Two Oregon Pinots from TJ’s Go Head to Head

Fast facts:

  • 2017 Laurelwood Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon ($11.99 @Trader Joe’s,  California)
  • 2018 Firesteed Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon ($11.99 @Trader Joe’s,  California) 

 

Bottle and glass of Laurelwood Pinot Noir (left) and Firesteed Pinot Noir (right) - both from Trader Joe's
With all they have in common, you’d expect these two wines to taste very similar.  You’d be wrong.

 

Let’s talk about typicity.  

It’s a term used in wine tasting to describe the degree to which a wine reflects its varietal and regional origins and thus demonstrates the signature characteristics of the grape from which it was produced, e.g., how much a Merlot wine “tastes like a Merlot”.

Typicity (also referred to as typicality) may not concern the average wine drinker, who is mostly concerned merely that a wine tastes good, but it becomes important in wine judging, and – more importantly for wine consumers – wine criticism.

It becomes a factor in our assessment of these two Pinot Noirs from Oregon, both available at my Trader Joe’s for $11.99.  One of them “passes” the test of typicity, the other doesn’t. 

Why Should You Care?  Why You Should Care.

The bottom line is that judging a wine’s typicity helps wine consumers know what to expect when they purchase a wine.  For example, we often invoke the scores of wine critics employing a 100-point wine scale on this very blog.  Take this recent review of a 94-point Argentinean Malbec for example https://wp.me/p9ygim-sH

The value of a high score from critics (like us) and wine judges (ditto) is that it suggests that a wine will taste – in relative terms – like what you expect it to taste like. It becomes purchase decision support.  If you know you like Pinot Noir from Oregon’s Willamette Valley, you expect it to taste a certain way.  In other words, to have “typicity”. 

But a wine doesn’t always have “the right stuff”. 

Relating Typicity to this Wine Review

In the photo caption above, we tip you off to the fact that these wines don’t taste the same.  They’re not even close. This surprised us. After all, both are Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley. Both are $11.99.  The vintages are only a year apart, so that would not be expected to be a large factor.   

But they tasted nothing alike.  Only one tasted like it “should” taste, and that was the Laurelwood Pinot.  My wife may have summed it up best when she proclaimed that the Firesteed tasted “fake”.  Sad but true. This is a wine that I have liked in prior vintages, but this one tasted like is was made in a laboratory not a winery.  Call it the Impossible Pinot perhaps?

As you can see in the photo above, the Firesteed was much darker in the glass than a Willamette Pinot should be.  The Laurelwood, on the other hand, is the “right” color.  And the Laurelwood tastes like a Willamette Valley Pinot.   The Laurelwood, in other words, displays typicity. 

Whether that makes the Firesteed a “bad” wine is open to some debate (although to my palate it tasted like Robitusin cough syrup) as some criticize the whole notion of judging wines based upon typicity as elitist. Some have gone so far as to label it wine racism. 

But I think comparing and contrasting these two wines helps demonstrate why having a yardstick against which to measure wines is an important aid to wine consumers. That yardstick is what typicity is all about.

Contrasting Back Label Tasting Notes and Other Information

Sometimes you will find valuable information on a wine’s back label. I found the back labels on both of these two wines to be interesting:

Laurelwood:
“Silky, vibrant and complex, with hints of blackberry, cherry and currant. Balanced undertones of mineral characteristics on the finish. Aged in neutral French oak barrels. Crafted in small lots.”
Cellared and bottled by Laurelwood Winery, Silverton, OR

In the case of the Laurelwood, I thought this was a faithful description of the wine in the bottle. And I liked that they used neutral French Oak, as newer oak casks could overwhelm the delicate flavors of the Pinot.  “Small lots” is also a plus in my book.


Firesteed:
“Refreshing, easy to drink version of this cool climate Burgundian style wine, bright with exuberant cherry and berry fruit flavors and aromas.” 
Cellared and bottled by Firesteed Cellars, Hopland, CA

I would characterize this description as disingenuous and misleading, to put it mildly. This is most definitely not done in the Burgundian style, which would yield a wine that is lighter in color and flavor. Maybe it was that before it got buried in additives and enhancements like grape concentrates and (since the blend need only be 85% Pinot Noir to be called such) a big slug of a mystery grape, Syrah perhaps? The fact that it was “cellared and bottled in Hopland, CA – not Oregon – was a red flag in retrospect.

The Bottom Line on These Wines

I guess it will come as no surprise to learn that we preferred the Laurelwood Pinot Noir to the impostor Pinot from Firesteed. That is because not only is it the better wine, it has….

Say it with me….

Typicity.

Cheers!

 

 

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