I’ll start by admitting that the very idea of aging wine seems a little bourgeois to some people. The truth is that the image of old men in smoking jackets and ascots with caves full of Bordeaux is an outdated one. The modern wine collector likely spends little more money on wine than someone who collects video games or model cars. We live in a day when there is widespread access to wine from Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the New World that will age for decades and can be had for under fifty dollars a bottle. For me the thrill of aged wine is as much about a glimpse into the past as it is about the characteristics that a wine might have acquired while sitting quietly for years in a cellar. Hardly anything is more exciting to me than the chance to share an old bottle of wine with someone similarly interested.
You can trace conversations about aging wine back hundreds of years; the British and French were early proponents. However, here in Oregon, our wine industry is only old enough to just recently justify a serious conversation about aging our wines. With this in mind I have set out to pick what I believe are some of the state’s most age worthy wines. Here is what I found:
2009 Cristom Pinot Noir Marjorie Vineyard $58.45: I did some very informal polling of Oregon Sommeliers and Wine Buyers recently and found a surprising amount of agreement among them. In fact, they ranked Cristom as their hands down local favorite. These are people, mind you, who taste hundreds if not thousands of wines each year. At this family-owned estate west of Salem, all of the Pinot Noir vineyards are named after the matriarchs in the family: Jessie, Eileen, Louise and Marjorie. Marjorie has always been my favorite with it’s unique combination of fruit purity, elegance, structure and intriguing earthy notes. Even in a warmer year like 2009, Steve Doerner has coaxed excellent levels of acidity out of the fruit and that will help this wine age well, as Steve says, “for a decade”. I think it will likely hang on for longer than that.
2010 Arterberry Maresh Pinot Noir Maresh Vineyard $52.16: This estate is among only a small handful in Oregon being run by third generation talent. Jim Maresh, son of the late Oregon wine pioneer Fred Arterberry, runs the winery now and is producing Pinot Noir that has received more consistent accolades than almost any other. His focus on elegance and the quality of the old vine material he has to work with are a hard to beat combination.
The Maresh Vineyard offering is his top wine each year and often one of our favorites of the vintage. This was again the case in 2010, a vintage that served up impeccably ripe fruit with balanced acidities. However, grape yields were half what they were in recent vintages, so supplies are naturally very low. The wine offers an otherworldly amount of detail and elegance to it’s high-toned red fruit, as well as a beguiling array of earth and spice notes. It’s serious structure ensures a good 10-15 years of improvement ahead.
2010 Brick House Cascadia Chardonnay $34.16: I couldn’t put together a short list of Oregon’s most ageworthy wines without including a Chardonnay, which just might be Pinot Noir’s Burgundian better half. The fact that Oregon produces top notch Chardonnay is not widely known, especially given California’s dominant reputation with the varietal. In fact, the relatively small amount of Chardonnay we produce here holds the kind of promise that California has not offered for the varietal in decades.
The 2010 Cascadia is a prime example with it’s candied and spiced citrus perfume and superbly elegant textures. The toasted nut and creamy melon and pear flavors make a comparison to Premier Cru white Burgundy hard to ignore. This white is so well put together that I have a hard time imagining it not improving for at least 10-12 years.
2010 Capitello Dolcino Sweet Gewurztraminer $17.95: Because sweet wines comprise one of the best-aging categories of wine out there, including one from Oregon was easy.
This 100% Gewurztraminer by Ray Walsh at Capitello has been a favorite of mine for several vintages running. It offers spot-on varietal perfume of rose petal, cinnamon, apricot and persimmon. The glyceril texture on the palate carries sweet apricot and tangerine fruits that, while very sweet, have a tangy edge to them. After the spice notes appear, a lemon component rides in on the long and bright finish. Put this one away for ten years and watch it develop.