So how does Oregon Pinot Noir age?

older vintages of pinot noir
Wine buyers try older vintages from the Elk Cove library at our annual Distributor Retreat

We’re often asked how long to age our Pinot Noirs. While some 95% of wine buyers drink their purchases as soon as they get their wine home, aging an Oregon Pinot Noir can be fascinating as the wines take on more leather, dried fig, and tobacco leaf components.

At Elk Cove, we maintain a library of older vintage wines so that we can regularly assess how those wines are aging. We often open a bottle of our Pinot Noir from the 70’s or 80’s and find that it’s aging quite nicely. Part of the enjoyment is in knowing the family history of these wines. As Elk Cove winemaker Adam Campbell told Oregon Wine Press Magazine in 2019, the wines his dad made in the 1970’s “are still tasting lovely, and we feel so fortunate to be able to break out a little piece of history every now and then…”

Cool-climate Pinot Noirs really do age beautifully, especially Single Vineyard Pinot Noirs. In general, wines with good levels of tannin and acid and moderately high alcohol are fit to cellar. Read more about the science here. Pinot Noirs on the lighter end of the spectrum may not age as well, but just because a young Pinot Noir is easier to drink than a young Cabernet or Merlot, does not mean it won’t also improve with age.

1977 Pinot Noir
A bottle of 1977 Pinot Noir from the Elk Cove Library

So how do you choose which wines to age?

“Almost any well-made Willamette Valley reserve or single-vineyard Pinot Noir should easily age 15 to 20 years, but my favorite vintages for aging tend to be cooler weather years that have great freshness and vibrancy to the fruit. Recent top aging vintages are 1999, 2001 and 2011… The key to aging potential is to have high concentration of fruit, great acidity and strong but ripe tannins… I think the best things I can do to increase aging potential is to prioritize older vineyards — 20-plus years — that have all those elements.”

Read more about how Oregon winemakers like to age their Pinot Noirs at oregonwinepress.com.

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