What Am I Tasting?

This sleek wine is filled with rich red fruit, mineral, spice and herb notes ... Play the game!

February 18, 2022

Our blind tasting game—without the tasting! Can you identify a wine just by reading its tasting note? We post real Wine Spectator reviews. You use clues such as color, aromas, flavors and structure to figure out the grape, age and origin. Good luck!

Tasting Note: Sleek and fine-textured, this is filled with a rich medley of red berry and dried cherry flavors that show hints of citrus zest. The minerally finish is pure and direct, with notes of dried green herbs and cooking spices.

And the answer is...


Our sleek and fine-textured wine displays dried red fruit and citrus zest flavors accented by mineral, herb and spice notes. Let’s narrow our choices.

We can start by eliminating Mourvèdre, which makes full-bodied reds with high levels of rich tannins and dark fruit, pepper, chocolate and meat notes.

Syrahs can show our wine’s mineral and herb accents. But we would expect more body and higher levels of bold tannins from a Syrah. Let’s move on.

Agiorgitikos offer spice accents and moderate levels of tannins, but these wines also tend to have dark and blue fruit flavors with hints of pepper.

Carmenères can display rich red fruit, herb and baking spice notes. While this sounds right, our mystery wine is missing Carmenère’s hallmark savory and vegetal notes, such as green bell pepper, which come from the grape’s high levels of pyrazine compounds. Maybe another grape works better?

Pinot Noir can produce sleek wines with red fruit and zest flavors accented by herb, mineral and spice notes. This sounds closest to the mark.

This wine is a Pinot Noir.

Country or Region of Origin

Although it can be a challenging grape for winemakers, Pinot Noir has grown in popularity over the past few decades in regions across the globe. However, as Pinot Noir prefers cooler climates, it would be difficult to find it growing in Spain. A few producers are harvesting Pinot Noir in Washington, but the grape isn’t nearly as significant there as varieties like Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. While there are several wineries bottling Pinot Noirs in Greece, indigenous red grapes like Agiorgitiko and Xinomavro still dominate there. Pinot Noir is native to France, where world-class versions can yield earthy, floral, minerally and savory notes. They contrast with styles from California, which tend to show richer fruit and spice notes. California Pinot Noir sounds like the right call.

This Pinot Noir is from California.


We know that our Pinot Noir is from California, so we can eliminate France’s Cahors, Washington’s Columbia Valley, Greece’s Naoussa and Spain’s Rueda. This leaves us with two California appellations: Russian River Valley and Sierra Foothills. Eastern California’s Sierra Foothills region is known for red grapes like Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah; Pinot Noir doesn’t have a strong foothold there. But Pinot Noir is the premier red grape in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley AVA.

This Pinot Noir is from Russian River Valley.


While our Pinot Noir isn’t showing any signs of significant age, such as mushroom and leather notes, its spice and dried fruit notes likely indicate some barrel and bottle age. Keeping in mind that many California producers age their Pinot Noirs before release, often for up to two years, let’s look at the Golden State’s most recently released vintages to figure out our wine’s age.

Moderate weather conditions in 2019 yielded Pinot Noirs with finesse, some structure and minerally, herbaceous accents. Pinot Noir’s key regions experienced nearly perfect conditions in 2018, producing full-fruited wines with crisp acidity and savory, earthy accents. Spring rains and a warm summer were followed by a September heat wave in 2017, resulting in dark-fruited but lesser-structured wines. Winter rains helped alleviate drought in 2016, a year of rich Pinot Noirs with chocolate and sandalwood accents. Based on their structure and accents, 2019’s Pinot Noirs seem like the best match.

This Pinot Noir is from the 2019 vintage, making it three years old.


This is the Dutton-Goldfield Pinot Noir Green Valley of Russian River Valley Fox Den Vineyard 2019, which scored 93 points in the March 31, 2022, issue of Wine Spectator. It retails for $74 and 436 cases were made. For more on California Pinot Noir, read our tasting report, "Reaching New Heights," in the Sept. 30, 2021, issue of Wine Spectator.

—Aaron Romano, associate editor