Friday, November 26, 2021

L’Ecole Perigee Premium Red Blend A Case Study In Wine Aging

The wheel of time makes a big difference in wine body and flavor.

Lessons Learned

As time marches on, my wine knowledge and style have changed too. Decades ago my preference was sweeter white wines. As my wine tasting expanded, a drier palate evolved and dry reds rose to the top of my list.

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Learning about drinking windows (the ideal time to open a wine – and I don’t mean “Tuesday”) and decanting wine represent another level of wine knowledge. I’ve experimented with aerators, which I’ve found really can perk up a wine – especially a “day after” bottle. Mostly I prefer to decant my bottles, pouring the wine into a glass container to allow it to breathe for an hour or two before we drink.

How Aged Wine Is Different

Recently we opened bottles of the L’Ecole No. 41 Perigee – the flagship red blend of this beloved Walla Walla winery. We had two vintages: the 2018 and the 2015. It allowed me to apply a lesson I learned about decanting wine.

At one time I opened a bottle of red that was 10 years on from the vintage date. I poured a small taste and proclaimed it awesome. I decided to decant it to make it “awesomer.” Why, oh why, did I do it? The beautiful hills and ridges of flavor had flattened out and the magic had been lost.

So at the cost of missing out on the full pleasure of one bottle, I learned an important lesson. Young, robust reds should be decanted, but older vintages can lose their mojo if decanted. With the Perigee, I decided to decant the 2018, but after a sip of the 2015, I decided that it was drinking beautifully and required no decanting.

As a side note, a poor-quality wine will not improve with age. A $12 bottle of Cabernet won’t transform into Screaming Eagle if left to age for 20 years. As one California winemaker explained to me, carefully crafted winemaking is like building the foundation for a house. With a poor foundation, the house will crumble. A good foundation will stand the test of time.

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Perigee is a Cabernet-focused Bordeaux-style blend. For 2018 the mix is 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot, 16% Cabernet Franc, and 9% each of Petit Verdot and Malbec. In 2015 the blend stays true to the style, but the percentages vary slightly. Both vintages were aged for 22 months in small French barrels and have ABV of 14.5%.

Another important note on the differences between aged and newer wine: your food selection is key. For big, bold reds with a heavy tannic structure, you need to match it with bold flavors, perhaps a grilled steak. The fat and juices help soften the tannins. With an aged wine, you are dealing with subtle and delicate flavors that could get bowled over by strong flavors. Go for roasted or baked dishes with subtle sauces that won’t compete with your fine wine.

Head To Head

The first thing to note is that both of these bottles are wonderful. At a price point of $57, Perigee delivers an upscale wine experience and won’t break the bank. The grapes come from the award-winning Seven Hills Vineyard using the most distinguished blocks. It is one of the warmest vineyard locations for L’Ecole and it allows even the late-maturing grapes to ripe fully. That’s important since more than a third of the blend comes from Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec.

The 2018 has a bold start with blackberry and violet components. Upon opening up, you experience the refined, laid-back aspect. The 2018 vintage in Washington is hailed as universally great and the Perigee is an elegant wine built for aging. The Merlot adds nice black cherry and cedar notes that lead to a velvety finish. This is a lovely wine that will only gain by extra years of aging.

In 2015, Walla Walla experienced its warmest vintage on record. The heat means the 2015 Perigee has lower acidity, but what is lost there it gains in aromatics. Aromas of blueberry and tobacco lead into toasted oak, leather, and cranberry characteristics. This is a fully realized, gorgeous wine to savor.

Both wines have limited production of less than 1,500 cases. The 2018 is the current vintage and thanks to L’Ecole’s library program a small number of 2015 bottles are available for sale at $73. You’ll need to contact the winery and there is a two-bottle limit.

In closing, I’ll share my most important lesson on aging wine. Buy multiple bottles. We don’t host galas for hundreds of people, so it doesn’t make sense for us to purchase cases of wine. However, buying two or three bottles allows you to enjoy one now and let the others age gracefully in your cellar or cooler.

Full disclosure: These wines were received as a marketing sample.

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