PINOT NOIR Once a month, to make the selection of wines less intimidating, The Post's Food section invites members of the public to taste wines alongside our veteran wine critic.
Here's how the panel rated eight bottles of pinot noir. This month's panel was hosted by Metro columnist Marc Fisher:
The diamond man made the wines sound like jewels: Ronnie Mervis called one wine "scintillating" and remarked on another's "boudoir" scent. The theater director steered clear of the wine world's love of obscure adjectives, describing one pinot noir as an "easy-drinkin' back porch wine" and another as a drink to be enjoyed "by the fireplace (polar bear rug optional)."
Put opinionated but amateur wine drinkers in a tasting room with a pro wine critic and you're guaranteed a clash of styles. But the panel I assembled to sample pinot noirs selected by Post wine critic Ben Giliberti found more agreement on the merits of the wines than we'd expected.
We just talked about them in very different ways.
"I found myself using images and scenarios," said Blake Robison, artistic director of Round House Theatre in Bethesda and Silver Spring. "In theater, we try to avoid adjectives because it leads to generalizations."
And when first-time critics are faced with many wines to taste, the last thing you want is generalizations. Luckily, we had Mervis, whose South African accent is known throughout the mid-Atlantic thanks to his omnipresent radio advertising for Mervis Diamonds. "In my business, we judge color and clarity," he said, and when Mervis described a pinot as "pigeon-blooded," even the critic was impressed.
Being in the opinion business, I chose people who were comfortable expressing strong views: Robison is a director who identifies the right talents from crowded auditions. Mervis is a diamond merchant in the business of discerning the best jewels. Anne Corbett, director of the Cultural Development Corporation, which seeks to build the arts into Washington's burgeoning real estate scene, is an advocate who connects the different worlds of business and the arts, and Jim Byers, host of WPFW's "Latin Flavor" show (Fridays at 9 p.m., 89.3 FM) and the public face of Arlington County's cultural affairs division, picks the right sounds.
One interest transcended career categories: price. What would someone have to pay for that? Corbett asked about one wine.
"Retail?" Giliberti said.
Mervis was ready with the slogan that sold countless gems: "Nobody pays retail anymore."
Ben Giliberti writes:
There was surprising consistency in this tasting. The Santa Barbara Winery Santa Rita Hills and Archery Summit were my favorites, and with the exception of Anne Corbett, who found their decidedly robust style less appealing, the other tasters loved them, too. In contrast, the group seemed more forgiving of lower-ranked wines than I was.
Wine critics tend to focus on flaws. The lesson for consumers is that 86- or 87-point wines might turn out to be pleasing in the glass -- all the more so if snagged at a great price.
Wondering what to serve? How to grab the wine list first at a business dinner? Send your questions to Ben Giliberti. By mail: The Food Section, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. By e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.