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Monday Manifestos
A Remarkable Tasting Of Older Pinot Noirs

By Stephen Eliot

There are those who believe that great wines must age, that they grow into beauty that cannot be equaled by anything young. I suppose I would argue that the beauty of young wines is of a different sort, but I would not disagree that there is something about well-aged wines of real pedigree that is nothing short of transcendent.

There are also those that aver absolutely that California wines, especially those made over the last twenty or so years, simply do not have what it takes to evolve into greatness the way that their French cousins do. The local stuff is too ripe, unbalanced, alcoholic and lacking in acid, or at least so the arguments go—but those of us who have grown old with our favorites know otherwise.

Now, I will grant that not all California wines, even those of ambition, turn out to be complex and compelling ten or twenty years after their births, but neither do a good many pricey bottlings from Burgundy, Bordeaux and the Rhône et al. There are, however, countless California wines that can and have aged gloriously, and they are not all from the “golden age” of the 1960s and 1970s that has in some circles lately been elevated to near mythic status. Moreover, those that have are not all Cabernet Sauvignon.

We often taste fine California bottlings that have blossomed with time, and the list of exquisite Cabernet Sauvignons is indeed lengthy. But, what often goes unnoticed is just how well a good many California Pinot Noirs have fared with age, and the point was driven home once again last Friday evening in Sonoma.

I had the very good fortune to attend the first annual Paulée dinner at Arista Winery hosted by the Russian River Winegrowers. As the first in a series of events ultimately leading up to the association’s Pinot Classic, a multi-day celebration of Russian River Pinot Noir slated to debut in 2014, the evening was memorable in many ways. Based upon the traditional La Paulée de Meursault at which winemakers would bring the best bottles to impress their favorite clients, the Russian River version featured a marvelous meal of roasted salmon and braised duck legs accompanied by one after another extraordinary Pinot, a good many of which were older and in surprisingly good form.

There were, in truth, too many to try, and space does not allow mention of each one, but none disappointed and several poured from magnum simply amazed. Merry Edwards 2006 Angel Wings was just beginning to evolve and had the look a wine destined to improve for years, and her deep, but oh-so polished, 2003 Klopp Ranch bottling showed just why a decade of patience with Pinot makes sense. The 2004 Allen Vineyard from Williams Selyem was an absolutely remarkable wine full of freshness and nowhere near hitting its peak. Among the biggest surprises and most roundly applauded wines of the night, however, both the 1983 Joseph Swan and the 1980 La Crema Vinera were alive, deeply flavored, wonderfully complex efforts that compelled contemplative sip after sip.

I am always surprised by the dismissiveness and vehemence of those who refuse to acknowledge that maybe the local stuff might have just as much to say as their European counterparts do if properly cellared away. But, for one night, at least, there was nary a discouraging word to be heard. I have grown tired of defending that which needs no defense, and, for me, the night was one of celebration and sheer pleasure... and wholly free of silly scholastic debate.


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No Subject
by Carl W. Hennige
Posted on:7/1/2013 10:06:42 PM

Can' agree with you more.  Visit our wine blog to hear what our wine group has thought of older pinot's:

82 Chalone, 80 Clos du Val, 87 Caymus Sp.Sel., 78 Acacia', 78 Hanzell, 80 David Bruce, 85 Adelsheim, 83 Knudsen Erath, 80 Acacia Lee, 79 & 82 Z/D, 81 Napa Sun, 79 Mayacamas.  And, more to come.  Love them!!!

Carl Hennige


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