The far end of Cellar Season – dank and dim, no sunshine in sight – and I’ve got my nose to the pavement in pursuit of a character with a shifting personality. But I need some help, so I put word out on the streets that I’m looking for someone of the Pinot persuasion, complex but not complicated, and I needed her yesterday.
She blows right through my office door a few days later, a blond Oregon femme fatale in draped in denim and purple fleece, her hair pulled back in a loose chignon. She goes by Anna Matzinger, and round these parts she has a reputation for coaxing some magic out of even the worst-weather grapes.
“How can I help?” she says, sliding in at the table where I am sitting.
Is it a ruse, this openness? Time will tell. The charge between us heightens and every second is rife with possibility.
I lay out the case for her. I want a great Pinot noir, and I’m willing to wait. Up to now, all of my cases have been time-sensitive, in-the-moment pleasures. But I know there is more to the story. I need her help. Each passing day the question presses on me even more: Why is it worth this great gamble to age Pinot noir?
“Pinot noir, when it’s good, has a lot to say,” Matzinger says. “But it doesn’t say it all at once.”
I let the silence hang there. It’s an old trick of mine, creating the space for someone else to fill. You don’t get to be a wine country detective by blabbing out all your secrets at once.
“And what’s that that it says?” I ask her.
“You don’t really know what it might say,” Matzinger said. “Pinot noir, in its youth, it’s often precocious, nervy and bright and vibrant and fruity.”
It’s the folly of the youth. So much promise and possibility. I sit in quiet contemplation as she goes on.
“Some Pinots are great and complex upon release, but as a variety, it gets more complex as it ages, both in the barrel and then in the bottle,” Matzinger says. She’s moving her hands now, building the story. “They also talk about it as growing in bottle, but it can expand in terms of palate weight and structure.”
I can’t take it any longer. I have to understand.
“Yes, but how do I know?” I say. “How can I tell if it’s going to age well?”
“There are times when you taste a wine and you know that it is so young and you say: I want to taste it again in five years,” she explains. “It is giving something of intrigue, something on the palate, but you can tell it’s got something more to say. If it’s all out there, it’s like a naked lady. Whoomp. There it is.”
That elusiveness, I think, the mystery, the hints of things to come. This wine of great riddles, a closed book in a bottle. And in a second, I’ve got it: Follow the clues. Look for the notes. Pay attention to perfume. Look for the change. Anticipate it. Savor it. But don’t predict it.
“There are certain criteria that are helpful to have,” Matzinger explains. “Wines need to have some element of structure: Tannin, phenolics, acidity, alcohol that is not out of balance, and enough aromatics and flavor to deal with the structure.”
She’s teasing me, holding back, distracting me with winemaker’s science. I let her finish her sentence and then I go in for the kill.
“How can you tell if a wine is going to be good to age?” I ask her, again. “Is it about the structure?”
“No, it’s about freshness,” she says. “It’s part energy and quantity and quality of aromatics and flavors. It has to do with oxygen. People talk about wines being open and closed. If a wine is really open, and really aromatic, and if it doesn’t change over five to ten minutes, it might be telling you all it has to say. It feels like a tautness, like a coiled spring. “
We’re done here. I thank her and am on my way.
I’ve got my marching orders. She sends me to a Winter’s Hill Estate in search 2015 Winter’s Hill Single Block Series – Block 10 Whole Cluster, a year she says is particularly well-suited to aging. Single block pinot noir, she says, is generally a good choice if collecting over time is my game.
The clues she has left me read like a poem: Complex and full of character, this wine opens with aromas of sarsaparilla, red currant, Oregon black caps, twig tea and raspberry leaf. The whole cluster component lends spice notes intriguingly reminiscent of Mexican mochas with cocoa, cinnamon and chili powder. Palate is structured and rich, showing depth and a succulent swath of plush articulated tannin wound snuggly around a core of bright, vibrant cherry. Impressively energetic and intriguing.
Now, to get that bottle. And to wait. This is one mystery I’m content leaving unsolved.
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