Why can't Pinot Noir from California and Oregon age like Burgundy?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

Why can we age Burgundy for long, but we don’t consider aging Pinot Noir for Oregon or California for the same duration? Being all Pinot, I would think they could be aged in a similar fashion. My wife and I are currently enjoying a 1998 Ken Wright Pinot Noir as I write this and it is quite good.

—Jonathan D., Birmingham, Ala.

Dear Jonathan,

As you point out, there are some great Pinot Noirs from Oregon (and from California) that do age very well. But you’re right that people don’t really treat them as if they’re as ageworthy as their Burgundian counterparts. I think there are few things happening here.

First off, Burgundy has a deep history that goes back much further than North American Pinot Noirs, so there’s more of a history and more reference points to discuss. Want an example of a terrific aged Burgundy? There are hundreds. There just isn’t as rich of a track record in Oregon and California—yet.

Secondly, Pinot Noirs from not just the U.S., but from all of the New World have a reputation for being made in a more fruit-forward, drink-me-now style. But as people start to understand these wines better, they will realize that plenty of producers out there are making more complex wines with more of an ability to age.

Finally, as any region develops, vintners are bound to gain a better understanding of which regions, clones, vineyard and winemaking practices work best. Check back with me in a few years, and we’ll see if that perception has shifted at all.

—Dr. Vinny

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