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California Pinot Put to the Ageworthy Test

By Stephen Eliot

California wines do not age; or so we have been hearing for years. It has become a hoary and hackneyed cliché that raises the dander of those of us who know better, yet despite being discredited time and again, it is a resilient claim that just never seems to go away.

I will not disagree with those who argue that most wine made today, regardless of where it is from, is as good in its youth as it ever will be, but “most” is not “all”, and the rather more exclusive realm of fine wine is governed by rules of its own. When teaching, I had a learned and experienced colleague who accepted as axiomatic that most any wine older than four or five years was “brown” wine whose integrity had been lost to age. I have also known those who insisted drinking their wines well past what I would regard their expiration dates. I suppose in the end that it is best to adopt a to-each-his-own attitude about the aging of wines and perhaps embrace the less controversial credo that, as some have suggested, aged wine is simply different rather than better.

But for me there are too many instances that, when pouring a well-cellared wine that is on in its years, the idea of “better” is hard to refute. And, “better” often comes in the guise of fine older California offerings that supposedly lacked the staying power and potential to improve.

It is, of course, most usually California Cabernet Sauvignon that proves its mettle as an ageworthy wine, and there are storied tastings enough to prove that the local version not only has the stamina to last but can achieve great beauty and interest with time. The benefits of aging, however, are not limited to big tannic reds, and wines of structure and balance will surprise when allowed the chance to sit for a few years.

That point, and the real point of this posting, was driven home the past couple of weeks when, at Chez Eliot, we opted to open a half-dozen somewhat older West Coast Pinots with our holiday dinners. The wines ranged from ten to fifteen years in age, and, with but a single exception, all were in very fine shape. Some, like the sleek 2001 Lynmar Quail Hill and the velvety 2003 Testarossa Bien Nacido bottling had clearly reached their peaks, while others such as the 2001 Rochioli Estate were surprisingly vital and capable of further growth.

Now, I would not for a second make the claim that good Pinot needs a decade of keeping before showing its best, but most every one that we opened over a succession of nights was complex and compelling stuff that offered something that younger versions could not. They were met by knowing smiles from the old hands at the table and by exclamations of surprise from those whose interest in wine was of a more casual sort, and they reminded again that there are reasons to hide a few good bottles away… even those that might come from California.


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Handicapping the Pinot Ponies
by doug wilder
Posted on:1/6/2015 12:14:00 PM

What you bring up here is one of the challenges of helping readers (or even ourselves) understand a window of when to enjoy a wine. My choice is to be conservative, but I enjoy when a wine proves to thrive far beyond that range. Ten years ago, a winemaker friend would open up Louis Martini Pinot Nor from '64, and '66. Simply, they were 40 years old and still drinkable. I'm just trying to imagine a note written 1968 on the 1966 ending in "Drink 1969 - 2009. I would guess these were probably about $5.00 bottles when released. :)

California wines don't age - Zinfandel Edition
by Dick Winter
Posted on:1/8/2015 1:51:07 AM

Stephen, My cellar doesn't contain Grand Cru California Pinots, nor much else of note. So when my friend Stan brought 2 older bottles of Zinfandel for Christmas dinner, I was grateful but, well, skeptical. Several younger wines were in reserve.

The main course was an incredible pot roast, rich, deeply flavored. This was a dinner, not a tasting/evaluation, so the following are impressions, not tasting notes.

The zinfandels:

Terra d'Oro (Montevina) Deaver Ranch, 1997. Rich, ripe deep flavors, resolved tannins. Still mostly primary fruit flavors. Spectacular match with the pot roast. (From the winemaker Jeff Meyers: ABV 15.1, TA .63, pH 3.43 at bottling) Non-wine people wanted to know where to get this wine. Lesson: carefully made high ripeness zin can age beautifully.

Ridge Geyserville 1997: a stylish 'claret' style zin (I usually don't know what this term means, but it made sense here), taut, spicy fruit, firm acid/tannin, long finish. Still youthful, but it wasn't clear if further age will bring further pleasure. ABV on the label was 14.2, as I recall. Lesson: restrained style zin from great fruit, carefully made, ages beautifully into a restrained, mature zinfandel.

We drank the backups, as well. Neither was Trousseau Gris nor Valdiguie. All was good.

Martini Wines
by TomHill
Posted on:1/12/2015 12:29:52 PM


   I drunk some of those LouisMartini wines from back in the '60's. I was always amazed at how fresh & alive they were at 20 yrs out.

   But Louis wanted to make sure they could withstand standing upright on the shelves in some wine store in Lodi or wherever. They wer e pasteurized/sterile filtered/gawd  knows what else to be shelf stable. They went into the btl essentially sterile wines. I never found them to develop much complexity or btl bouquest you expect in an aged/mature wine. But danged if they wern't fresh & fruity. Which is what ole Louis wanted.



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