Just how long should you keep a bottle of wine before opening it?
That is a question I am asked constantly and the only real answer is: it depends, which of course, satisfies nobody.
Seventy percent of all wine is drunk within three days of purchase, so winemakers are increasingly producing wine that is ready to drink as soon as it is released.
On the other hand consider the 41 magnums of 1870 Chateau Lafite Michael Broadbent, then head of Christy’s Wine Department, discovered in the cellars of Glamis Castle in Scotland, birthplace of the late Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, in 1971. Declared undrinkable due to excessive tannin and acidity when they were delivered, they sat in the castle cellars quietly shedding their youthful rambunctiousness till Broadbent auction them one hundred years later. At this point, he told me, “they turned out to be absolutely faultless. It was the most beautiful wine, drinking perfectly.”
The contradictions inherent in these two anecdotes occurred to me recently when John D’Anna, Director of Marketing for the Cristom Vineyards in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, suggested I try their Jessie Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009 alongside the 1999. He thought the side-by-side comparison would serve as a good demonstration of the aging potential of Cristom’s Pinots. Was I interested?
This was actually a one way bet as I already knew that Steve Doerner, Cristom’s long time winemaker had, for many years, been crafting serious, age-worthy wines. The decision was easy. I agreed.
The 1999 was earthy on the nose, the 2009 a little green. The ’99 showed just a suggestion of fading – not bad for a 12 year old Pinot.
But it was on the palate that the ’99 really came into it’s own – bright and lively with rose-petal freshness, not a hint of fatigue. The wine has at least another ten years life before it.
The 2009 was closed at first but after two hours began to yield a little, and surprising spicy notes began to emerge. This is a wine with the potential to age magnificently.
I also found the 2009 as a far warmer, more generous vintage than the 1999, and thus one that will mature sooner. Or rather, my guess would be that if we waited 10 years, both of these wines would be at their peak. Doerner however disagrees telling me “I’m not sure they would both be at their peak in 10 more years. Although the ’99 I think is certainly a longer lived wine, I would think the ’09 will outlive it in absolute time – but maybe not by much.”
It would be interesting to revisit the two wines in a decade to observe the curve of their development – it is with such speculation that wine geeks amuse themselves – but what is certain is that the Cristom Vineyards Jessie Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009 ($50) this week’s Five Star Nick’s Wine Of The Week, is a great wine, and one that will certainly improve for many years to come.
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