I am still astonished whenever I hear the proclamation that “Pinot Noir doesn’t age”! Like many things in the world of wine, this bit of conventional wisdom gets passed around endlessly, even though it could not be further from the truth.
I’m a huge fan of older wines, especially older Pinot Noir, be it from Oregon or Burgundy. That may be largely due to the fact that one of my first meaningful wine experiences was with an older wine, a 10 year old 1959 La Tâche tasted in 1969. (In retrospect that was a fairly youthful wine, in the scheme of things – I’ve had that wine a number of times since and found it much better in 1985, 2005, and most recently in 2010.)
We don’t have a culture of cellaring wine for later consumption here in the US, unfortunately. Most people have probably not had the opportunity to taste a beautifully aged, mature Pinot, which is really a shame. I suppose a lot of people have tasted fruit-bomb style Pinot that has fallen apart after just a few years in the bottle, and therefore have the impression that Pinot Noir “doesn’t age”.
Certainly all Pinot Noir does not age very well – most entry level wines (in the case of Pinot that’s probably the $25 and under range) are meant to be consumed in the first 2-3 years. Some of those may benefit from a longer time in the cellar, but not many. A lot of more expensive Pinot is not meant for the long haul either – mostly from producers that work in a bigger, riper, more heavily-extracted and oakier style.
But a well-balanced Pinot Noir, foreign or domestic, can be a candidate for serious long-term ageing. I’m here to testify that your patience will be rewarded. Pinot Noir tends to get exponentially more interesting as it matures, and starts to reveal layer after layer of secondary and tertiary aromas and flavors that can only come from time in the bottle. I’m of the mind that Pinot becomes most interesting when it reaches or nears full maturity. Before that stage, it can be a nice, yummy, fruity and aromatic pleasure – but true beauty, all those things that make Pinot the most emotionally thrilling wine on the planet – those only come with time.
We recently poured the first Oregon Pinot I ever made, the 2000 Cuvée Martha Pirrie, in a line-up of our new releases and a single-vineyard wine from 2008. The 2000 was clearly the most interesting and most popular wine of the flight, and was the biggest seller that day in the tasting room as well. I LOVE to show people an older, mature wine – and love to see the proverbial light bulbs go off when folks are exposed to the beauties of what aged Pinot is all about.
So when should you drink your Pinots? That’s the question I get most often, and the hardest one to answer. If you like the juicy burst of fresh fruit that you get in most younger wines, then by all means drink ‘em up young. On the other hand, to see what great Pinot is really all about – let them linger. For longer than you’d think. I‘ve found that most of the wines I’ve made in Oregon started to get to their most interesting stage a minimum of 5-7 years from the vintage, and in some years will take even longer. The 2008s and 2012s from Oregon I’ll be drinking when they are 15-20 years old – it would be a shame to rob them of their potential by drinking them up too soon.
Hide a few bottles from yourself, forget you have them. Rent a small off-site wine-storage locker and put some bottles down for the long term. Wait. And then wait some more. I would always rather err on the side of catching a wine on its downside rather than disturbing it too soon. Of course, in the name of science a few bottles may have to be sacrificed to check in on the evolution of the wines, but I truly believe it is better to wait.
Once a wine passes 20-25 years of age, the old adage “there are no great wines, only great bottles” rings true. You may have three bottles of 1966 DRC Romanée-St. Vivant – and one will be brilliant, one pretty nice, and one will be just plain tired. That’s just the way it goes – but it’s those brilliant bottles that keep us coming back and keep us putting those wines down in the cellar for a good and proper rest.
I hope you have at least once the opportunity to experience a beautiful Pinot at its peak of maturity – to me there is no greater pleasure to be had on the planet. Now off in search of that next bottle of ’45 de Vogüé Musigny…