My Pinot Year WEEK 2: SAN DIEGO UBER ALLES: Industrial Pinot

Posted: January 20, 2010 in Pinot

By some stroke of dumb luck I happened upon tickets to the San Diego Charger’s AFC playoff game against the New York Jets last weekend. Those who know me understand my deep love for the game of American football and total disrespect for any other organized sport.

But football fandom is not an easy life in the off-season. Which is why I flew at the chance for the tickets. Being there, live, is just as cathartic as Greek tragedy, and ten times as fun. It celebrates everything GREAT and RIGHT in the American experience.

Football. Food. And Beer.

But wait a second—in My Pinot Year, could I handle football without beer?

Well it’s not like I was stuck in Indiana or Wisconsin. This was California, the most wine-tastic of all 50 states. So why shouldn’t football and pinot mix?

Okay, so maybe it wouldn’t be the BEST in the world, but chances are the stadium would have some, right? There was only one way to find out.

So I spent the weekend trying “Industrial Pinot,” the mass-produced stuff most likely to appear at casual eateries and (hopefully) stadiums. For you beer drinkers out there, think Budweiser with a cork.

I used no scientific method. Instead my prerequisite was that it had to be the cheapest (or in many cases only) pinot offered. Each bottle sampled fell into the “Under $20” range and half were ten bucks or less.

The night before the game the Girlfriend and I mapped out our attack plan at Mo’s, a local restaurant. They featured a 2008 Sonoma Castle Rock Pinot Noir so I asked for a glass.

The label promised “aromas of red fruit.” So what, like communist fruit? Apples are red. Raspberries are red. Tomatoes are red. And they’re all fruit. It also promised, “…flavors of plum and cherry with oak nuances, and the finish is long and harmonious.”

Oooooh, harmonious!

I knew tasting this I’d be one step closer to nirvana.

The nose had some earthiness to it, wood, and a little cherry too I guess. Tasting it backed up what I smelled, but didn’t give much of anything else. It felt two-dimensional.

Nirvana would have to wait.

Up at six a.m. we made it to San Diego and spent the morning at McGregor’s Alehouse, a pub/restaurant walking distance to Qualcomm Stadium, home of the Chargers. Fortunately they offered a pinot noir and within seconds of sitting down I ordered two. The Girlfriend had a mimosa.

The pinot—called Aquinas—was an improvement. Again with the cherry and the wood, but overall it was more balanced. It wasn’t fantastic, but it did pair well with everything I ate: a fully-loaded omelet, cheese-topped potatoes, teriyaki wings, the corned beef on rye and coleslaw, and a chophouse salad.

Eating is vital when sampling wine; if you don’t fill your stomach with food the wine will turn you sideways way too soon. So you’ll get drunk, which is great I guess, but you also won’t recall what was good and what wasn’t.

With two hours to kickoff the girlfriend and I headed to the stadium: I still had to find out if Qualcomm even sold pinot.

When we found our seats I heard good news: the stadium did have a full bar where I might have some luck. Of course it had to be the absolute furthest point from where we were seated, so I decided to make my move. The Girlfriend (wisely) decided to hold down the fort.

I worked my way through the mass of fans, down four floors and around the circumference of the arena. Finally I made it to Murphy’s, Qualcomm’s lounge, and a massive line.

It was the first time in my life I found a bar with all the aesthetic beauty of a US Post Office. It’s not like I expected Cheers, but man, everything about the place said, “You are not here to have fun. Pay and get out.”

Among the booze on the bar I saw a Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend, and there was a third bottle I couldn’t read. I was getting disheartened. What if there was no pinot? Was this slog in vain?

Would I have to order an O’Douls?

At the head of the line I said to the cashier, “I know this is a dumb question, but do you have any pinot noir?”

I was blown away when she said, “Of course.”

In fact I was so blown away I completely forgot to read the bottle to write down any vital statistics. By the time I was through paying she was already with the next customer. I didn’t even get the name of the winery.

So I’ll make up a name for it. A lot of wineries use nature-y outside-y words like creek or glen or valley. And they usually combine it with some other word that captures the effort made in crafting their product.

So let’s call it Turd Creek. Because it was by far the worst pinot of the weekend. It tasted more like a chore than anything else. An $8.75 chore.

I made it back to my seat without spilling two glasses all over myself. The Girlfriend agreed with my assessment and said, “I’m not drinking that crap. Hurry and finish it so we can try this,” and pulled something out of her purse: my 16oz. REI plastic flask filled to the brim with pinot.

“How did you manage that?” I asked.

“When the security guard is checking your purse, you just have to say ‘tampons,’ and he hands it right back to you. Works every time!”

My beautiful genius.

I choked down the Turd Creek and we tried the contraband, Estancia’s 2007 Monterey County Pinot Noir—the clear winner for the weekend.

Unfortunately I could not say the same for my Chargers. They fell to the Jets 17-14.

Industrial Pinot—or rather our general idea of Industrial Pinot—can be summed up in a few descriptive words; light red, flavor of cherry and some wood in there too. And all the pinots I tried over the weekend covered that ground, more or less.

It’s like if you tell a room of kindergarteners, “Draw me a flower in a pot,” you’re going to get more or less the same thing from every one of them, and you can be sure that none of it will be brilliant. But that’s okay because they’re kids. They don’t know better and they’re doing the best they can.

Whereas with pinot, they were all made by grown-ups who SHOULD know better, and if this is the best they can do, well, maybe they should go back to kindergarten.

One or two held up, but that shouldn’t be enough. Even though taste is subjective, there is a point where something is just plonk.

But if people keep buying crap, who’s going to stop industrial wineries from pooping in bottles?

Test drive your wines. When you find garbage, send threatening letters to any winemaker foolish enough to make himself a target. Who cares if that might be “illegal” or “against the law.” If the industry won’t regulate itself, it’s our duty as drinkers to do it for them.

God I miss beer.

Castle Rock 2008 Pinot Noir Sonoma; flat, unbalanced
Aquinas 2007 Pinot Noir Napa; some basic structure
Turd Creek 2008 Pinot Noir California; BOO!
Estancia 2007 Pinot Noir Monterey County; not too shabby.

  1. The Bin End says:

    I wonder what kind of Pinot Mark Sanchez drank after the game. Prolly just some measley ,07 mailing list only Pinot. Or maybe even Grand Cru. Jokes on him I say.

  2. Chris says:

    dear sir,
    i'm not convinced you're not drinking bar or dry martini's in a van down by the river!

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