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Monday Manifestos
In Praise of Pinot Noir Of A Certain Age

By Charles Olken

I brought the old Pinot Noir to a dinner party last week. Those who wanted aged wine with the underlying sturdiness of Cabernet were disappointed, but those good folks who appreciated Pinot’s lighter, more nuanced side were delighted.

The wines in question were Dehlinger Goldridge Vineyard 1999 and Gary Farrell Russian River Valley 1999. Neither carried the unrepentant muscularity that made the Pride Mountain Vineyard Cabernets tasted earlier in the week into such superstars. These were quieter wines with a kind of soft-spoken inner confidence. We drank them with a Wild Mushroom Risotto and a grilled fillet of Arctic Char. The Dehlinger, being the richer of the two, was the preferred wine of the Cabernet drinkers. “Something to sink your teeth into” was how one of its fans described it despite the fact that the Pride wines would have made the Dehlinger look like a 97-pound weakling by comparison.

The Gary Farrell, as the older wines from that winery continue to show, came with a different kind of tightness than that found in Cabernet. Those wines always impress, as did the 1999 on Friday night, with their bright, well-integrated acidity. Both it and the Dehlinger were far better suited to the menu than a sturdier, still tannic red like the Pride Reserve Cabernet of the same age would have been.

There are those who say that Pinot Noir is never better than on the day it is crushed. That may be true for those who love the youthfully direct vitality of children. Being of a certain age myself, I like a bit of sophistication in my tipple, and while it has long been accepted that we can all get that precious commodity from the local Cabernets, it has been less evident with Pinot Noir because the grape only found its way to grandeur here in any kind of wholesale way in the last two decades or so. Maybe Pinot, even great Pinot, will not last three decades and more the way the Pride Cabs are going to do, but when very good Pinot reaches its second decade, it is not yet ready to fall apart. It has just begun to show what it is really made of.

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No Subject
by Patrick
Posted on:9/26/2011 1:22:16 PM

Siduri Garys' Vineyard 2000 was teetering. Calera 04 Ryan was superb, with life left.

Aging PN
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:9/26/2011 1:53:13 PM

Thanks for the comments. There is a big question not yet ready to be answered definitively re the Santa Lucia Highlands Pinots.

The wines in the early years, which includes the 2000 vintage, were from vigorous young vines and were typically picked very ripe. More recent SLH Pinots seem to be a little more measured in style.

And, in vineyards like Garys', with its elevations varying by hundreds of feet, it is generally thought that the grapes lower down the hill come with higher pHs and lower acidities than those nearer the top.

I am optimistic that PNs like Morgan Rosella's and Garys' will show well as they age--based on their somewhat more restrained approach in the first place.

It would be interesting to hear Adam Lee of Siduri and Dan Lee of Morgan speak about their experiences with SLH grapes and wines over the last decade. I will give  them each a jingle and encourage them to drop in.

Aging Pinot...and SLH
by Adam Lee/Siduri Wines
Posted on:9/26/2011 2:12:23 PM


Thank you for taking the time to reach out.  Glad I can contribute between incoming grapes.

I would begin by putting things in some context.  California, despite the reputation as being consistent despite the vintage, does have variations based upon the growing season.  In my opinion, the vintages that have aged the most successfully (or have the potential to do so) are:  1995, 1999, 2005, 2009 (perhaps there is something about the 5's and 9's).  This is based on a combination of cooler seasons, better balance between sugars and acids, and in the case of 2009, greater tannins.  I am not surprised that the 1999s, Charlie, were showing fairly well.

When it comes to the SLH, the vines were, indeed young for many of these vintages.  The first Pinot Noir crop at Garys' was 1999, and 2001 for Rosella's.  At Siduri we don't look at younger vines as incapable of greatness.  In fact, sometimes the youngest vines make superb wines.  We often have more challenges with vines in their 5-8th leaf (3rd thru 6th crops) where they tend to produce more fruit than they have root system to sustain.  Once successfully navigated past this phase, the vines often produce greater, if somewhat less exuberrant, wines.

The SLH itself gives us fairly high sugars, but also fairly high acids.  At times we find ourselve waiting for these acids to come down just so we can finish fermentation successfully.  That is happening somewhat this vintage (we have grapes in the 24 brix range, but with pHs in the 2.9-3.1 range).  Elevation can play a role, but for some vineyards the bottom of the vineyard is actually the middle of the slope so that needs to be kept in mind.  Rootstock, pruining timing, etc. are also quite important. All of these factors will play into ageability, or lack thereof, making some wines more likely to age than others.  But I see no reason why the SLH doesn't have every possibility to produce Pinots that will last a decade.

Adam Lee

Siduri Wines

by John Kelly
Posted on:9/27/2011 7:29:53 AM

A couple of weeks ago I had a group in to taste. As I was serving Pinot one woman proclaimed loundly how she generally prefers Cabernets: "I like my wines like I like my men - big and burly."

I quietly told her: "I like my wines like I like my women - complicated and hard to understand, but worth it."

She ended up buying a couple of bottles.

Wine Styles
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:9/27/2011 8:30:32 AM

You know, John, one of the great things about your wines at Westwood is that you refuse to take a doctrinaire approach. While your wines are never on the heavy side, they do range in style based on what the grapes give you when they are ready.

I do wonder, however, what the lady would have thought if you made Petite Sirah.

by John Kelly
Posted on:9/28/2011 9:46:33 AM

Thanks Charlie - she did geek out when I poured her our 2006 Tannat.

SLH Pinot Noir
by Dan Lee
Posted on:9/28/2011 4:19:11 PM


I got you message and will add my two cents.  Harvest has finally started and I was out all day Monday looking for grapes to pick.  I started down in San Lucas and worked my way North and ended at Double L in the late afternoon.  This time of year it is an all day trip.  Boy, Monterey Co. is a big one!

Santa Lucia Highlands Pinots are traditionally a little bigger in structure(acid and tannin) and color than other areas of California, but they are still Pinot Noir.  They just do not age like Cabernet.  But they do age fairly well.  I like my Pinots in the 3-8 year old range myself and with some vintages, like Adam mentioned, worthy of watching a few more years.  Notice, I said watching.  I think the 2008's will be good candidates as well.

Winemakers will have some influence as well.  Here, at Morgan, we like good acidity and lower pH's, good balance, and moderate alcohols.  This bodes well for ageing.  We "build" our Pinots to taste pretty good on release, get better for 2-10 years, and plateau somewhere along the line.  If we wanted something to age for 25 years, it would probably be very tight and closed early on, and Charley would give it a 62 score.  So the dilemma of marketability comes into play as well.  However, I have notice something over the years.  Wines with good balance age very well, and they taste pretty damn good when they are young as well.  So balance and lowish ph may be the best keys to age.

Cheers, Dan Lee

ageing Pinot
by Mark Goldberg
Posted on:10/5/2011 2:57:51 PM

Most agree that balance of all components and a low ph contribute to a wines ageability. I hhave a few questions that I would like your opinions, esp some wine makers. First, grapes from different regions are farmed differently. In Santa Maria Valley and Santa Rita Hills, most use drip irrigation. In Sonoma and Oregon,dry( natural irrigation) farming is used. Does this difference affect  affect terrior, taste, and ageability of a wine? I have been intrigued as to whether grapes that have been drip irrigated make wine which reflects the terrior in which they are grown. I'm assuming that drip irrigated grapes have a shallow root system. I would love some comments fromk winemakers.

ageing Pinots
by Mark Goldberg
Posted on:10/5/2011 3:06:50 PM

One more question that I would love some comments regarding. There has been previous discussion and thought regarding red Burgundies "shutting down" or going through a "dumb" stage as they age. Do Pinots made in Calif or Oregon go through a similiar stage? It is difficult to determine as a Pinot ( Burgundy) ages whether it is in a "dumb" stage or just poorly made. Any thoughts?

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