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Quick Trigger: Are Reviews Done Too Soon?

Pinot Noir from California and Oregon producers is often sent for review shortly after bottling. There is an urgency to get the newest vintage ratings in the marketplace. Wine critics often tell consumers to wait a year or two or more because they predict that the wine will improve in bottle. Unfortunately, once a wine is reviewed early in its life, the score is a permanent tattoo that the wine must carry for many years.

I decided to look at Pinot Noir wines I had previously reviewed and compare to my reviews and scores approximately 16-26 months later. I had this unique opportunity available to me since producers often send two bottles of each wine and I tucked the second bottle away in my temperature controlled wine locker. This is a modest sampling, but can provide valuable insight. On my second reviews, I did not look at the original reviews or scores to bias me. Bottle variation can come into play here but let’s disregard that minor confounder. As far as I know, no wine critic has ever undertaken this type of study.

The approximate time between reviews follows the wine’s title. Two of the second wines I chose to review were corked and not included - this is why wineries often send two bottles for review. I only chose wines that I thought received scores of 90 or above on initial review.

2013 Alma Fria Holtermann Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

26 months · Earth-kissed aromas including black cherry, peppery spices, pine forest and savory herbs. A generous gulp of beautifully ripened black cherry and black raspberry fruits entice the palate. Mid weight plus in style, with suave tannins, a compliment of oak, and a very long finish. Previously 90 Score: 94

2013 Bailiwick Silver Pines Vineyard Sonoma Mountain Pinot Noir

26 months · Leading off are aromas of blackest cherry and toasty oak. Elegant and relatively light in weight, with a juicy cherry core back by complimentary smoky oak. Very suave and refined and easy to drink. Previously 90 Score: 90

2013 LaRue Emmaline Ann Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

26 months · Very pleasant aromas of red berry, rose petal, burnt tobacco, spice and Herbs d’ Provence. Light in weight but imposing black cherry and raspberry flavors with a hint of tobacco and spice. Excellent harmony with a very generous and lengthy finish. Definitely some whole cluster input but integrated. Previously 90 Score: 93

2013 Lucienne Doctor’s Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir

26 months · The barrel treatment is evident on the nose that also offers pleasing aromas of dark red and black fruits. The middleweight core of black cherry and blackberry fruits has a significant oak overlay evident as toast and tobacco. The fruit core is delicious and the silky, soft tannins make for smooth drinking, but the oak is intrusive and has become more evident over time in bottle. Previously 91 Score: 89

2013 Winderlea Legacy Dundee Hills Pinot Noir

26 months · Aromas of cherry, spice and earthy flora lead to a lighter weighted concentrate of cheerful cherry flavor in a crisp, elegant styled wine with gentle tannins and juicy acidity. Nicely balanced and at its peak. Previously 91 Score: 90

2014 Domaine De La Côte Bloom’s Field Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir

24 months · Aromas of cherry, raspberry, burnt tobacco, rose petal and fertile earth. Nicely balanced with good vibrancy, featuring a bright cherry core framed by suave, silky tannins. A little tobacco and floral input. Elegant and lacy, with a burst of cherry goodness on the bright finishing. Fades slightly over time in the glass. Previously 93 Score: 92

2014 Sante Arcangeli Lester Family Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir

24 months · The oakdominated nose does offer some cherry and spice aromas. The oak is better integrated on the palate in this mid weight styled wine displaying the essence of black cherries. The tannins are immersed, the oak adds a compliment, and the bright, lip-smacking finish is notable. Previously 91 Score: 91

2014 Westwood Annadel Gap Vineyard Heritage Clones Sonoma Valley Pinot Noir

24 months · The nose offers only aromas of earth, mulch and barrel and no fruit emerges even with extensive swirling. Much better on the palate, with mid weight plus very tasty flavors of black cherry, black raspberry and spice framed by integrated tannins and a thread of oak. The wine finishes with welcome generosity and juiciness. Previously 90 Score: 92

2014 Hibou Riddle Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

23 months · Wonderful expressive nose offering aromas of purple grape and berry, blooming rose, pine needle and earthy flora. Mid weight flavors of blackberry and black raspberry framed by imposing oak. Creamy in texture, with balanced tannins and some finishing intensity. Seems to be showing more oak than when reviewed originally. Previously 96 Score: 92

2013 Broadley Vineyards Shea Vineyard Yamhill-Carlton Pinot Noir

22 months · Inviting aromas of black cherry, violets and oak fade a bit over time in the glass. Light to mid weight flavors of black cherry and anise with noticeable tannins, a slick mouth feel and a decent but not exceptional finish. Previously 91-92 Score: 89

2013 En Garde Pleasant Hill Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

21 months · Delicate aromas of muddled cherry, warm spices and brown sugar. Very suave in the mouth, with bright cherry and raspberry fruit flavors framed by cooperative tannins. The finish is noticeably long and satisfying. Previously 93 Score: 92

2014 Masút Estate Vineyard Eagle Peak Mendocino Pinot Noir

21 months · An assortment of well-ripened, even slightly stewed dark fruit aromas with hints of dusty earth and floral bouquet. Mid weight flavors of blackberry, black raspberry, pomegranate and black tea in harmony with well-structured tannins. Previously 93 Score: 90

2014 Siduri Pisoni Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir

(screw cap) 21 months · An impressive wine that really satisfies on the richly appointed palate. Aromas and flavors of ripe cherries and a hint of vanilla impress on the attack and extremely long finish. The fruit really has traction and there is a good grip of acidity to lift the fruit load. Still outstanding when tasted two days later from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Previously 94 Score: 94

2014 Kitá Hilliard Bruce Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir

20 months · The nose is very charming, offering hi-tone aromas of cherry, fragrant compost, mushroom, allspice and root beer. Impressive harmony and vibrancy, with the mid weight essence of perfectly ripened cherries complimented by a slight spice and bourbon note. Attention-getting on the attack and wonderful intensity and length on the finish. This wine has really picked up nuance and interest over time. Previously 91 Score: 94

2013 Asuncion Ridge Barrel Select San Louis Obispo County Pinot Noir

19 months · A robust reserve style wine with a highly aromatic nose of spiced dark berry aromas. Good marriage of mid weight plus purple and black fruits with tobacco oak. Gentle tannins and decent finish. Several more years of good drinking ahead. Previously 91 Score: 93

2014 Navarro Vineyards Deep End Blend Anderson Valley Pinot Noir

18 months · The aroma of dark crushed cherries is not penetrating but very pleasant and accented with some seasoned barrel. Generously concentrated black cherry fruit is accented with hints of spice and sassafras. The texture is velvety, the t n’ a balance is spot on, and there is some finishing vigor. Previously 90 Score: 93

2014 Luminous Hills LUX Yamhill-Carlton Pinot Noir

18 months · Reserved, but pleasant aromas of black cherry and pomegranate. The theme is cherry goodness in this mid weight wine that shows seamless balance, a silky mouth feel and a long finish. A very giving and friendly wine at this point. Previously 91 Score: 92

2014 Seven of Hearts Special Reserve Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

18 months · Inviting perfume of black cherry, exotic spices and fertile earth. Light to mid weight in dark red and purple fruit concentrate. Noteworthy attack and length in the mouth, with engaging elegance, balanced tannins and a finish deserving of special reserve designation. Previously 90-91 Score: 93

2014 Balletto BCD Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

17 months · Soaring aromas of Bing cherry, baking spices, cardamom and a bit of oak. Velvety in the mouth, with a charge of fresh black cherry fruit accented with warm spices and a touch of toasty oak. Impeccably balanced, with a charitable finish. Previously 92 Score: 93

2012 Amalie Robert Amalie’s Cuvée Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

16 months · Aromas of cherry, leather and dry mulch lead to a middleweight styled wine with ingratiating flavors of red cherry and red berry. Nicely composed, with polish and balance and a deeply fruited finish. At its peak. Previously 94 Score: 93

2015 Loring Rosella’s Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir

16 months · Charming aromas of iced red cherry and sandalwood. Light in weight and very elegant, with a core of red cherry and cranberry fruit flavors. Satisfying and easy going with very fine-grain tannins and some persistence on the finish. Previously 90 Score: 91

Conclusion: 6 wines were significantly better upon re-tasting, 5 wines were better upon re-tasting, 3 wines were the same upon re-tasting and 7 wines were worse upon re-tasting. In other words, about 50% were better and 50% were the same or worse when re-tasted 16-26 months after the initial review. The results are like marriage: you vow to love your spouse for better or worse, not knowing what is going to happen down the road.

Noted wine writer, Matt Kramer, approached the subject of aging wine in the latest issue of the Wine Spectator. His conclusion was, “Most mature wines aren’t worth the wait. Exceptions exist.” Certainly with domestic Pinot Noir, there are wineries with a track record of age ability (ie Cristom, Calera, Eyrie, Littorai, Hanzell) and you can feel confident in cellaring the wines from those producers, but the majority of domestic wines are ready to go upon release. I say carefully choose your domestic Pinot Noir wines, buy at least six bottles, and taste them over 1-7 years to see how they age. You can then decide if you like the freshness of youth or the maturity of older age and determine the aging potential of wines from different producers. The challenge is that Pinot Noir does not give up its charms at a predictable point in time and that can drive you crazy. They didn’t anoint it the “heartbreak grape” for no reason!

Are wines released too soon after bottling? Almost certainly, but that is necessary for a winery’s operating budget and not ideal. Although many winemakers would love to hold back their latest releases for a year or two before release, storing a few vintages before release is a costly commitment and the retail and restaurant market will not tolerate it.

Most believe it takes 6 to 9 months for a bottled wine to return to its barreled state although there are exceptions depending on the bottling process. After the shock of bottling, the wines are often sent to a storage facility, and then shook up when shipped. Most producers advise waiting a month or so after receiving shipped Pinot Noir before opening bottles. Other wines, like Chardonnay, seem to have no qualm about shipping and there is no need to wait. If you can spring for an expensive Coravin, you can get a peek before opening but I have found this of little value as Pinot Noir changes so much when poured and exposed to oxygen.

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