, for example, that Novy is the label used by Siduri for wines not made from Pinot Noir. From past experience, I know that several of these folks swoon at the mere thought of Siduri Pinot. Novy? Who dat?

Well, it’s Tuesday morning and it’s back to work. Blind tasting and serious tasting notes will follow. But for a brief bit yesterday, it was the consumers who spoke. Ultimately, it is their voices that make or break the wine biz, and Fourth of July Shootout rates right up there with that other event “What White Wines Compete With The Egg Nog” at the neighborhood Christmas party as a measure of what the real world is drinking.


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go Pinot!
by John
Posted on:7/5/2011 10:06:53 AM

Always loved the Stemmler Pinot: year after year it has been varietally-correct, balanced and a great value. Nothing flashy or over-the-top, consistently delicious, and usually lacking the taste of wet cardboard that is the hallmark for me of most early released California Pinot. I don't know how much they make these days, but it still seems like an artisanal product.

Loved the alcohol comment. I finally have had a couple people taste with me who have asked about alcohol levels. How could I not? given that our core consumer demographic does read about wine, and so many "geeks from New York, Burgundy aficionados [and] sommeliers" have been making such a fuss. I've got a post in prep about it, but long story short - even the people who are askign me about alcohol levels are still buying our over-14% wines after they taste them and we talk about why the levels are what they are.

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