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California Wine Club
The first month is free with The California Wine Club! It's a New Year, which means new resolutions to break and new wines to try! So if you've not yet joined The California Wine Club and not yet tried their selection of hard-to-find, award-winning wines there's no better time than now. Join now and your first month is free.
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In This Issue
 Pinot Grigio ... blindfolded
 California Wine Club
 Two California Wine Club Syrahs
 Support WineLoversPage.Com and the 30 Second Wine Advisor
 This week on
Last Week's Wine Advisor Index

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For all past editions,
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For information, E-mail

Pinot Grigio ... blindfolded

Pitino Grigio There is no better way to ensure objectivity in wine analysis than to taste wine "blind," and that goes double if you're as opinionated as I can be.

If you're at all inclined to disrespect a wine for humble origins or an industrial producer, or if you just can't help but feel an emotional attachment to a grape or region that you love, it's worth making the effort to jolt your preconceptions out of their familiar patterns by tasting the wine without knowing for certain what's in your glass.

The good folks at Louisville's In Town Winery, a new producer that's building a tasting room - and a growing reputation - in our city, recently made local headlines by bottling a white wine that honors a popular citizen: University of Louisville head basketball coach Rick Pitino, former coach of the archrival University of Kentucky Wildcats and the professional Boston Celtics.

Pitino, it is said, loves Italian wine, and In Town Winery plays to that strength with a Pinot Grigio that bears a (Louisville) Cardinal red label and the obvious moniker: Pitino Grigio.

Last week, In Town's affable president and wine master Leonard Olson, a respected Eastern U.S. wine maker who helped start Michigan's Tabor Hill Winery in 1972, invited a group of local wine experts (including your humble scribe) to participate in a "blind" tasting of commercial Pinot Grigios that included Pitino Grigio and a half-dozen other Italian and American wines made from the same grape, representing a range of retail prices from $8 to $24.

The tasting, in the white-tablecloth setting of Wellinghurst's Steakhouse at Louisville Slugger Field, was a straightforward "blind" arrangement: Each judge was presented a scoresheet and seven samples in unmarked glasses, lined up in order. Our job was to taste, evaluate and rate the wines. We would compare notes and calculate point totals, with the identity of each wine to be revealed only after we had committed ourselves.

The results were ... interesting ... and they clearly demonstrated how blind tasting makes judges honest.

As it turned out, the most expensive wine in the group - Santa Margherita 2002 Valdadige Pinot Grigio from Italy ($24) - earned by far the worst rating. I have always considered this wine overpriced, but frankly didn't expect it to show as poorly as it did, reeking of funky cheese and dirty socks, prickly with a hint of an unwanted secondary fermentation in the bottle; a wine so unpleasant that it was difficult to taste it.

My top rating, conversely - an opinion that the group consensus shared - was a wine I would not have expected to like. MacMurray Ranch 2001 Russian River Valley Pinot Grigio ($17), a product of industrial-scale Gallo and a distinctly oaky brew, nonetheless showed color, body and attractive complexity that made it stand out among its competitors. Pitino Grigio, happily for its producers, fared decently, finishing safely in the middle of a tightly-spaced pack of also-rans and gaining judges' praise as a particularly good value for its $12 price tag, the second-least-expensive wine in the group.

In Town Winery, by the way, is the beneficiary of a $300,000 loan from a state fund that uses tobacco-settlement money to foster economic-development projects that will help tobacco farmers find profitable alternatives. Although In Town's current wines are all made by blending and bottling finished wines from other regions (Pitino Grigio is made from a blend of California and Washington State grapes), it is committed to purchase and use as much Kentucky-grown fruit as possible at the winery and tasting room it is building near the Ohio River waterfront in the city's bustling East Main Street district. Website:

Pitino Grigio is sold only in Kentucky but is widely available in Louisville-area wine shops and restaurants. All proceeds from its sale are to be donated to the Daniel Pitino Shelter in Owensboro, Ky., which feeds and houses indigent people. The shelter and its foundation are named after Pitino's infant son, who died in 1987.

Here's a quick summary of my notes from the "blind" tasting, listed in the order of my preference, tasted first alone and then with bites of mild Swiss-type cheese, notes taken before the wine's identities were revealed. Prices are the actual retail paid by the organizers at three local shops.

MacMurray Ranch 2001 Russian River Valley California Pinot Grigio ($17) - Good color, a little more "gris" than most of its paler companions. Citrus and melon aromas, a whiff of tangerine peel adds complexity. Mouth-filling and forward, more round and full than the rest; oak may contribute to that, but it's handled well, leaving fruit in the foreground. Good wine, works well with cheese. I rated this wine 16 on a 20 point scale; the group's total rating was 108 of a possible 120.

Albino Armani 2002 Valdadige Italy Pinot Grigio ($15) - Golden color, darkest of the group. Melon and citrus aromas, snappy citrus flavor, fruity, perhaps very slightly sweet, but good, crisp acidity provides balance. Good match with a bite of mild Swiss cheese, which brings out a floral note in the wine. My rating 15/20, group 90/120.

Doro Polencic 2001 Collio Italy Pinot Grigio ($15) - Fresh apple and pear scents. Good snap, structure and balance. Seems a little softer with cheese than on its own. My rating 14/20, group 96/120.

Pitino Grigio 2002 American Pinot Grigio ($12) - Appley, light, fresh and delicate. Simple and straightforward on the palate, shows slight sweetness balanced by crisp acidity. Clean, fresh, OK with the cheese, could be a good food wine. My rating 13.5/20, group 91.5/120.

J Wine 2002 Russian River Valley California Pinot Grigio ($18) - Pale color. Slight musky melon scent. Simple, neutral fruit flavor, citric lemon-lime. Clean finish. Depth and balance seem to improve a little with cheese. My rating 12.5/20, group 105/120.

Ecco Domani 2002 delle Venezie Italy Pinot Grigio ($8) - Pale color but there's a hint of golden hue. Fresh, pleasant but faint aromas; vinous and neutral flavor. Not a contender. My rating 10/20, group 93/120.

Santa Margherita 2002 Valdadige Italy Pinot Grigio ($24) - Funky aromas, cheesy, sweaty socks, unpleasant. Flavor the same, "dirty" and displeasing, a touch of prickliness on the tongue. Cheese actually makes it worse by highlighting the funky flavors. Bad wine. My rating 6/20, group 64/120.

Talk about these wines - or about the art and science of "blind" tasting - in an interactive, international online discussion on our Wine Lovers' Discussion Group, where today's article is featured at

If you prefer to comment privately, feel free to send me E-mail at I'm sorry that the overwhelming amount of mail I receive makes it tough to respond personally every time, but I do try to get back to as many as I can.

California Wine Club

California Wine Club

The first month is free with The California Wine Club!

It's a New Year, which means new resolutions to break and new wines to try! So if you've not yet joined The California Wine Club and not yet tried their selection of hard-to-find, award-winning wines there's no better time than now. Join now and your first month is on them ... that's right, your first month is free.

There are certain restrictions, such as age, a valid credit card and they would like you to stay for a minimum of three paid months. Your shipments can arrive monthly, bi-monthly or even quarterly. A schedule that flexible would fit it to any New Year's resolution!

Just $32.95 per month plus shipping. Each two-bottle shipment also comes with an informative - yet entertaining - 8-page newsletter, Uncorked. Call 1-800-777-4443 or click to

Collector or Connoisseur? Ask about their Signature Series program ... they'll give you three bottles for the price of two in your first shipment!

Now, for today's tastings, let's take a quick look at a couple of recent California Wine Club selections that I have particularly enjoyed.

Baileyana Baileyana 2001 Paso Robles Syrah

Very dark garnet in color, this big red is very dark garnet in color, with a classic Syrah aroma of plums and fresly ground black pepper. Warm and plummy fruit on the palate adds a dash of pepper for flavor interest, and there's ample fresh-fruit acidity to hold it together. Approachable and easy sipping, a brilliant match with hearty beef short ribs; it holds promise for still more with a little cellar time. (Jan. 4, 2004)
For information on availability and pricing, contact California Wine Club at 1-800-777-4443.

Angeline Angeline 2000 Central Coast Syrah

This very dark reddish-purple wine breathes delicious scents of plums and pepper with a back note of dark chocolate. Ripe, juicy and full, it almost seems sweet on the first impression, with good lemon-squirt acidity to provide structure. Sweet black fruit and a whiff of bittersweet chocolate linger in the finish, leaving a pleasant, warming impression that almost evokes the aftertaste of Ruby Port. It made a natural match with a rare grilled ribeye steak. (Dec. 8, 2003)
For information on availability and pricing, contact California Wine Club at 1-800-777-4443.

Support and the 30 Second Wine Advisor

In the wine business? Why pay the big bucks for print media or television when there's no quicker, better or more efficient way to deliver a wine-related message to wine lovers around the world than an advertising "sponsorship" on

From a quick, simple text message in The 30 Second Wine Advisor to Web "banner" advertising or even an intense, saturation campaign reaching millions of wine-savvy readers, offers programs to meet the needs of wine businesses both large and small, with rates and effectiveness that the competition can't match.

Sponsorships range from as little as $100 a month for starter programs to saturation campaigns that can reach 1 million readers or more. For more information, write me today at

This week on

Here are links to some of our recently published articles and features that I hope you'll enjoy:

Nat Decants: A Thirst for Knowledge
To learn about wine, the wine maker/author Alexis Lichine said, "there's no substitute for popping corks." While nothing replaces tasting wine, you can deepen your understanding by reading about wine. Where to start depends on your goal, writer Natalie MacLean says. Here's a library shelf filled with quick capsule reviews of her favorite wine books:

Dave McIntyre's WineLine: Reacquiring South America
South America has been popping up on writer Dave McIntyre's radar again, and far from heading away it was coming in for a landing. Before he pilots this metaphor into the ground, Dave gets to the point in "Reacquiring South America:"
Plus, in a bonus edition for the New Year, Dave profiles Ann Cashion, one of Washington, D.C,'s favorite chefs:

Wine Lovers' Discussion Group: What's your "comfort wine"?
You know the wine. The one you turn to when you've had a particularly frustrating day at work, or just come back from two weeks on the road. What wine is it that helps you put everything back in perspective when you put on your tiger slippers and sit down in that old, comfy armchair? Jenise Stone's thought-provoking question is currently one of the busiest topice in our interactive online discussion forum. Read the posts, and join in:

Last Week's Wine Advisor Index

The Wine Advisor's daily edition is usually distributed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (and, for those who subscribe, the FoodLetter on Thursdays). Here's the index to last week's columns:

 Introducing Burgundy: Meursault (Jan. 16, 2004)

 Meet Jancis Robinson (Jan. 14, 2004)

 Two excellent whites (Jan. 12, 2004)

 Complete 30 Second Wine Advisor archive:

 Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Duck! (Jan. 15, 2004)

 Wine Advisor Foodletter archive:


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All the wine-tasting reports posted here are consumer-oriented. In order to maintain objectivity and avoid conflicts of interest, I purchase all the wines I rate at my own expense in retail stores and accept no samples, gifts or other gratuities from the wine industry.

Monday, Jan. 19, 2004
Copyright 2004 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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