One of the fun things about wine tasting is comparing and contrasting the flavor profile and characteristics of the same type of wine made by different wineries.
If you're relatively new to wines and haven't tried this, your first reaction might be, doesn't one merlot pretty much taste like any other merlot?
To that I would say, you are mistaken, grasshopper.
There are a multitude of factors that can affect how a wine tastes. Today, I'll give you what many consider to be among three of the most important factors.
First is vintage.
Like any other agricultural crop, wine grapes can fall victim to poor weather conditions. As you might suspect, growing seasons that are wetter and cooler than normal don't allow the grapes to fully ripen and develop their signature flavors. The resulting wines can be higher in acidity, lower in alcohol and lacking in character.
Second is geographic region.
The climate, soil conditions, and even the specific vineyard in which the grapes are grown can have a profound impact on the wines they produce. For starters, know that grapes grown in cooler climates generally result in wines with brighter, leaner flavors, while those grown in warmer climates yield more full-bodied wines.
Third is the winemaker's style.
A winemaker has a host of options to exercise that can help him or her arrive at the wine they're trying to achieve. For example, the use or non-use of oak during the aging process, as well as the length of aging time, can affect the wine's flavor, color and aroma.
Side-by-side tastings can help you discern the differences that these and other factors have on a wine. Have fun with this by organizing a group tasting, or by simply make notes on your own for comparison purposes.
Here are my tasting notes on a chardonnay and a pinot noir produced by two different wineries. The first, Stoller Family Estate in Dayton, Ore., was Wine Press Northwest Magazine's 2014 Pacific Northwest Winery of the Year. The second, J Vineyards & Winery, is in Sonoma County, Calif.
The Stoller 2012 Reserve Chardonnay (about $35) is the leaner of the two, with aromas and flavors of green pear, Fuji apple and citrus throughout, and a finish suggesting lemon chiffon. The J Vineyards 2012 Russian River Valley Chardonnay (about $28) is bigger and rounder, with baked apple flavors accentuated by a touch of orange zest and toasted vanilla.
The Stoller 2012 Dundee Hills Pinot Noir (about $25) is a sensual delight, with floral aromatics, red berry and cherry flavors, and an almost sultry, inky finish with hints of baking spice. The J Vineyards 2012 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir (about $37) displays gentle raspberry and strawberry fruits with an underlying note of lavender. It's delicate, beautifully balanced, and a pleasure to taste.