Well, I couldn’t wait to get to FedEx to pick up the swill. They said after 6:00 – I was there at 5:10. The wine was there at 5:45. On the way to FedEx, I stopped off at a local wine pusher named, I carp you negative, “Bueno Cheapo Vino”. There, I picked up a bottle of Stephen Vincent 2006 Sonoma County Pinot Noir (hereinafter sometimes referred to as “the cheap s**t”) for $13.99, which is one of two wines I wanted to taste along side the Kent Rasmussen Carneros 2006 Pinot Noir (hereinafter sometimes referred to as “the Rasmussen”). When I got home, I went into my cellar (okay, I went upstairs and opened the door on my Vinotemp 500EC, purchased 18 months ago from Costco) and pulled a bottle of the 2006 British Columbia Pinot Noir I made from an RJ Spagnols kit last fall (for lack of a better term, hereinafter referred to as my Days Delight – my fantasy winery label). While Kay, the love of my life, my wife of 29 years, and SWMBO, started making home-made pizza, I sat down with the three bottles, three identical and scrupulously clean glasses, and my cobbled-together home-built computer to write the undying prose that you are now reading.
Before opening the bottles, I let them all come to approximately the same temperature, which I think is around 68 degrees F. While I was waiting, I studied the bottles. The Rasmussen and the cheap s**t where both in classic Burgundy bottles as befits the wine, though the Rasmussen bottle was heavier and much darker. The Days Delight was in an inappropriate slate Bordeaux bottle, but had a much more attractive label (NOT SAFE FOR WORK). The Days Delight had a stated alcohol content of 12.9%, but I calculated that myself from hydrometer readings I made, and I only guarantee accuracy to about + or – 1%. The cheap s**t claimed 13.6% alchol and the Rasmussen weighed in at 13%. After admiring the labels for a while, I began to open the bottles. Here again, I noticed a distinct difference among the wines. All had foil toppers on the bottles, but the Days Delight had a cheap heat-shrink plastic “foil”, the cheap s**t had real foil, and the Rasmussen had a heavier gauge real foil. The Days Delight was stopped with an agglomerated cork; the cheap s**t also had an agglomerated cork, but with real cork slices on the ends to make it look more “real”; the Rasmussen had a natural cork imprinted with the winery name but – quality control issue here! – punched into the neck of the bottle a good 1/8th of an inch too far. That last almost spoiled the whole experience for me, but I soldiered on.
My initial tasting was only moments after drawing the corks. I poured a little of each into the identical glasses, letting it splash to aerate a little. When comparing color, all three had the distinctive light red Pinot Noir color and all were sparkling clear. The cheap s**t was slightly lighter in color than either of the others, which both appeared identical. Then, I swirled each glass and stuck my beak into each to sample the gaseous emissions. Here, my Days Delight really let me down. It had a pleasant enough smell, but was pretty non-descript and “weak” on the nose compared to the other two. The cheap s**t was distinctly red fruit to me – strawberries and raspberries come to mind – while the Rasmussen seemed a little darker – cherries and currants, perhaps. I got a little floral smell from the Rasmussen and the cheap s**t and mostly floral from the Days Delight.
In tasting, I decided to go with the Rasmussen first and last to see how it changed after trying the others. When it first went in my mouth, I had a distinct impression of sour red berries – not fully ripe red raspberries and pie cherries. It had distinctive and pleasant tannins and a moderately long finish, going toward vegetal and herbal as it faded. My over-all impression at this point was that it was a VERY good pinot – perhaps the best I’ve had, though I am pretty new to pinots and generally buy only inexpensive wines. It certainly held up to the best I tried in the Willamette Valley recently. The cheap s**t was also surprisingly good. It was perhaps a little harsher on the tongue and had more bitter herbiness to me, but was still a very good pinot. The Days Delight also ran. It was a bit flabby in comparison to the others and had little discernable distinctively pinot qualities, though it was thoroughly inoffensive and went down smoothly.
Okay, pizza’s done, so it’s off to the kitchen for further tasting…
Right! Well, I’m trying to give a fair taste test and comparison of three different wines. That requires frequent slurping, swishing and swallowing. Well, I suppose I could spit, but my momma taught me that spitting is really impolite and my daddy taught me to be way too cheap to throw away even bad … well, anything – certainly not wine; he was a tea-totaller. Okay, I was tempted to spit the Days Delight after awhile, but I cowboyed up and did my duty. Trouble is, I’m well in to three bottles of wine now and trying to write coherently. I take no responsibility for my typos and errors in etiquette or judgment from this point forward.
The pizza was a mild-flavored Canadian bacon, mushrooms, black olives and fresh onions. I spiced it up with a liberal sprinkling of red pepper flakes. This is the point where I was ready to spit the Days Delight. What was an inoffensive, easy drinking, non-descript wine had become really flabby and damned near tasteless. It’s only redeeming virtue was that it was alcoholic and thus could be expected to contribute to a convivial dinner, right up to the point when you’ve gone from happy to stupid. The cheap s**t, on the other hand, was a real treat. Whether from opening up as it aerated further or from the match with the food or both, the flavors became more distinctive. The acidity really worked well with the slight sweetness of the pizza sauce and the fruitiness was a nice counterpoint to the capsaicin in the pepper flakes. Definitely a wine for food! The Rasmussen was even better than the cheap s**t – though only by a hair. It had a similar flavor and mouth feel, but with a longer and slightly fruitier finish. Again, this is a wine that wants to hang out with a nice meal, and it would go with a wide variety of dishes. I am imagining it with chicken and dumplings and with barbecued salmon, both of which combinations are making my mouth water.
And here, I must digress. The lovely Kay is not a red wine drinker. She likes wine. Any kind of wine, so long as it is a special harvest Riesling or anything else that I might use in place of pancake syrup. I prevailed on her to sample the three wines just as she was finishing her pizza. She tried the Rasmussen first. Her assessment: “I don’t know what you want me to tell you. It’s awful!” After trying the cheap s**t, her opinion of the Rasmussen changed slightly – she noted that it had a longer, fruitier finish. When she tried the Days Delight, her glowing praise was that it is “the least offensive” of the three. Different strokes for different folks…
As a final challenge, I tasted all three wines with chocolate. At Christmas time, I bought a set of wine-pairing chocolates from Cost Plus. One of the chocolates, a 61% cocoa solids semisweet chocolate, was suggested for pairing with Pinot Noir or Merlot. Here is where I found the most difference between the cheap s**t and the Rasmussen. Both actually went with this chocolate very nicely – the sweetness was a nice counterpoint to the acidity of the wine and the bitterness of the chocolate really complemented the astringency of the wine. The Rasmussen outshone the cheap s**t, though, in that it had a much fuller, rounder, more robust overall taste. The Days Delight, on the other hand, had diminished beyond non-descript to the point of approaching gustatory non-existence.
Well, so much for the sensory qualities. Now, on to the scoring. My mind is well-enough lubricated at this point that I feel I can really express myself. It’s just a matter of choosing the most appropriate rating scale to appropriately convey my experience to the rest of you. Rather than choosing just one scale, I have decided to rate these wines on several different scales. Please choose the one that speaks to you.
On the two-point “Y” scale, my first impression was that all three wines scored identically as “yum” (as opposed to “yuck”). In the end, though, after the pizza and chocolate tests, I find this scale inadequate to the situation. The cheap s**t and the Rasmussen clearly are entitled to identical “yum” scores. The Days Delight, while not a “yuck”, does not deserve a yum, so I’d have to break the rules and modify the scoring to give it a “yum minus”.
On the Internet 5 Star rating scale, the Days Delight scores a clear three stars – “It’s Ok.” The cheap s**t and the Rasmussen again earn identical scores of 5 stars – “I Love It.”
On the 20-point Real World Model (French Higher Education), the Days Delight scores an 11 – “passable,” while the cheap s**t and the Rasmussen again earn identical scores of 17 – “tres bien.”
On the 20-point UC Davis scale, the Days Delight scores a 9 – the lowest score that meets commercial acceptability. The cheap s**t is a 17 – the lowest score for wines of outstanding characteristics with no defects. The Rasmussen edges it out by scoring an 18.
On the 100-point Robert Parker scale, the Days Delight scores a 63 – a below average wine containing noticeable deficiencies. (And I was so hoping to give myself a better score. Sigh.) The cheap s**t scores 89 points – a very good wine, just missing true distinction. The Rasmussen scores 91 points – a truly outstanding wine.
Finally, if not most importantly the open-ended f***ing scale. This is a sliding scale with a potentially infinite number of gradations, as each score is unique but must include the adjective, “f***ing”. The Days Delight scores, “f***ing nondescript, with no particular f***ing character, but f***ing easy to chug down and get s**t-faced on.” The cheap s**t scores “a real f***ing surprise – extremely high QPR; I’m going to f***ing buy a f***ing case of this s**t while they still have it.” The Rasmussen scores, “this is the best f***ing Pinot Noir I have had – even a cheap bast**d like me would be willing to shell out to put a few bottles of this in the cellar. Of course, I’m not going to f***ing serve it to my clueless friends who don’t know Chardonnay from f***ing Cabernet!”
There it is, my friends, and ahead of schedule! Buy and enjoy!
edit: added content warning to link