And You Thought California Pinot Couldn't Age...

By Ray Isle Posted May 13, 2008

So in the context of spending some time last week with the always erudite and engaging Michael Terrien, winemaker at Hanzell Vineyards, he felt it necessary to open up a few older vintages of Hanzell Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (undoubtedly because I shamelessly asked). If you're hanging on to older Hanzells, consider yourself in luck. Especially consider yourself so if you've got a stash of the 1998 Pinot, which pretty much blew me away. Here's why. We opened it in the evening—nice accompaniment to steak, btw—and it was both focused and luscious. I wasn't taking notes, because I decided I was tired of taking notes. Fine. Since we also opened a 1991 Hanzell Chardonnay (savory and spicy and still very much alive) and a 1984 Hanzell Pinot Noir (aromatics heading towards earth, dried cherries and twigs in a lovely way), along with a few other wines, we didn't finish the 1998. I cleverly deprived Mr. Terrien of the bottle. 

Then, because I'm of the "see if it takes a licking and keeps on ticking" school of wine testing, I stuck the remainder of the wine in the trunk of my car, and the next day drove it up Mt. Veeder Road and down the Oakville Grade (nice and windy—lots of aeration), headed back into Napa to have lunch at Ubuntu (fabulous all-veg food, and this is coming from a serious carnivore; I parked in the shade), then zoomed back to Yountville, where I parked the bottle on a countertop where I was staying until 7:00 PM, when I opened it to drink with a roast beef sandwich and potato chips.

Now, most older wines, you do that to them and they weep in pain and die. This Hanzell Pinot got better. My first reaction, after pouring a glass and sipping it, is unprintable in a family magazine (or on its website). Safe to say it was a violently profane expression of surprise. My second reaction was to think, well, maybe I better make notes after all. So: aroma of black cherry compote, brown sugar, black tea leaf, and orange skin; lasting flavors of fresh and dried wild raspberries and cherries, smoke, and more tea; and a velvety, fully resolved texture that still wasn't showing any signs of tiring or falling apart. A great wine.

Should I have drunk it with something more regal than a sandwich and some chips? I don't know, and don't really care. I suspect I could have drunk it with an old shoe and it would have been just as delicious.  

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