How ripe is too ripe?
Another Wednesday, another winemaker's night down at the Vines of Mendoza. This week it was Familia Blanco from new bodega Mairena in the hotseat with four samplers for us: 2005 vintage Malbec and Bonarda - 15-20 day maceration prior to fermentation, six months French oak - and tank-samples of the 2006 vintage of these same wines.
And an interesting night it was too. Starting with the 05s, the winemaker disclosed that a summer hailstorm had caused some light damage and led to a harvest 5 days earlier than planned due to the threat of botrytis setting in. The slightly early harvest reflected in higher acidity and lower sugar (hence lower alcohol) in the 05s. Lower by Argentine standards, that is - 13.5% or thereabouts.
Despite this, the Bonarda has already picked up a gold medal and the Malbec, while a little harsh for my tastes right now (good fruit, but slightly bitter on the aftertaste) should round out nicely with a year or two in the bottle.
So on to the 06. These wines are being made using the same production path as the 05. But this fruit had its full hang time, and a very warm summer to boot. The result? Wine with high alcohol (well over 14%) that is drinking pretty well right now out of the tank, and already tasting jammy with suggestions of all sorts of things you shouldn't by rights be tasting yet, like liquorice. Wow, great vintage right? Well, I don't think so.
A wine that smooth and drinkable is going to have trouble standing up to 6 months in oak. Maybe, in mellow second or third use oak, it might come through round, smooth, and jammy if a bit on the flabby side. New oak could kill it completely and leave it tannic without any remaining acidity.
But hell, I'm no expert. They did well enough with the 2005 Bonarda without any help from me, so I'm intrigued to see what the eventually do with the 06 harvest.
That 05 Bonarda, by the way, is selling for 22 pesos here in Mendoza and good value at that price. It's hard to find, but the folks at the Vines will hook you up if you're interested.