When I was researching my previous post on Australian pinot noir, Australian Pinot Noir: Coming into Its Own, I came across a list by Andrew Graham of the Australia Wine Journal entitled Australia’s 10 most ageworthy Pinot Noirs.
The list caused quite a bit of commentary and debate, and I have reprinted Graham’s recommendations here: Mount Mary Pinot Noir, Yarra Yering Pinot Noir, Bannockburn Serré Pinot Noir, By Farr Sangreal Pinot Noir, Ashton Hills Reserve Pinot Noir, Bass Phillip Estate Pinot Noir, Domaine A Pinot Noir, Stonier Reserve Pinot Noir, Kooyong Ferrous Pinot Noir and Bindi Block 5 Pinot Noir. You can read Graham’s very insightful comments for why each of the wines were chosen on his blog.
Graham defines ageworthy “as the ability to mature, and indeed improve, with cellaring times for 8 years plus.” Like many of the readers who responded to his post, I wouldn’t necessarily think of ageing Australian pinot noir for so long. One reader commented: “I suspect most people drink them too young and miss out on the aged versions. What do most folk think about optimal age for decent Pinot Noir? I’d say 5-10y which is medium term vs Shiraz / Cab Sav.”
I was curious what an esteemed, if sometimes controversial, wine critic thinks about the longevity of pinot noir. Here’s Robert Parker’s 1995 assessment of the ageability of American pinot noir: “Most American Pinot Noirs should be consumed within their first 5-7 years of life. As most Burgundy collectors sadly acknowledge (provided they can honestly accept the distressing reality), once beyond the wines of Domaine Leroy, Domain Ponsot, and ten or so others, great red burgundy is also a wine to drink young.” (Robert Parker, American Pinot Comes of Age, Wine Advocate #99, June 1995)
OK, he’s not talking about Australian pinot noir, but America is a world-class New World producer that has been making pinot noir for about as long (two to three decades) as Australia so making the comparison seems apt. I suspect, however, that in recent years Parker may have expanded his drinking window, especially for America’s very best pinot noirs. After a vertical tasting in 2003 of one of California’s top producers, Calera, Parker gave very high scores, 92 and 94 respectively, to the 1989 and 1988 vintages (both wines were over 14 years old at the time!) (Robert Parker, California’s Romanee-Conti, A Remarkable Tasting: Calera Pinot Noir Verticals, eRobertParker.com, Spring 2003)
Graham said that his main criteria for entry was based as much upon reputation and consistency than actual current vintages. Certainly, what distinguishes top pinot noir producers in both the New and Old World is a shared belief that the best wines are made in the vineyard, and that a minimalist or non-interventionist approach to winemaking works best for bringing out the nuances of terroir.
Vineyard practices, such as careful clonal selection to match soil types, the use of multiple clones to increase complexity, close planting, low yields, canopy management, judicious pruning and hand-harvesting, are helping to improve the quality and longevity of the very best pinot noirs around the world.
But pinot noir is, without doubt, one of the most difficult grapes to grow and vintage conditions are a key consideration when deciding which wines to cellar for the long term. In Victoria, the epicenter for Australian pinot noir, 2006 was generally regarded as an outstanding vintage. Perhaps to prove the point, the Curly Flat Pinot Noir 2006 beat out 18 world-class pinot noirs (six from Australia, six from New Zealand and six from France) at the 16 judge blind-tasting Winewise tasting panel. The judging panel included two of Australia’s most respected show judges and wine critics: James Halliday and Ian McKenzie. Another great wine to add to the cellar list! (Curly Flat, Vine to Wine Issue Twenty-Two, October 2010)