Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The Dreaded Dumb Phase

Common wisdom holds that good Pinot Noir should be consumed either while young, or left alone to mature in the cellar for at least five years. About a year or so after release, Pinot Noir shuts down in the bottle. What happens to the wine during those adolescent years? Chemically speaking, I don't know, but I would be interested to learn. With regard to aroma and flavor, the fruit goes away and the wine is awkward. Makes for unpleasant drinking during these years. Some people call this the dumb phase.

If you think about it, the life cycle of Pinot is like the life cycle of a typical person. Delicious, plump, and sweet as children, easy to love. Adolescence brings moodiness, an awkward appearance, and an affinity for hanging out with friends in dark and humid places. But if well cared for, the awkward adolescent blossoms into a mature person with many aspects to their personality. Enough time, however, and this mature person begins to decline.

Thank you for that illuminating babble. Anyway...

2005 Paul Pernot Beaune Clos du Dessus des Marconnets is a beautiful wine and a great value (between $23-30, depending on where you shop) in a wonderful but expensive Burgundy vintage. I tasted and then bought more of this wine back in January. I enjoyed another bottle with BrooklynLady in February after our daughter was born. I haven't opened a bottle since then.

My good buddy Adam called the other night to tell me that his dinner guests were about to arrive, he'd opened and decanted a bottle of the Pernot, and it was terrible. Not moldy, no sweat socks - in other words, not corked. Just bad. No fruit, astringent, alcoholic. "What's up with that," he asked "This wine was great a few months ago."

I hung a stethoscope around my neck and asked Adam if he checked the level of the cork before opening the bottle. He assured me that it was below the level of the glass. Okay - not cooked by heat. The symptoms didn't sound like heat exhaustion anyway, but I have to administer tests in order to rule out certain things, don't I?

So I told him that it's possible that the wine is now in a dumb phase, and that its progression in the decanter may mirror its life cycle - that it might become tasty again in a few hours or longer. Or not. So what happened?

In Adam's words:

Upon first opening, I tasted wild strawberries with a tart finish and some pine
forest. After 5 minutes, it was undrinkable. It tasted like pinetar or lacquer.
Then, after 30 minutes, still pinetar. Smelled like lacquer or rubbing alcohol.
Then, after 1 hour, beginning to mellow but still pinetar. Then after 2 hours,
really beginning to mellow, but still pinetar. More fruit though. Dark cherry
smell mixed with the pinetar.
Then, after 3 hours, pinetar is gone. Now, it's dark cherries, strawberries, and
raspberries. There's some acidity to the finish and underbrush or forest flavors
too. Excellent. I'm going to wait until 2009 before trying another bottle though
(and Burghound agrees, by the way).
So it sounds like dumb phase, alright. Adam went on to say things like "Brooklynguy, you really are a special person, one in a million, sharp as a tack," and other things like that, but I'll leave that stuff out and stick to the wine related material.

So - do you agree with the dumb phase diagnosis? Have you experienced this with Pinot? Please share your experiences and opinions, if you will.


Anonymous said...

Well, this is one of the wines I pre-bought prior for the store prior to tasting, and I have yet to taste (just got it in stock a week ago or so).

I think it could very well be shutting down for a while, though I don't know about 2009 for drinking. As long as you know to decant the wine a few hours before drinking, isn't that just as good, at least to an extent? If you have a supply, you can try one every 6 months or so to see how it evolves.

There's also new glassware that is apparently "breathable" and will help the wine come to life more quickly than regular crystal. Sounds hocus-pocusy, but who knows.

And speaking of glassware, one other issue pops to mind. Could the stemware Adam was drinking from have had any chemicals that could have adulterated the wine (that subsequently, after a few hours, would have dissipated?). A few months back a group of friend were tasting about four different bottles, and each had the same rubbing alcohol aftertaste. It was only later that it occurred to us that the common factor with the wines was only the glassware. It had all been washed together, probably in a dishwasher with a chemical cleaning product.h

Joe said...

Hi Jill. Funny you should mention that - I find the treatment of the glassware is becoming more and more noticeable over time - I am ready to start bringing my own glasses when I go out for dinner.
BKG - I have definitely had this in Bordeaux, but not Burgundy. Strange, but my best Burgs have sat around for a little while - must be something to this.

Unknown said...

Yes, I definitely agree with the
dumb stage. I have experienced this in Bordeaux they are fresh in the beginning however go through this dumb stage or closed stage. However I have not experienced it in Burgundies. I do not usually drink them young. I get kidded about how long I keep the wines. You have to try them out in the beginning though. Which is the point of the blog.

Anonymous said...

Just a comment/question...
<,About a year or so after release, Pinot Noir shuts down in the bottle.>.
Well, can't a wine be released anywhere between 1 year and 5 years after it was produced? Did you mean to say "one year after fermentation"? I'm just thinking if a wine was released 4-5 years after it was fermented, then maybe this dumb phase has past and the wine is at its best for the next 2-3 years.

Brooklynguy said...

Very interesting comments from all. A couple of things stand out for me - 1) the importance of stemware. i used to wash my wine glasses with soapy water and once i stopped, using only hot water and my fingers, they impart no aromas at all to the wine. now when some one or a restaurant gives me a wine glass i can immediately tell if it has been washed with soap. i know that adam used to wash with soap, not sure whether or not her stopped.

2) decanting young wine to me is not as fun and rewarding as cellaring the wine, but that's probably more in my head than anything else. Aren't there chemical reactions that occur slowly in a dark humid cellar that cannot be replicated with 3 hours in a decanter?

3) I think 4 bottles is the perfect amount of a wine to buy if you're not rich and you're interested in cellaring. Itaste one young and then age the rest, depending on my experience tasting it. That's what I did with my Pernot stash, and I bet Adam was doing that too. I will ask - Adam?

4) thanks Anon for your point about fermentation vs. release. i bet you're correct - it is 18-24 months after fermentation that Pinot shuts down. i will ask some folks to make sure, but i bet $ you're right. thanks for the comment.

Welcome to the site Sheila. Thanks all for your insights.

Anonymous said...

I'm the Anon. that wrote earlier. That's great, let me know what you find out. It would be interesting to determine the start and duration of this dumb phase relative to fermentation completion.


Brooklynguy said...

Hi Paul - I will do my best. Let you know what I find out.

Anonymous said...

hey Brooklynguy,

Any update on the Clos de Dessus here getting to the end of 09'


Brooklynguy said...

hi Brian - (you're not Seattle Brian, are you?) - I haven't tried it again - my bottles are in off site storage. Funny though, i was thinking of this wine literally today, and wondering about it. i'll figure out how to drink a bottle soon.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the quick reply. Not Seattle Brian. I am Connecticut Brian..LOL!

I bought this wine recently after reading your favorable impressions I found on an old 2007 blog of yours here. paid $35 each. Wine was just delievered and I guess I will hold off for now as seems the consensus(cellar tracker) is its not drinking well now.

Best Wishes,