When Wines Shut Down aka Dumb Phase

I wanted to start a thread dedicated to when wines shut down.

I think it would be helpful for all of us to know the characteristics of specific grapes and what the obvious tastes are like. Nebbiolo, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, etc…

Also, people can post wines that are shut down and wines that were once shut down, but know are showing well again.

I recently tasted a 2006 La Pousse d’Or Pommard 1er Cru Les Jarollieres. Upon an immediate pour it showed very nice fruit, minerals and acidity. I left the bottle alone for a few hours and poured a glass for dinner and it was all acidity. completely “dumb” and bordering on undrinkable.

When pinot noir from Burgundy is shut down, is it signified by shrill acidity? How does one know if it will come back to life? Does domestic Pinot behave differently?

With Nebbiolo, my limited experience is a drying wall of harsh tannins. I think the fruit is somewhat identifiable behind these tannins, but know with Nebbiolo, patience is a virtue.

And then there are so many other grapes that will have their own indicators…

So please share your insights into when and why you know a wine is shut down and not just dead or on a decline, and how and if you know with some confidence it will come back.

For me, a wine is shut down when the fruit (and complexity) recedes and the structure dominates, rendering the wine simple, tannic, and acidic.

I don’t know and can’t predict when it will come out of this phase, but I make guesses as to when I might check in on it again.

If a wine has a track record for aging, I keep my fingers crossed. I’ve had lots of different results, having to wait decades at times, but I’ve had mostly positive experiences waiting on wines from appropriate vintages with a track record for aging.

Although I don’t always agree with posters there, cellar tracker helps.

I used to know the answer to this, but I’m going through a dumb phase right now. I will hopefully emerge from it in the future, but you never really know if or when.


Would you describe yourself as harsh, acerbic or just plain dull?

I think a distinction has to be made with what’s going on in a closed bottle and what may happen after a wine has been poured and been exposed to a substantial amount of air. When I first pour a wine and there isn’t anything going on and even after some air exposure remains that way, I assume the wine is going through a period of dormancy. This of course is only true if signs of the wine being old and faded are not present. I will leave other bottles of the same wine alone for a few years at a minimum.

But when a wine appears somewhat open upon first being poured and then after being exposed to significant air clamps down, I don’t consider this to be dormancy but rather the effect the air has had on the wine. Tannins can be accentuated by air and I would think acidity would be more apparent with little or no perception of fruit. While I would be tempted to age these longer also, I would also consider drinking them rather quickly of give than a long decant before serving.

I agree with RS Beck. CT is often helpful i n identifying the dumb phases of wines.

I think back on wines from years ago that I dismissed as flawed or prematurely over the hill. In hindsight, many were probably just in a phase where they didn’t have much to show ('98 Clos de Tart, '00 Mouton).

when I hear about 15 + year old wines being in the dumb phase, I think they must be talking about the purchaser (me)

People are still waiting for some of the 86 Bordeaux to come around.

For medium to sweeter Rieslings, my wife and I notice that young bottles often have a lot of minerality, fruit, sweetness, and acidity bouncing around. They can be fun to drink. After several years, they seem to shut down, and while they aren’t displeasing they just don’t have that pop they used to. Then, after a decade or so, the fruit reemerges a bit with tamer sugar, acidity, and minerality in a smooth way and some secondary flavors develop.

As far as Burgundy, a while we had a couple bottles of Ponsot Clos de la Roche. The '93 was excellent, while the '95 not so much. It seems the '95 is starting to come around now, and if it keeps improving might be even better than the '93 eventually because it seems to have more fruit and backbone.

Many Cali Cabs from 2001 and 2002 are into their drinking windows now (for me, that is). The 02’s seem to be more open earlier and many are already well into their windows, but the 01’s are spectacular once the tannins start to resolve which seems to be very recently for the producers I like.

I finished off 2006 La Pousse d’Or Pommard 1er Cru Les Jarollieres tonight - a half bottle vacuum sealed and found it noticeably better and very enjoyable. I wouldn’t think this would happened, but it did, and it was a very nice profile of a more refined and integrated darker fruit with touches of brighter red currant along with a faint and muddled mix of all spice and earth tones.
So this specific bottle was alive, then dead, and then very much alive in 24 hours.

Thanks for note Michael. I think this is exactly what happened with the 06 La Pousse, but the amount of time it took was quite long. I’m not so sure this was a dumb phase now, as more the effect of air.

I’ve had experience with a few bottle of older Lopez de Heredia and know that the first hour or so it won’t show well. It really needs air in a decanter to show and reveal itself, but wouldn’t call this a dumb phase, but more just needing air.

I think it would be helpful for all of us to know the characteristics of specific grapes and what the obvious tastes are like. Nebbiolo, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, etc…

Alex - not for nothing, but this doesn’t make any sense unless you discount any notion of vintage, environment, and winemaking, and you drink only monovarietal bottlings. And given that in CA, people only need 75 percent of something to call it a monovarietal, does the other 25 pct matter?

If someone were to say that Syrah shuts down on year four and re-awakens on year ten, would that be information or bullshit?

Both…but you know that.

I am by no means an expert…,but 95 Burgundy wines have been among my all time favorites. Small vintage, bright acidity, pure fruit, no too much ripeness…I like 93 but I think the 95 will be the star over time.

No argument from me about '95 Marcus. I only put the CdlR in this thread as an example of a bottle in a dumb phase. Currently we’re enjoying a few 1995s immensely - Ambroise Corton le Rognet and Ponsot Chapelle-Chambertin being just two examples.

The reason I brought up varietals and how they might differ in shutting down is, to me, for example, a young Barolo will exhibit a tannic wall and a strong drying sensation on the taste buds, while a young Burgundy can have an overwhelming presence of acidity that blocks the fruit and other elements of the wine. I am curious to hear other thoughts on this and other varietals. Surely a Spanish expert could expound on how Tempranillo might shut down. Does it? Or is it just not ready when the dill flavored predominate. What about a Côte Rotie. Tannic? Acidic? All of the above?

And with regard to your Syrah comment. Obviously one would be specific to the wine with regard to the time and the specific experience. It would be impossible to say all Syrahs behave a certain way, although, specific vintages may be more tannic than others… But there are likely common characteristics of Syrah in a shut down phase. The nose. The texture. The palate. That is what I am looking for and surely there must be common denominators.

I’ve long been skeptical of the “Dumb Phase.” Given bottle variation and a host of other factors that can compromise one’s perception of a wine, I wondered whether the idea of a Dumb Phase is falsely attributing bottle variation to the wine’s point in its evolution.

However I’ve recently had a few realizations after tasting a bunch of older vintages of Musar that reframed the “Dumb Phase” concept in my mind/

Both Red and White Musar’s undergo a marked transformation around 15-20 years. The primary fruit drops out, and is replaced by a different sort of fruit (my latest theory is that tertiary age character combines with VA and oxidative aromas to form the illusion of fruit). This fruit actually intensifies over time - which is why often the oldest reds and whites tastes the most intense, powerful, and vibrant (though of course there is a higher incidence of maderized bottles).

What this means is that there is an in-between phase, where the wine is neither strongly primary, nor strongly tertiary. Sometimes this means the wine has a rich balance of both. But sometimes wines in this stage seem strangely diminished. The '99 for example, has done both of these impressions in the past couple years. It’s teetering on the brink of the inflection point, and to some people it tastes huge, but to others it tastes unfocused, messy, maybe less powerful than wines that are fully primary ('05) or fully tertiary ('95).

My takeaway is that the “Dumb Phase” is best thought of as a complex emergent property of highly unpredictable and non-linear transformations, mainly the falling-away of primary fruit and intensification of tertiary character.

Well said Rajiv. What you said makes sense to me, as an in-between stage in a wine’s development. Kind of like the awkward teenager who is all legs and arms and hasn’t really developed into a more well rounded adult.

I love Musar, but have only had it aged more than 20 years once. I have been buying vintage from 02 on. I guess i have a few years to go for those.


The reference to the 1986 Bordeaux is a perfect example for this thread. When 1986 Mouton arrived in this country in 1989, it was an amazing fruit circus of a wine. Within months it closed down and stayed that way for years.