August 13, 2019

The Magic of Extended Aging

Wine Review Online logoby Mary Ewing-Mulligan

2008 Argyle Extended Tirage Brut – 93 Points
Of the many aspects of wine that fascinate me, the one that intrigues me the most is the ability of a Champagne producer to create many different wines from a single blend. We know that for Champagne, and the many sparkling wines around the world that Champagne inspires, the magic is in the details: the precise vineyards represented in any blend, the percentages of grapes, the amount of reserve wine (or its absence), the duration of the lees-aging of the bottled wine, the amount of the sweetening dosage added before final corking, and so many other fine details along the way in the production process. Change one detail, and the wine becomes a different wine, even if all the others stay the same.

Sometimes, nothing changes except the length of time the wine rests en tirage (in the bottle, on its yeast lees) before it is released to the market. And yet even that factor produces a different wine.

Argyle Extended Tirage Brut 2008 is a delicious case in point. It is the same wine as the 2008 Argyle Vintage Brut that was released seven years ago, but the years of additional aging have created special complexity and dimension. Ever since its inaugural 1987 vintage, Argyle has held back some of its Vintage Brut for extra aging. (Aging of a sparkling wine on the yeast enables autolysis, the breakdown of yeast cells by their enzymes, which can bring a richer mouthfeel as well as savory and non-fruity aromas and flavors, especially biscuity or bready notes.)

Argyle is an iconic winery in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, renowned for its sparkling wines as well as its Pinot Noirs, Chardonnays and Riesling. Founder Rollin Soles pioneered sparkling wine in Oregon. Today he is winemaker emeritus and Nate Klostermann, who spent eight years working with Rollin, is the highly-regarded winemaker.

The genesis of Argyle’s extended-tirage program dates back to the friendship between Rollin Soles and the late Christian Bizot, president of Champagne Bollinger. Impressed by the quality of Argyle’s sparkling wine program, it is said that Bizot suggested Rollin hold back a portion of each Vintage Brut for extended aging before disgorgement and release. Bollinger itself reserves some of its vintage Champagne, Grande Année, for at least eight years of cellar age on the lees to produce its acclaimed Bollinger RD (recently disgorged).

The 2008 Argyle Extended Tirage Brut is an impressive sparkling wine. A blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay (63 and 37 percent respectively), it is dry and fairly full-bodied with aromas and flavors indicative of aging – honey, roast nuts, toast, brioche and a hint of mushroom – as well as youthful notes, especially orange rind, mixed citrus , tart cherry and apricot. These flavors show good concentration, which speaks to the quality of the grapes in the first place. Prolonged aging is again evident in the wine’s rich and creamy texture. Within this creaminess, the mousse tastes relaxed and gentle, still lively and persistent but less energetic than it would have been when the 2008 was first released. The wine has stature and a majesty born of the its development in the bottle.

The 2008 Argyle Extended Tirage Brut has a dosage (final sweetening) of only four grams/liter. A younger wine might taste austere with so little dosage, but the richness derived from aging enables this wine to taste rounded and welcoming.

Argyle’s current Vintage Brut is the 2015. It is a 70-20-10 blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier, with 6 grams dosage. This is a dry, lively, fresh bubbly with good concentration and precision of fruit, showing lemony, red-fruit, peach and floral notes along with biscuity accents. It’s delicious now and a great value at $28. But if you’re around in 2026, keep your eye out for the Extended Tirage release, a second life for this very same wine.

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