Blind Tasting Smackdown: East Coast Vs. West Coast!

Vinted on November 14, 2008 binned in best of, California wine, Penns Woods, pennsylvania, wine tasting

Actually, it’s not so much a smackdown as, it turns out, a comparison of apples and oranges. Or, a comparison of Old World style vs. New World style.

After visiting both Opus One and Penns Woods Winery, located on the Left and Right Coasts, respectively, I thought it would be interesting to host a blind tasting between the 2005 vintages of both winery’s Bordeaux-style red blends.

What would a clash of the titans like this prove?

Not much, it turns out, but it was an enlightening experience, and one that you will want to read if you appreciate differing styles of fine wines, and are interested in a bit of a litmus test on how far wines from both coasts of America have come…

Or, if you want to read the extremely geeky musings of two wine dorks.

Your call…

Anyway, for this blind tasting, I was reunited with my 2WineDudes partner in crime, Jason Whiteside, who was in town taking a few of his exams for the WSET Diploma in Wine & Spirits. The wines (hereby referred to as Wine 1 and Wine 2, until such time as their true identity is revealed) were decanted a few hours before our tasting, and neither Jason nor I knew which wine was poured into which decanter. Both wines were then poured into separate (but identical) Riedel wine glasses.

Following is the uber-geeky tasting play-by-play:

The Visuals

  • Jason: “There’s really good color in both of these wines. Wine 1 is Ruby with a nice garnet hue, and it fades more at the rim than Wine 2, which suggests that it wasn’t handled as gently. Wine 2 is deep ruby with blue tinges and nice pink legs.”
  • Joe: “I really want to drink both of these suckers.”

The Nose

  • Jason: “I definitely get a Pennsylvania harvest/Autumn leaf aroma on Wine 1. Lots of smoke, not quite as complex as Wine 2. Plenty of bright red fruit, with black cherry, currants, spice (coriander and cocoa), and Macadam/tar. The finish on Wine 2 is waaaaay long and the wine is more concentrated – bakers chocolate is going on here, Lots of oak, menthol, and heat. Wine 1 might have had more exposure to oxygen and is a little more reductive. “
  • Joe: “Wine 1 is more subtle on the nose. I’m getting a lighter red fruit on it than Wine 2, which suggests PA more than CA. Wine 2 is very dark with more fruit, I’m thinking figs, mint leaf and plums. I’m not going to spit either of these, though…”

The Palate

  • Jason: “Wine 1 is mineral-forward. The finish isn’t extraordinary, but it’s good. It’s got medium intensity and great acidity; it’s just really well-balanced. It’s very Italian in style, weight, and acidity. If you hadn’t told me these wines were from PA and CA, I’d have thought this wine was from Tuscany. Wine 2 has more dry extract, it’s got to be riper, thicker-skinned grapes. Wine 1 has to be PA, and Wine 2 is from CA.”
  • Joe: “Wine 1 has ‘greener’ fruit to me. I would’ve expected a little more on the length of the finish though, based on how well the wine showed up on the nose and on the visuals. Wine 2 has more oak tannin, I think, and good acidity; it feels like a wine built for a “longer haul” to me. By the way, what the hell is dry extract?”

The Verdict

  • Wine 1 was Penns Woods Ameritage, and Wine 2 was Opus One.
  • Jason: “At a quick glance, these wines look and feel very similar. But when you investigate them more deeply, they are very, very different wines. What’s striking is how the different raw materials – the grapes – come through, even with two flawlessly crafted wines; which these both are.
  • Joe: “Totally agree. Bottom line for me is that Penns Woods is aiming for an Old World style, and the wine totally begs to be sampled with food. Opus has more of a New World/CA thing going on. Both are clearly made with passion. Let’s get stupid on the rest of this stuff!

There you have it. East Coast meets West Coast turns out to be more like Old World Italy meets New World California. Who’da thunk it?






  • The Beer Wench

    BRAVO!!! BRAVO!!! I have been waiting for this blog ever since you hinted at it during my visit!


    Thanks for the tasting notes … and more importantly … thanks for your sophisticated humor! Your style of writing and tasting helps remind the world that wine is truly meant to be ENJOYED … not completely torn apart and beaten to death.


  • Joe Roberts, CSW

    thanks, wenchie!

  • Morton Leslie

    Enjoyed your “smack down.” I like to read tasting dialog rather than tasting “notes.” Also, good reading is the dialog between P.J. O’Rourke and Christopher Buckley in their 1999 Blind (Drunk)Tasting… a unique approach to sensory analysis.

  • Jason Whiteside

    I don’t know who that Jason Whiteside dude is but he seems BRILLIANT! Oh, wait…that was me, wasn’t it?

    For the gentle readers who might be confused as to how a wine that ‘saw more oxygen’ could also smell ‘reductive’ (which, chemically speaking, should sound counter-intuitive to you), I am here to tell you how it is possible. The color of the Penn’s Woods suggested it had seen more oxygen at points in it’s life than the Opus (hence the tinge of garnet in a 2005 wine), but on the nose there was a touch of something that suggested a little bit of sulphur reduction in the bottle. This dissipated with some vigorous swirling, but it was noticable enough to comment on it. I have my theories on why, but I won’t bore you with it now.

    Joe – If you are up for doing a traveling roadshow, I’m all in. I’ll be the Dr. Drew to your Adam Carolla…

  • Joe Roberts, CSW

    thanks, morton – will definitely check that out!

    Jason – Why, you *are* brilliant, man! And you also hold the distinct honor of leaving the geekiest comment ever on my blog! But you still rock!

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