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Readers Chime In on Aging Pinot Noir

Sandy Porter from North Carolina wrote me about a vertical tasting of aged Davis Family Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, 2002-2009, that she conducted with her 20-member wine tasting group recently. The group consisted of experienced tasters who sampled the wines double blind.

    The consensus of the group was that the wines were either red Burgundy or Oregon Pinot Noir, primarily based on the amount of evident acidity and faded fruit. Among the wines of Flight One, 2002-2005, tasters preferred the 2005, but there were votes for all four wines as “favorites.” Several tasters realized they were tasting a vertical based on similarity of style. After the Second Flight, 2006-2009, the group agreed that the wines were more California in style although the 2006 and 2007 vintages were thought to be red Burgundy by some.

    When comparing the two flights, the group did believe they were drinking a vertical, but thought the wines were younger, perhaps 2007-2014. Surprisingly, 19 out of 20 tasters chose the First Flight as their overall favorite and while the 2004 and 2005 vintages received a majority of votes, some voted for the 2002 and 2003 vintages as well.

    There were no comments about the wines being past their prime. The group consensus was that based on this tasting, they would not hesitate to age their California Pinot Noir.

Iain Liston-Brown wrote that the results of my recent tasting of aged California Pinot Noir matched his own findings over the past twenty years. Being European (a Brit actually), there is a tendency to cellar wines longer than Americans. Over the years, he has found more failures than successes when cellaring 10+ years and find the optimum to be 5-7 years (as I did in my report). Iain noted, “This drinking window allows the wines to retain their fruit properties that are the highlights of these wines. The secondary flavors and acidity do not balance out older wines in general. It is not worth waiting, except for a few wineries such as Calera, Mount Eden and some select Littorai bottlings.” He reports that his 2008 vintage California Pinot Noirs are being consumed now and he has very few older California Pinot Noirs left.

An interesting study was reported at this year’s WineHealth 2017 conference in Spain that brings up the question of the comparative health benefits of young versus aged red wines. Polyphenols in red wines are thought to provide additional health-enhancing properties beyond those available from alcohol. It is known that the biochemical profile of red wines change with aging. Grape pigments and other polyphenols degrade and reform into new and more stable compounds, a phenomenon occurring over weeks, months and years. A study by Americans Dr. Tedd Goldfinger and Dr. Andrew Waterhouse looked at five single-vineyard red wines from vineyards in Napa, Sonoma and Italy (Barolo) at intervals from wines that were 20+ years old up to new barrel samples. Analysis was performed by an accredited wine laboratory. Total anthocyanin (a polyphenol) content declined during aging while antioxidant capacity was unchanged. They concluded that slow oxidation of red wine in the bottle leads to polymerization of phenolics. The phenolics are not lost, but combine to form new compounds. As these polymers are derived compounds, it is not clear what biologic activity they might have that may be different from the “natural” compounds. This begs the question, “Do young or aged red wines confer the most health benefit found from drinking red wine in moderation?”

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